The following comes from the Dec. 18 Wall Street Journal.
Though the Nazis never won an outright majority in the parliament of the decaying Weimar Republic, they received nearly 44% of the vote in the critical election of March 1933—a mandate that enabled Adolf Hitler’s anointment as supreme leader. To some, however, the evil character of the Nazi regime was visible from the start. Among them were the young Lutheran theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer and his brother-in-law Hans von Dohnanyi, the subjects of Elisabeth Sifton and Fritz Stern’s No Ordinary Men. In this concise, engaging account, Ms. Sifton, an eminent book editor [and daughter of Reinhold Niebuhr], and Mr. Stern, a distinguished historian of Germany, trace Bonhoeffer and Dohnanyi’s evolution from partaking in small acts of opposition to playing leading roles in the anti-Hitler resistance.
Bonhoeffer, a pastor, fought Nazi efforts to meld Protestant churches into a single “Reich Church.” Dohnanyi, a lawyer in the military intelligence service, used his position to document Nazi crimes and save Jews while joining several plots to kill Hitler. Their paths of resistance intertwined when Dohnanyi recruited Bonhoeffer to the anti-Hitler conspiracy.
Born in 1906, Bonhoeffer received a strong moral and intellectual upbringing from his father, Karl, an eminent Berlin psychiatrist, and his devout mother, Paula. The family had a notable independent streak; Paula chose to home-school their eight children in their early years. (“Germans,” she observed, “have their backbones broken twice in life: first in the schools, secondly in the military.”) One morning in 1922, Dietrich was in school when he heard “a strange crackling” from the street. It was the assassination of Germany’s Jewish foreign minister, Walter Rathenau, a crime the Bonhoeffers recognized as an omen. “Only think of the trouble we shall have later with these people,” Bonhoeffer’s brother Klaus wrote.
Dohnanyi, the son of a famous Hungarian composer, was childhood friends with the Bonhoeffers and later married one of Dietrich’s sisters. While Hans began a brilliant career as a lawyer in the German civil service, Dietrich gained renown as a young theologian. Influenced by the Swiss master Karl Barth, who rejected the historicism of much academic theology and emphasized the transcendence of God across time and culture, Bonhoeffer sought to develop an account of how the Christian church could exercise leadership in an increasingly chaotic society. He finished his dissertation at 25, studied with the theologian and ethicist Reinhold Niebuhr during a year abroad in America, and began lecturing at the University of Berlin in 1931.
Two years later, Hitler barred “non-Aryans” from holding positions in the civil service, the academy or the clergy. While most church leaders dithered, the 27-year-old Dietrich published an important essay, “The Church and the Jewish Question,” that subtly challenged the legitimacy of Nazi rule and argued that the church must not only help “those who have fallen beneath the wheel” but “at times halt the wheel itself.”
Over the next few years, Ms. Sifton and Mr. Stern write, “virtually everything he did”—co-founding a league of anti-Nazi churches, developing relationships with Jewish and Catholic communities abroad—”set him against the Nazifying church authorities.” By 1936 he was banned from lecturing at the University of Berlin. He retreated to the country estate of Finkenwalde, where he continued to mentor young pastors in secret and wrote a pointed tract called “The Cost of Discipleship.” Two years later Finkenwalde was shut down on Heinrich Himmler’s orders.
Meanwhile, Dohnanyi had become chief assistant to the minister of justice, a post that gave him invaluable cover and access to top-secret documents. As early as 1934, he began compiling records of Nazi atrocities, storing them in a safe at an army base outside Berlin. The events of Kristallnacht on Nov. 9, 1938—a spree of riots that destroyed more than 200 synagogues and led to the arrest of more than 30,000 Jews—only increased his determination to remain at the center of the resistance.
Dohnanyi came into contact with a circle of anti-Hitler army officers, and in 1939 he became a deputy in the Abwehr (military counterintelligence), a redoubt of anti-Nazi sentiment. Hans soon brought on board Bonhoeffer, who was to use his foreign contacts to gather intelligence for the resistance. Together they coordinated a daring rescue operation—brilliantly conceived by Dohnanyi—that allowed more than a dozen Jewish refugees to escape to Switzerland using false papers. Bonhoeffer called on Swiss friends, including Karl Barth, to help secure their passage.
It wasn’t long, however, before the Gestapo had the pair in its sights, as more and more evidence linked them to the rescue operation and multiple failed attempts on Hitler’s life. After they were arrested in early April 1943, their resistance took another form: withstanding isolation and harsh interrogations and refusing to name names. Both men found sustenance in their Bibles. And their families provided indispensable support, sending letters and packages with hidden messages that helped them coordinate their responses to questioning. Unbowed to the last, they were finally hanged in April 1945….
To read the entire story, click here.
History is constantly repeating itself. Especially in the last 100 years we see what has occurred when only a few start a revolution, and then it becomes widespread. When will we wake up? We are all too drunk with materialism, popularity and entertainment to know the true facts. The majority just want their welfare checks, as the American episcopacy agrees, so more and more of the people become slaves to the government. The freedoms that we Americans have lost in fifty years or less were worth fighting for one hundred years ago. But today, even Catholics will not stand up for their traditional faith. We have become a society of compromise and political correctness which is contrary to Catholic moral values, and the attributes which made America a once great nation. Once we were under God; now we are under men. Remember, in Germany, before Hitler, the people used to greet each one by saying, “Grusse Gott” (greet God). This was replaced with “Heil Hitler” (hail Hitler). God is being replaced by man. It is happening here in America now. May God have mercy on us!
