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LTC Stephen F.
Edited >1 y ago
Thank you, my friend Maj Marty Hogan for making us aware that February 4 is the anniversary of the birth of German pastor, theologian, anti-Nazi dissident, and key founding member of the Confessing Church Dietrich Bonhoeffer.

Author Eric Metaxas on Bonhoeffer: The Extended Interview - CBN.com

Background from iep.utm.edu/bonhoeff/
"Dietrich Bonhoeffer (1906—1945)
bonhoefferFor Bonhoeffer, the foundation of ethical behaviour lay in how the reality of the world and the reality of God were reconciled in the reality of Christ. Both in his thinking and in his life, ethics were centered on the demand for action by responsible men and women in the face of evil. He was sharply critical of ethical theory and of academic concerns with ethical systems precisely because of their failure to confront evil directly. Evil, he asserted, was concrete and specific, and it could be combated only by the specific actions of responsible people in the world. The uncompromising position Bonhoeffer took in his seminal work Ethics, was directly reflected in his stance against Nazism. His early opposition turned into active conspiracy in 1940 to overthrow the regime. It was during this time, until his arrest in 1943, that he worked on Ethics.

1. Life and Resistance
Dietrich Bonhoeffer was born in Breslau on February 4, 1906. Dietrich and his twin sister, Sabina, were two of eight children born to Karl and Paula (von Hase) Bonhoeffer. Karl Bonhoeffer, a professor of psychiatry and Neurology at Berlin University, was Germany's leading empirical psychologist. Dietrich received his doctorate from Berlin University in 1927, and lectured in the theological faculty during the early thirties. He was ordained a Lutheran pastor in 1931, and served two Lutheran congregations, St. Paul's and Sydenham, in London from 1933-35.

In 1934, 2000 Lutheran pastors organized the Pastors' Emergency League in opposition to the state church controlled by the Nazis. This organization evolved into the Confessing Church, a free and independent protestant church. Bonhoeffer served as head of the Confessing Church's seminary at Finkenwalde. The activities of the Confessing Church were virtually outlawed and its five seminaries closed by the Nazis in 1937.

Bonhoeffer's active opposition to National Socialism in the thirties continued to escalate until his recruitment into the resistance in 1940. The core of the conspiracy to assassinate Adolph Hitler and overthrow the Third Reich was an elite group within the Abwehr (German Military Intelligence), which included, Admiral Wilhelm Canaris, Head of Military Intelligence, General Hans Oster (who recruited Bonhoeffer), and Hans von Dohnanyi, who was married to Bonhoeffer's sister, Christine. All three were executed with Bonhoeffer on April 9, 1945. For their role in the conspiracy, the Nazis also executed Bonhoeffer's brother, Klaus, and a second brother-in-law, Rudiger Schleicher, on April 23, 1945, seven days before Hitler himself committed suicide on April 30.

Bonhoeffer's role in the conspiracy was one of courier and diplomat to the British government on behalf of the resistance, since Allied support was essential to stopping the war. Between trips abroad for the resistance, Bonhoeffer stayed at Ettal, a Benedictine monastery outside of Munich, where he worked on his book, Ethics, from 1940 until his arrest in 1943. Bonhoeffer, in effect, was formulating the ethical basis for when the performance of certain extreme actions, such as political assassination, were required of a morally responsible person, while at the same time attempting to overthrow the Third Reich in what everyone expected to be a very bloody coup d'etat. This combination of action and thought surely qualifies as one of the more unique moments in intellectual history.

2. Ethics
Bonhoeffer's critique of ethics results in a picture of an Aristotelian ethic that is Christological in expression, i.e., it shares much in common with a character-oriented morality, and at the same time it rests firmly on his Christology. For Bonhoeffer, the foundation of ethical behavior is how the reality of the world and how the reality of God are reconciled in the reality of Christ (Ethics, p. 198). To share in Christ's reality is to become a responsible person, a person who performs actions in accordance with reality and the fulfilled will of God (Ethics, p.224). There are two guides for determining the will of God in any concrete situation: 1) the need of one's neighbor, and 2) the model of Jesus of Nazareth. There are no other guides, since Bonhoeffer denies that we can have knowledge of good and evil (Ethics, p.231). There is no moral certainty in this world. There is no justification in advance for our conduct. Ultimately all actions must be delivered up to God for judgment, and no one can escape reliance upon God's mercy and grace. "Before God self-justification is quite simply sin" (Ethics, p.167).

