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Bonhoeffer

“Bonhoeffer, a pastor, fought Nazi efforts to meld Protestant churches into a single ‘Reich Church.’  Alexander Kazam

Book Review: ‘No Ordinary Men,’ by Elisabeth Sifton and Fritz Stern

The pastor Dietrich Bonhoeffer and his lawyer brother-in-law worked together to resist the Nazis and help Jews escape Germany.

Alexander Kazam, The Wall Street Journal, December 19, 2013, p. A 17

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 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. Continue reading

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