The picture is a still from a behind-the-scenes shot of the movie God’s Spy. The film was shot in Limerick and is now in the post-production stage. It tells the story of Dietrich Bonhoeffer.
Bonhoeffer was a German Lutheran pastor, theologian and anti-Nazi dissident who was a key founding member of the Confessing Church—a movement within German Protestantism during Nazi Germany that arose in opposition to government-sponsored efforts to unify all Protestant churches into a single pro-Nazi German Evangelical Church.
Bonhoeffer’s name is mentioned quite a bit in a book I am reading at this moment. titled, Defying Hitler: The Germans Who Resisted Nazi Rule.
Born in Breslau on 4 February 1906, Dietrich Bonhoeffer was the sixth child of Karl and Paula Bonhoeffer. His father was a neurologist and one with plans to stop Hitler. First, arrest Hitler, next have him examined by Bonhoeffer. This would be to determine if Hitler had brain damage. That plan, unfortunately, never came to fruition.
Two days after Adolf Hitler became chancellor of Germany, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, then lecturer at Berlin University, took to the radio and denounced the Nazi Fuhrerprinzip, the leadership principle, that was merely a synonym for dictatorship. Bonhoeffer’s broadcast was cut off before he could finish. Shortly thereafter, he moved to London to pastor a German congregation while supporting the Confessing Church movement in Germany, a declaration by Lutheran and evangelical pastors and theologians that they would not have their churches co-opted by the Nazi government for propagandistic purposes. Bonhoeffer returned to Germany in 1935 to run a seminary for the Confessing Church; the government closed it in 1937.
Bonhoeffer’s outspoken political opinions isolated him within his church. Throughout the 1930s many of his activities were focused abroad.
He regularly reported on events in Nazi Germany to ecumenical Protestant leaders in Europe and the United States. In September 1933, he attended the ecumenical World Alliance meeting in Sofia, Bulgaria, where he spoke about the Jewish question, and the delegates passed a resolution condemning Nazi actions against Jews. Bonhoeffer took a copy of the resolution to the German consul in Sofia to prove that Nazi policies were damaging to Germany’s image abroad. The leaders of the German Evangelical Church in Berlin demanded that he withdraw from ecumenical activities; Bonhoeffer refused.
From September 1933 to April 1935, Bonhoeffer served as pastor to several German-speaking congregations in London, leading them to break with the official German church and join the Confessing Church. In April 1935, Bonhoeffer returned to Germany, where the Confessing Church was under increasing pressure from the Gestapo. Most church leaders refused to openly oppose the Nazi regime and criticized their colleagues who did. As a result, more radical Confessing Christians found themselves embattled on all sides.
Bonhoeffer began to train young clergy at an illegal Confessing Church seminary, Finkenwalde, which was closed by the Gestapo View This Term in the Glossary in September 1937. Bonhoeffer spent the next two years secretly travelling throughout Eastern Germany to supervise his students, most of whom were working illegally in small parishes. The Gestapo banned him from Berlin in January 1938 and issued an order forbidding him from public speaking in September 1940.
Pressed into service in the Office for Foreign Affairs/Counter Intelligence of the Armed Forces High Command in 1940, Bonhoeffer repeatedly travelled abroad to contact the Allied governments. His brother-in-law, Hans von Dohnanyi—son of the Hungarian composer Ernő Dohnányi, also was an officer at the Abwehr, the German intelligence service. Dohananyi used his position in the Abwehr to help Jews escape from Germany and worked with German resistance against the Nazi régime.
The first deportations of Berlin Jews to the East occurred on 15 October 1941.
A few days later, Bonhoeffer and Friedrich Perels, a Confessing Church lawyer, wrote a memo giving details of the deportations. The memo was sent to foreign contacts, as well as, trusted German military officials in the hope that it might move them to action. Bonhoeffer also became peripherally involved in “Operation Seven.” It was a plan to help Jews escape Germany by giving them papers as foreign agents. After the Gestapo uncovered the “Operation Seven” funds that had been sent abroad for the emigrants, Bonhoeffer and his brother-in-law Hans von Dohnanyi were arrested in April 1943.
For one and a half years, Bonhoeffer was imprisoned at Tegel Prison and was awaiting trial. There he continued his work in religious outreach among his fellow prisoners and guards. Sympathetic guards helped smuggle his letters out of prison to Eberhard Bethge and others. The uncensored letters were posthumously published in Letters and Papers from Prison. One of those guards, a corporal named Knobloch, even offered to help him escape from the prison and disappear with him. Plans were made for the disappearance, but in the end, Bonhoeffer declined it, fearing Nazi retribution against his family, especially his brother Klaus and brother-in-law Hans von Dohnányi, who was also imprisoned.
After the failure of the 20 July Plot on Hitler’s life in 1944 and the discovery in September 1944 of secret Abwehr documents relating to the conspiracy, Bonhoeffer was accused of association with the conspirators, although he had been in prison when the attempt happened. He was transferred from the military prison Tegel in Berlin, where he had been held for 18 months, to the detention cellar of the house prison of the Reich Security Main Office, the Gestapo’s high-security prison. In February 1945, he was secretly moved to Buchenwald Concentration Camp, and finally to Flossenbürg Concentration Camp.
The following hymn was written by him in the concentration camp, shortly before his death.
By gracious powers so wonderfully sheltered,
And confidently waiting, come what may,
we know that God is with us night and morning,
and never fails to greet us each new day.
Yet is this heart by its old foe tormented,
Still, evil days bring burdens hard to bear;
Oh, give our frightened souls the sure salvation
for which, O Lord, You taught us to prepare.
And when this cup You give is filled to brimming
With bitter suffering, hard to understand,
we take it thankfully and without trembling,
out of so good and so beloved a hand.
Yet when again in this same world You give us
The joy we had, the brightness of Your Sun,
we shall remember all the days we lived through,
and our whole life shall then be Yours alone.”
On 9 April 1945, he was hanged with other conspirators. His brother Klaus Bonhoeffer was also executed for resistance activities, as were his brothers-in-law Hans von Dohnanyi and Rüdiger Schleicher.
There is so much more that could be said about this man. So many books have been written about him and now a movie had been made about this Hero. All that is left for me to say is happy birthday, Herr Bonhoeffer.
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