Responsible action, in other words, is a highly risky venture. It makes no claims to objectivity or certainty. It is a free venture that cannot be justified in advance (Ethics, p.249). But, nevertheless, it is how we participate in the reality of Christ, i.e., it is how we act in accordance with the will of God. The demand for responsible action in history is a demand no Christian can ignore. We are, accordingly, faced with the following dilemma: when assaulted by evil, we must oppose it directly. We have no other option. The failure to act is simply to condone evil. But it is also clear that we have no justification for preferring one response to evil over another. We seemingly could do anything with equal justification. Nevertheless, for Bonhoeffer, the reality of a demand for action without any (a priori) justification is just the moral reality we must face, if we want to be responsible people.

There are four facets to Bonhoeffer's critique of ethics that should be noted immediately. First, ethical decisions make up a much smaller part of the social world for Bonhoeffer than they do for (say) Kant or Mill. Principally he is interested only in those decisions that deal directly with the presence of vicious behavior, and often involve questions of life and death. Second, Bonhoeffer's own life serves as a case study for the viability of his views. Bonhoeffer is unique in this regard. His work on ethics began while he was actively involved in the German resistance to National Socialism and ended with his arrest in 1943. He fully expected that others would see his work in the conspiracy as intrinsically related to the plausibility of his ethical views. When it comes to ethics, Bonhoeffer noted, "(i)t is not only what is said that matters, but also the man who says it" (Ethics, p.267).

Third, like Aristotle, Bonhoeffer stays as close to the actual phenomenon of making moral choices as possible. What we experience, when faced with a moral choice, is a highly concrete and unique situation. It may share much with other situations, but it is, nevertheless, a distinct situation involving its own particulars and peculiarities, not excluding the fact that we are making the decisions, and not Socrates or Joan of Ark.

And finally, again like Aristotle, Bonhoeffer sees judgments of character and not action as fundamental to moral evaluation. Evil actions should be avoided, of course, but what needs to be avoided at all costs is the disposition to do evil as part of our character. "What is worse than doing evil," Bonhoeffer notes, "is being evil" (Ethics, p.67). To lie is wrong, but what is worse than the lie is the liar, for the liar contaminates everything he says, because everything he says is meant to further a cause that is false. The liar as liar has endorsed a world of falsehood and deception, and to focus only on the truth or falsity of his particular statements is to miss the danger of being caught up in his twisted world. This is why, as Bonhoeffer says, that "(i)t is worse for a liar to tell the truth than for a lover of truth to lie" (Ethics, p.67). A falling away from righteousness is far worse that a failure of righteousness. To focus exclusively on the lie and not on the liar is a failure to confront evil.

Nevertheless, the central concern of traditional ethics remains: What is right conduct? What justifies doing one thing over another? For Bonhoeffer, there is no justification of actions in advance without criteria for good and evil, and this is not available (Ethics, p.231). Neither future consequences nor past motives by themselves are sufficient to determine the moral value of actions. Consequences have the awkward consequence of continuing indefinitely into the future. If left unattended, this feature would make all moral judgments temporary or probationary, since none are immune to radical revision in the future. What makes a consequence relevant to making an action right is something other than the fact that it is a consequence. The same is true for past motives. One motive or mental attitude surely lies behind another. What makes one mental state and not an earlier state the ultimate ethical phenomenon is something other than the fact that it is a mental state. Since neither motives nor consequences have a fixed stopping point, both are doomed to failure as moral criteria. "On both sides," Bonhoeffer notes, "there are no fixed frontiers and nothing justifies us in calling a halt at some point which we ourselves have arbitrarily determined so that we may at last form a definite judgement" (Ethics, p.190). Without a reason for the relevance of specific motives or consequences, all moral judgments become hopelessly tentative and eternally incomplete.

