Many Germans accepted the rise of National Socialism — Nazism — and Adolf Hitler. Other individuals worked against him, and many paid with their lives. Dietrich Bonhoeffer was one of them.
Eric Metaxas in Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy examines the life of this German theologian who tried to influence Christians during the Third Reich. Bonhoeffer, one of eight children, grew up in Berlin, where his father worked as a university professor. Early in his life, Bonhoeffer knew he wanted to become a theologian even though his family had different plans for him. After receiving his degree, he decided to become a pastor instead of remaining in academia. He spent a year in Barcelona, Spain before coming to the United States for additional study.
At the time Bonhoeffer began his career, Hitler and the Nazis came to power. The federated German Evangelical Church fell under their influence. It traced its beginning back to Martin Luther and the Reformation, but many of its churches abandoned that tradition and tried to adhere to the kind of Christianity acceptable to the regime. Bonhoeffer saw through this ruse and developed the Confessing Church, which held to traditional Christian beliefs and resisted Nazi efforts to subvert them. He helped to write the Barmen Declaration protesting changes to official dogma. He lived in London for a time, serving German community churches as a pastor. He also became involved in the ecumenical movement against the Nazis. Upon his return to Germany, Bonhoeffer lost his teaching position,
As Bonhoeffer worked to support the Confessing Church, Hitler continued to cement his hold on Germany. Austria and Czechoslovakia fell into the German sphere. Jews lost their standing in the country Bonhoeffer’s family never supported National Socialism. His twin sister and her husband lived in England throughout the war. Bonhoeffer briefly left for the safety of the United States, but felt he needed to return to Germany.
Throughout all the turmoil in his life, Bonhoeffer continued his theological work. He taught seminary students until stopped by the Nazis. He wrote several books, most notably Cost of Discipleship, based on the Sermon on the Mount.
Back in Germany, Bonhoeffer joined the German Resistance working to remove Hitler from power. He sought help from Winston Churchill and England but none came. While working for the Resistance, he became engaged but the couple chose to put off a wedding until the Nazis were no longer in power.
Bonhoeffer ran out of luck as the Nazis learned of the Resistance movement and began to arrest its members, including the German theologian. In April 1943, the Nazis sent Bonhoeffer to military prison for two years. While in prison, he ministered to other prisoners and continued writing, becoming one of the most important Christian voices of the 20th century. The Nazis condemned Bonhoeffer to die in a concentration camp just before the end of the war. As he died, witnesses observed him in prayer. Dietrich Bonhoeffer died as he lived, steadfast in his faith even as he defied the government.
This is a complete biography of a great theologian. I never knew much about this individual, and enjoyed learning of his life and the trials he endured during the time of Adolf Hitler. For a good read about someone who fought Nazism and all it stood for, this is a good start.
About the Author
Judy Klamm is a reference librarian in Central Reference. She has written book reviews for Library Journal and various Presbyterian publications.