Falling into the spokes of the wheel

Falling into the spokes of the wheel

He warned against Nazis, called for church's assistance to Jews, and helped prepare assassination attempt against Hitler. Dietrich Bonhoeffer dedicated his life to faith and people. 75 years ago he was executed.

Halle and Hanau show: Right-wing extremism and anti-Semitism are increasingly poisoning the social climate in Germany. In Dietrich Bonhoeffer's time it was National Socialism whose danger he recognized early on.

In April 1933, when the persecution of the Jews began, he formulated in the essay "The Church before the Jewish Question" the unconditional obligation of the Church towards all victims of any social order – even if they are not Christians.

In 1944, in the Tegel prison yard, Bonhoeffer was asked by a fellow prisoner how he, as a Christian and theologian, could be responsible for actively resisting Hitler.

Uncomfortable outsider

He responded in the presence of the guards with a picture: When a drunk driver races down Kurfurstendamm at high speed, it cannot only be the task of the pastor to bury the victims of the madman and comfort their relatives; it is more important to wrest the steering wheel from the drunkard.

Bonhoeffer not only tried to fall into the spokes of the wheel by participating in the resistance movement. "He remained an uncomfortable outsider," Eberhard Bethge wrote in 1970 about his friend Dietrich, whose prison records he had published in 1951 under the title "Resistance and Surrender".

How did Bonhoeffer become an uncomfortable outsider?? Born in Breslau in 1906 as the sixth of eight children in a professor's house, he grew up in Berlin from 1912, and began studying theology in 1923.

This decision was based on the deep consternation after the death of his older brother Walter, who was killed in the First World War in 1918 at the age of 18. An academic lightning career followed: doctorate at 21, habilitation at 24.

The Sermon on the Mount opened Bonhoeffer's eyes for dealing with the persecuted, especially with the Jews: "An expulsion of the Jews from the West must entail the expulsion of Christ, for Jesus Christ was a Jew."Bonhoeffer saw the Nazis as a danger to Germany at a very early stage. Just two days after Hitler came to power in 1933, he warned in a radio speech that the "Fuhrer" could become a "seducer".

To the USA and back

In 1935, he took over the training of young theologians in a so-called preacher's seminary of the "Confessing Church". His students remember an excited exclamation by Bonhoeffer: "Only those who cry out for the Jews may also sing Gregorian chants!"In 1937, the seminary was banned by the Gestapo and continued to work underground.

In 1939 Bonhoeffer was given the opportunity to emigrate to the USA. But he soon returned: "I have to go through this difficult period of our history with the Christians in Germany." A risky double life began: From 1940 he worked for military intelligence, where his brother-in-law Hans von Dohnanyi and others worked for the resistance. Bonhoeffer got engaged in January 1943, but was already married on the 5th. April arrested.

Executed in Flossenburg concentration camp

When the assassination of 20. July 1944 failed, the extent of the conspiracy in which Dietrich, his brother Klaus and his brother-in-law were involved became clear. This means certain death for all those imprisoned.

The next day, Bonhoeffer wrote a letter to his friend Eberhard that is almost a spiritual legacy: "I experience it to this very hour that one learns to believe only in the fullness of this worldly life. When you completely renounce making something of yourself – … – then one throws oneself completely into God's arms, then one no longer takes one's own suffering seriously, but God's suffering in the world, then one wakes up with Christ in Gethsemane, and I think that is faith, that is metanoia (conversion) and that is how one becomes a human being, a Christian."

Am 9. April 1945 Bonhoeffer was hanged in Flossenburg concentration camp on Hitler's orders. His last written note read: "I die as a silent witness of Christ among his brothers," his last sentence: "This is the end, for me the beginning of life."

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