What is more, general principles have a tendency to reduce all behavior to ethical behavior. To act only for the greatest happiness of the greatest number, or to act only so that the maxim of an action can become a principle of legislation, become as relevant to haircuts as they do to manslaughter. All behavior becomes moral behavior, which drains all spontaneity and joy from life, since the smallest misstep now links your behavior with the worst crimes of your race, gender, or culture. Ethics cannot be reduced to a search for general principles without reducing all of the problems of life to a bleak, pedantic, and monotonous uniformity. The "abundant fullness of life," is denied and with it "the very essence of the ethical itself" (Ethics, p.263).

Reliance on theory, in other words, is destructive to ethics, because it interferes with our ability to deal effectively with evil. Bonhoeffer asks us to consider six strategies, six postures people often strike or adopt when attempting to deal with real ethical situations involving evil and vicious people. Any of these postures or orientations could employ principles, laws, or duties from ethical theory. But, in the end, it makes little difference what principles they invoke. The ethical postures themselves are what make responsible action impossible. A resort to the dictates of reason, for example, demands that we be fair to all the details, facts, and people involved in any concrete moral situation (Ethics, p.67). The reasonable person acts like a court of law, trying to be just to both sides of any dispute. In doing so, he or she ignores all questions of character, since all people are equal before the law, and it makes no difference who does what to whom. Thus, whenever it is in the interest of an evil person to tell the truth, the person of reason must reward him for doing so. The person of reason is helpless to do otherwise, and in the end is rejected by all, the good and the evil, and achieves nothing.

Likewise, Bonhoeffer argues, the enthusiasm of the moral fanatic or dogmatist is also ineffective for a similar reason. The fanatic believes that he or she can oppose the power of evil by a purity of will and a devotion to principles that forbid certain actions. Again, the concern is exclusively on action, and judgments of character are seen as secondary and derivative. But the richness and variety of actual, concrete situations generates questions upon questions for the application of any principle. Sooner or later, Bonhoeffer notes, the fanatic becomes entangled in non-essentials and petty details, and becomes prone to simple manipulation in the hands of evil (Ethics, p.68).

The man or woman of conscience presents an even stranger case. When faced with an inescapable ethical situation that demands action, the person of conscience experiences great turmoil and uncertainty. What the person of conscience is really seeking is peace of mind, or a return to the way things were, before everything erupted into moral chaos. Resolving the tensions is as important as doing the right thing. In fact, doing the right thing should resolve the conflicts and tensions or it is not the right thing. Consequently, people of conscience become prey to quick solutions, to actions of convenience, and to deception, because feeling good about themselves and their world is what matters ultimately. They fail completely to see, as Bonhoeffer notes, that a bad conscience, that disappointment and frustration over one's action, may be a much healthier and stronger state for their souls to experience than peace of mind and feelings of well being (Ethics, p.68).

An emphasis on freedom and private virtuousness are even less capable of dealing effectively with evil. What Bonhoeffer means by freedom is not coextensive with the theoretical freedom of the existential either/or, where it makes no difference what we do, since we are all going to get it in the end anyway; nor is it the freedom of the positivist's personal preference or emotivism. No, freedom here means the freedom to make exceptions to general rules or principles. The free person is the person who has the where-with-all to ignore conscience, reputation, facts, and anything else in order to make the best arrangement possible under the circumstances. This is the freedom to act in any way necessary, even to do what is wrong, in order to avoid what is worse, e.g., avoiding war by being unjust to large numbers of people, and consequently failing to see that what he thinks is worse, may still be the better, failing to see that evil can never be satiated (Ethics, p. 69).

On the other hand, the escape to a domain of private virtue is, perhaps, of all temptations the most dangerous to the Christian. This is a pulling back from the petty and vulgar affairs of the world in order to avoid being contaminated by evil. This monastic urge is rejected by Bonhoeffer, because for him there is no such thing as escaping your responsibility to act. When faced with evil, there is no middle path. You either oppose the persecution of the innocent or you share in it. No one can preserve his or her private virtue by turning away from the world (Ethics, p.69).

Bonhoeffer's last category, duty, is perhaps the most important to him, because it is the most easily co-opted by evil; and again it makes no difference what laws we introduce to determine our duty. If a devotion to duty does not discriminate in terms of character, it will end up serving evil. "The man of duty," Bonhoeffer observes, "will end by having to fulfill his obligations even to the devil" (Ethics, p.69).

