Posted by: SJS | January 15, 2018

Remembering Bonhoeffer – Resisting Hitler from within Germany in 1944

On July 20, 1944 there was a failed attempt to assassinate Adolph Hitler.  This event occurred during the same summer my father arrived at his first USN posting in the Mediterranean when PT boats would play a key role in the liberation of Southern France.  As he served on the PT base radio unit, it did not take long for Red to see how formidable was the enemy he faced.  German fighter planes and E-boats made every PT sailor realize that no place was safe either on the water or on land.

Within Germany that summer, the failed assassination attempt involved members of the German military, the diplomatic corps, and a young Lutheran pastor named Dietrich Bonhoeffer.  The conspiracy of resistance to the tyrannical dictator came tantalizingly close to ending the life of the Nazi  despot who was responsible for the deaths of millions during his reign of terror.   As it was, Hitler survived and unleashed the Gestapo to track down, torture, and execute all who had been involved in the plot to take him out.  Bonhoeffer was arrested, moved among prisons in Berlin and German concentration camps, tortured, and executed in the spring of 1945.  Within two weeks of his death, Allied forces liberated the camp where he had been murdered.  The Gestapo thugs executed the conspirators slowly, over several hours, using piano wire.

As a pastor and a gifted theologian, the decision to join a conspiracy to kill Hitler came as a result of an agonizing process of discernment for Bonhoeffer.  When he came to realize the full scope of the Nazi plan for “the Final Solution” -the complete extermination of the Jewish community in Europe- the young pastor decided that he had no choice.  Praying and preaching were not enough.  Young Dietrich threw in his lot with the conspirators who were determined to eliminate Hitler regardless of the consequences.   When I was studying the theological writings of Bonhoeffer in school, I remember asking my father about him.  “Those guys were brave,” my father said “as brave as any of the guys I served with on the PTs.”  Coming from Red, there was no higher praise that could be given.

On this national holiday when we honor the memory of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., it is good to remember the life of another Christian martyr who served as an inspiration to King–Dietrich Bonhoeffer.  And at the current time when the White House is occupied by a man who has earned the endorsement of Neo-Nazi groups and has become a hero to the Ku Klux Klan and uses the term “shithole” to describe nations (and an entire continent)–we need to highlight the contributions of champions like Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and Dietrich Bonhoeffer who gave their lives in opposition to racism and hate.

We need to reclaim and protect the ideals that have already made America great.  Going forward, let us honor the legacy of Martin Luther King, Jr. and recommit ourselves to the values for which he lived and died.


  1. I think you and Mike would really interest you.

  2. Thanks very much.

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