Amen, Father Karl.
I would concur with your comments, Father Karl, virtually word for word, except that I think our nation’s culture is under the influence of magic thinking even more than of men, and that purchase of unreality is rooted in faith in the magic of materialism, career success (or at least money), physical attractiveness, being or becoming socially hip, cool, and current, the fashionable vehicle, style of furniture, mode of dress, choice of political party and candidate, and sexual indulgence. Having moral standards is passé, believing in God is so last year, and being anti-abortion is equivalent to being anti-women in the current set of norms. If one questions the values of modernism, one is considered laughably atavistic and socially unacceptable in many circles.
In contrast, the great theologians whose work emerged from the chaos of the 20th century are men whose philosophies, lives and values deserve to be studied by the young men and women of today, and in so many cases celebrated. They are the true heroes (and too often martyrs) our society should be elevating far above rock stars and athletes, whose contributions to the welfare of humankind are ephemeral indeed in comparison.
A couple items here…
How about some items on the Catholic priests who were martyred? Fr Alfred Delp S.J. who was killed in a concentration camp for his anti nazi role? Yet, he penned some remarkable commentary on his times (that now more and more reflect our own). Although we are past Advent I would strongly recommend a book of his prison writings and sermons “Advent of the Heart”
Secondly, we have to be as the only solution now is the only solution there ever was: in the model of the friars, we must sanctify ourselves with the help of God’s grace and preach Christ crucified throughout our land.
I have known people even more admirable than this in the right to life movement.
Because of their quiet, clever, Christian determination, they have persoanlly foiled the killers, saved lives and converted
many. Very few of these champions work within a right to life organization since such does very little of substance these days.
Join the effort yourself. Do something deliberately liberating every day in your own sphere of influence.
Need suggestionsto get started? Send a letter to your bishop today or better yet—find him at a Mass and talk with him—-tell him to stop his allignment with the pro-abort DEMs or you will raise the biggest fuss ever within the diocese. Go to your local abortion mill and stop every girl going in and show her photos of unborn babies and tell her someone wonderful will adopt her precious baby.
Personal direct action by all of us is essential and will strengthen your soul.
I have always greatly admired World War II saintly Christian heroes and their beautiful books and other published material! These saintly heroes set such a beautiful, Christ-like example, for all the world to look up to, and follow!! But I do wonder, if it is Christ-like–or diabolical– for some of these heroes (like Bonhoeffer) to have been involved in a plot to kill anyone, even an evil man, like Hitler?? What would Christ say, about such a thing?? What would St. Maximillian Kolbe, another beautiful WWII saint and hero, have to say??
I do not think it was immoral to plot to kill Hitler.
I see it as an extension of “just war”.
However, was it also moral to execute Dr. Tiller the late-term abortion doctor?
I would say no. The problem is that abortion is still legal, and that other doctors will eventually step into vacuum given the demand for it. Thus, killing him is not likely to make much of a difference. This analysis also sheds light on why assassinating Hitler was moral. He was a particularly evil individual whose death was likely to end an enormous amount of immorality. If a country is so far gone that killing one evil doer will simply result in another person performing the same acts, then assassination serves little purpose—and then the moral solution is not to kill such individuals, but to work to change a corrupt culture.
Why not ask what some of the many warrior Saints like King David, or St. King Louis IX would say! You seem to have a misdirected idea of even what Our Lord taught, he never condemned the Centurion, quite the contrary, he said “I have not found such faith in all of Israel” and he did not in turn tell him to leave the Military!
I don’t believe St. Maximillian was a pacifist either. Where did you get your catechisis, from the the REC?
May God have mercy on an amoral Amerika!
Viva Cristo Rey!
God bless, yours in Their Hearts,
Kenneth M. Fisher
Fr. Fisher, you are a priest– right? With a parish, in California? Well– on what grounds, then, would YOU, as a priest, kill someone? Or, hear a confession of a murderer of an evil man such as Hitler– and not say this was a criminal act?
Bonhoeffer was a young writer, teacher, theologian, and university lecturer– as well as a Luthern pastor! Would a Catholic priest or Christian pastor be believeable, if he openly advocated assassination? How about Pope Pius XII, who narrowly escaped assassination himself, in Germany? I always admired him so greatly! You ask, where I learned my Catholic catechism. Same place as you, most probably– at the Church, and at home, in the 1950s! And just what is the “REC??” I was taught the “just war” concept, and always thought it applied to a very serious situation of defense of our great country, as in World War II. Bishop Sheen, whom I also admired greatly, never advocated the “just war” theory as applied to killing an evil leader, such as Stalin. But I was never taught the idea that it applied to situations of assassinating an evil leader, such as Hitler. Well, as a priest, hopefully well-versed in the Catechism– what do you say?? I am also a devout, traditional Catholic lay person, and a lady!! Not a man! So– what do you say, to Catholic laywomen?? It will seem a more delicate thing, perhaps, to a Catholic lay woman — than to the Catholic laymen!!