Bonhoeffer replaces philosophical ethics and its pursuit of criteria to justify action in advance with an ethics grounded in the emergence of Christ as reconciler. The cornerstone of Bonhoeffer's ethical world is a social/moral realism. In any given context there is always a right thing to do. This reality is a direct result of his Christology. The reality of the sensible world, with all its variety, multiplicity, and concreteness, has been reconciled with the spiritual reality of God. These two radically divorced worlds have now been made compatible and consistent in the reality of Christ (Ethics, p.195). Through Jesus the reality of God has entered the world (Ethics, p.192). If an action is to have meaning, it must correspond to what is real. Since there is only the reality of Christ, Christ is the foundation of ethics. Any Christian who attempts to avoid falsehoods and meaninglessness in his or her life must act in accordance with this reality.

Furthermore, the sole guide for acting in accordance with this reality is the model of Jesus' selfless behavior in the New Testament. There are numerous dimensions to this model. First and foremost, your action can in no way be intended to reflect back on you, your character, or your reputation. You must, for the sake of the moment, unreservedly surrender all self-directed wishes and desires (Ethics, p.232). It is the other, another person, that is the focus of attention, and not yourself. In ethical action, the left hand really must be unaware of what the right hand is doing if the right hand is to do anything ethical. If not, your so-called good action becomes contaminated and its moral nature altered.

Bonhoeffer illustrates this notion of selfless action by contrasting the behavior of Jesus in the New Testament to that of the Pharisee. The Pharisee "...is the man to whom only the knowledge of good and evil has come to be of importance in his entire life..."(Ethics, p.30). Every moment of his life is a moment where he must choose between good and evil (Ethics, p.30). Every action, every judgment, no matter how small, is permeated with the choice of good and evil. He can confront no person without evaluating that person in terms of good and evil (Ethics, p.31). For him, all judgments are moral judgments. No gesture is immune to moral condemnation.

Jesus refuses to see the world in these terms. He lightly, almost cavalierly, casts aside many of the legal distinctions the Pharisee labors to maintain. He bids his disciples to eat on the Sabbath, even though starvation is hardly in question. He heals a woman on the Sabbath, although after eighteen years of illness she could seemingly wait a few more hours. Jesus exhibits a freedom from the law in everything he does, but nothing he does suggests all things are possible. There is nothing arbitrary about his behavior. There is, however, a simplicity and clarity. Unlike the Pharisee, he is unconcerned with the goodness or badness of those he helps, unconcerned with the personal moral worth of those he meets, talks to, dines with, or heals. He is concerned solely and entirely with the well being of another. He exhibits no other concern. He is the paradigm of selfless action, and the exact opposite of the Pharisee, whose every gesture is fundamentally self-reflective.

The responsible person is, thus, a selfless person, who does God's will by serving the spiritual and material needs of another, since "...what is nearest to God is precisely the need of one's neighbor" (Ethics, p.136). The selfless model of Jesus is his or her only guide to responsible action. And second, the responsible person must not hesitate to act for fear of sin. Any attempt to avoid personal guilt, any attempt to preserve moral purity by withdrawing from conflicts is morally irresponsible. For Bonhoeffer, no one who lives in this world can remain disentangled and morally pure and free of guilt (Ethics, p.244). We must not refuse to act on our neighbor's behalf, even violently, for fear of sin. To refuse to accept guilt and bear it for the sake of another has nothing to do with Christ or Christianity. "(I)f I refuse to bear guilt for charity's sake," Bonhoeffer argues, "then my action is in contradiction to my responsibility which has its foundation in reality" (Ethics, p.241). The risk of guilt generated by responsible action is great and cannot be mitigated in advance by self-justifying principles. There is no certainty in a world come of age. No one, in other words, can escape a complete dependency on the mercy and grace of God.

3. References and Further Reading
All quotes from: Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Ethics, (New York: Simon & Schuster Inc., Touchstone Edition, 1995).

Works by Bonhoeffer:
Sanctorum Communio (The Communion of Saints)
Act and Being
The Cost of Discipleship
Life Together
Letters and Papers from Prison
Gesammelte Schriften, 4 vols.
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LTC Stephen F.
LTC Stephen F.
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In Our Time: S21/03 Dietrich Bonhoeffer (Sept 27 2018)
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the ideas and life of the German theologian, born in Breslau/Wroclaw in 1906 and killed in the Flossenbürg concentration camp on 9th April 1945. Bonhoeffer developed ideas about the role of the Church in the secular world, in particular Germany after the Nazis took power in 1933 and demanded the Churches' support. He strongly opposed anti-Semitism and, with a role in the Military Intelligence Department, took part in the resistance, plotting to kill Hitler and meeting with contacts in the Allies. Bonhoeffer's ideas on Christian ethics and the relationship between Christianity and humanism spread more widely from the 1960s with the discovery of unpublished works, including those written in prison as he awaited execution.
With Stephen Plant, Dean and Runcie Fellow at Trinity Hall at the University of Cambridge; Eleanor McLaughlin, Lecturer in Theology and Ethics at the University of Winchester and Lecturer in Ethics at Regent’s Park College at the University of Oxford; and Tom Greggs, Marischal Chair of Divinity at the University of Aberdeen. Producer: Simon Tillotson.

1. Dietrich Bonhoeffer and his twin sister Sabine in 1939
2. Dietrich Bonhoeffer 'The ultimate test of a moral society is the kind of world that leaves to its children'.
3. Dietrich Bonhoeffer 'We must learn to regard people less in the light of what they do or omit to do, and more in the light of what they suffer.'.

Background from {[https://peterbending.medium.com/dietrich-bonhoeffer-a-man-after-god-14914fb6c871}]
Dietrich Bonhoeffer: A Man After God
Demonstrating hope, kindnesss, and courage in the darkest of days
Today, April 9 2020, marks the 75th anniversary of the death of Dietrich Bonhoeffer; it also happens to be Maundy Thursday. Dietrich Bonhoeffer was a German Pastor and Theologian who was executed for his role in conspiring against Hitler and the Nazis during World War II. Over Easter we take time to remember the last week of Jesus’ life before he was executed. However, it can be easy to forget that since then, it is estimated, that there have been over 69 million souls killed because of their faith. Bonhoeffer died as Jesus died; completely surrendered to the will of God. So today, on Maundy Thursday and 75 years after Bonhoeffer was executed, I want to tell the story of how a German Pastor lived and died according to God, under Nazi rule.
First, a brief introduction to the man. Bonhoeffer, and his twin sister Sabine, were born on February 4 1906 into an impressive family. Their mother, Paula, was one of the few women in her generation to hold a university degree coming from a family of musicians, artist, teachers, and theologians who had worked with dukes and kings. She was a woman of faith and greatly influence Bonhoeffer in this regard. Karl Bonhoeffer, their father, was a prominent professor of psychiatry and neurology in a long line of doctors, lawyers, and judges. It were as if the two halves of life and understanding: science and art, logic and creativity, physical and spiritual were united in the Bonhoeffer children. Dietrich and Sabine were the youngest but one of eight children.
From a young age, Bonhoeffer new he wanted to study theology but did so as properly and sincerely as one may study the sciences or law. He continued on to complete his doctorate and the German qualification needed to teach. During the 1930s, he spent time studying and pastoring abroad including spells in America, Barcelona, and London. The rise of National Socialism and the Nazis in Germany saw the state putting more are more impositions on the Church; particularly regarding the treatment of Jews. This was unacceptable to Bonhoeffer who fought back, to no avail. Eventually he and some other pastors decided that it had gone too far, that the church was no longer the church, and so split from the Church of German and formed the Confessing Church. Bonhoeffer also spent time training young pastors for the Confessing Church in communities where they lived and studied together.
In 1939, with war and military enlistment imminent, Bonhoeffer’s church contacts arranged for him to have teaching placement in America. He immediately regretted the decision and felt he should return to be with his people and his country during the troubles that lay ahead. He stayed for only 26 days before heading home. On the way, he stopped in England to see Sabine, who had escaped Germany with her Jewish husband, and arrived back in Berlin on August 26. The war started a week later.
Due to the positions of the Bonhoeffer children and spouses, the family were among the first to learn of the horrors being committed by the Nazis. Predominately through Bonhoeffer’s brother-in-law, Hans von Dohnanyi, who had been working as a jurist within the government for over a decade. Making the most of his access to high-level government officials and documents, Dohnanyi kept a record of the criminal activities of the Nazis from 1938 titled the Chronicle of Shame. Shortly before the start of the war, Dohnanyi was recruited by Admiral Wilhelm Canaris, chief of the Abwehr, a branch of military intelligence, and ally in the conspiracy against Hitler. The two men secured a job for Bonhoeffer to work as part of the Abwehr. As far as the Nazis were concerned, Bonhoeffer was working for army intelligence undercover as a pastor. But Bonhoeffer was a pastor. So in reality, Bonhoeffer was only pretending to pretend to be be working as a pastor for the eyes of the Gestapo. This allowed him to travel freely, engage in his writing, work as a pastor, and continue his efforts as part of the conspiracy. Bonhoeffer often acted as the conspiracies moral compass, helping guide the discussion regarding the severity of measures employed by the group. Soon enough it became clear that they must make an attempt on Hitler’s life. This coterie was determined to turn their convictions into action regardless of the cost. Bonhoeffer also used his church cover to get information of the conspiracy back to London. In the event that they succeeded, they would need to negotiate Germany’s surrender, restore peace, and need help in rebuilding the country. The British government were not interested.
In 1943, Dohnanyi and associates were involved in a plot to blow up the Führer’s plane. They managed to get the bomb on board but it never detonated. Fortunately they were able to recover the unexploded device before anyone realised that an attempt had been made. They tried again, placing a bomb in the overcoat of an official set to give a presentation of captured weaponry to Hitler. Hitler cut the meeting short and they failed again but again managed to avoid detection. Major Rudolf-Christoph von Gersdorff who had bravely volunteered for this suicide mission survived that day and lived until 1980.
Bonhoeffer and Dohnanyi were arrested on April 5 1943. Bonhoeffer was taken to Tegel military prison and Dohnanyi to Wehrmacht, a prison for raking officers. The reason for their arrests, at this point, was largely speculation. The Gestapo knew they were up to something but had little idea as to what. They had been involved in an operation to get a group of jewish families out of Germany after which Dohnanyi had set money to Switzerland for their provision. It is likely the Gestapo mistook this for a money laundering scheme. Bonhoeffer may have been arrested purely on his relationship to Dohnanyi. Whatever the truth, they would spend the last two years of their lives in prison.
Less than three months before his arrest, Bonhoeffer got engaged to Maria von Wedemeyer. The two had met the previous summer at Maria’s grandmother’s, who was a large supporter of Bonhoeffer and his work. The pair spent very little time together but their engagement was a great source of strength to Bonhoeffer during his imprisonment. Bonhoeffer came to believe that a yes to God was a yes to the world he created. This belief was the reason he could be so hopeful. The reason he could be engaged and involved in planning a wedding whilst in prison unsure of his future. It was the reason he kept reading and writing, thinking and praying. Letters and Papers from Prison provides a selection of writings preserved form this time, including a wedding sermon for his friend Eberhard Bethge. In it, Bonhoeffer confirms all that is good in God and life, full of hope and faith, despite is own uncertain situation. One of my favourite lines is, ‘It is not your love that sustains the marriage, but from now on, the marriage that sustains your love.’ Maria later gave her sister permission to publish her correspondence with her Dietrich in the book, Love Letters from Cell 92.
Bonhoeffer’s time at Tegel prison was quite respectable. His cell had a window, he was treated fairly, and he largely played ignorant to everything, presenting himself as a simple, confused, pastor. His first letter to his parents begins, ‘I do want you to be quite sure l am all right’. Whilst officially only allowed to send one letter ever ten days, He soon won favour with some of the guards who helped him transport addition correspondence. His parents and Maria were able to visit him and bring books, clothes, writing materials, and cigarettes. During this time, Bonhoeffer maintained his daily disciplines of scriptural meditation and prayer. He was reported to always be a calming presence during air raids, supporting and reassuring the other prisoners. His self-discipline and reliance on God provided him with the peace and courage others saw in him.
On July 20 1944, Claus Schenk von Stauffenberg spearheaded operation Valkyrie, a plot to assassinate Hitler in his Prussian bunker and take over the German government. They failed. Hitler was furious and demanded the destruction of everyone involved in conspiracy against him. Stauffenberg was executed in the early hours of the following morning. Bonhoeffer’s uncle, General Paul von Hase, was hanged a few weeks later for his part in the plot. After the failed assassination attempt, Bonhoeffer made plans to escape prison. Just as everything was in place, his brother Klaus was arrested. Escaping prison now would make Klaus look guilty and could put his parents and Maria in danger, so he decided against it. In September, Dohnanyi’s Chronicle of Shame files were discovered sealing the fate of both Dohnanyi and Bonhoeffer.
After 18 months at Tegel, Bonhoeffer was moved to the underground Gestapo prison, on October 8 1944. Whilst unlikely that Bonhoeffer was tortured during his interrogations, most others certainly were — including his brother Klaus. Fabian von Schlabrendorff, Maria’s cousin, in his book ‘I Knew Dietrich Bonhoeffer’ writes, “He was always good-tempered, always of the same kindness and politeness towards everybody, so that to my surprise, within a short time, he had won over his warders, who were not always kindly disposed.” It seemed that Bonhoeffer was always full of hope, kindness and courage. Eventually, and largely due to concerns for Maria and his parents, Bonhoeffer gave up pretending and declared himself an enemy of National Socialism. He was still confident, however, there was no evidence of high treason. During this time, Bonhoeffer still shared all he had with his fellow inmates. His strength and peace along with his food parcels and letters.
Three days after Bonhoeffer had turned 39, he was transferred to Buchenwald concentration camp where he met the British intelligence officer Captain Payne Best. In a letter to Sabine after the war Best wrote about Bonhoeffer, ‘His soul really shone in the dark desperation of our prison.’ And later to Bonhoeffer’s parents, ‘He was, without exception, the finest and most loveable man I have ever met.’ Another British officer, Hugh Falconer described Bonhoeffer as being, ‘very happy the whole time I knew him’ and doing ‘a great deal to keep some of the weaker brethren from depression and anxiety’. Bonhoeffer was a prisoner at Buchenwald for seven weeks and on April 3, with the sound of allied guns in the distance, he and his fellow ‘high value’ prisoners were bundled into the back of a van and they set off across the country.
They were headed to Flossenbürg concentration camp to the south. After serval mix ups, van trouble, and initially being denied entry to Flossenbürg, Bonhoeffer and the other prisoners found themselves in a small Bavarian village of Schönberg, three days later and 100 miles south of their destination. They were placed in a room in the village school. Upon their arrival some of the villages bought food and the group ate and slept. The next day the villages bought more food for the group.
On April 8 1945, the first Sunday after Easter, Pastor Dietrich Bonhoeffer lead a service for his fellow captives. He prayed, read Isaiah 53.5 and 1 Peter 1.3 and explained the passages to everyone. Captain Best recalls, ‘[He] spoke to us in a manner which reached the hearts of all, finding just the right words to express the spirit of our imprisonment and the thoughts and resolutions which it had bought.’ After Bonhoeffer had finished the final prayer, two men arrived to take him away.
On Sunday afternoon they escorted him back to Flossenbürg. Sunday evening he was tried and the followed morning, he was executed.
The Gestapo had found the diaries of Admiral Wilhelm Canaris, the chief of the Abwehr. These diaries confirmed both Bonhoeffer’s and Dohnanyi’s involvement in conspiring against the Nazis. After the mix up with Bonhoeffer’s travel, two officers had been sent to the Schönberg school to retrieve Bonhoeffer. Admiral Canaris died alongside Bonhoeffer at Flossenbürg. Dohnanyi had been sentenced to death by Hitler on April 6 and executed a few days later at Sachsenhausen. Two weeks after Bonhoeffer’s death, allied troops arrived at Fossenburg. Around the same time Bonhoeffer’s brother Klaus and other brother-in-law Rudiger were executed as soviet troops approached Berlin. A week after that, Adolf Hitler committed suicide.
Dietrich Bonhoeffer died as he lived, ‘entirely submissive to the will of God.’ I believe Bonhoeffer’s life shows us the things that matter: ultimate trust in God, a faith for the future, and the courage for obedience and action without fear. These things bought him a freedom to say yes to God and yes to life and to face death bravely and nobly, serving people until the end. He was, truly, a man after God.
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SPC Douglas Bolton
Maj Marty Hogan great religious leader.
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Lt Col Charlie Brown
Great share on a brave man who stood against the Nazis
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