How Bonhoeffer, his wife, and brother-in-law opposed the Nazis

The New York Review of Books has published a rather remarkable article by Elisabeth Sifton and Fritz Stern, a  detailed account of  the ways Dietrich Bonhoeffer and his family opposed the Nazi regime.  You might be familiar with Bonhoeffer’s activities–though I learned a lot I didn’t realize–but the actions of his wife Christine and, especially, his brother-in-law Hans von Dohnanyi, who was a major mastermind of the German opposition to Hitler, are not known nearly as well as they deserve to be.  It is a moving story of courage and of faith.

via The Tragedy of Dietrich Bonhoeffer and Hans von Dohnanyi by Elisabeth Sifton and Fritz Stern | The New York Review of Books.

About Gene Veith

Professor of Literature at Patrick Henry College, the Director of the Cranach Institute at Concordia Theological Seminary, a columnist for World Magazine and TableTalk, and the author of 18 books on different facets of Christianity & Culture.

  • Mark Veenman

    “German Conservatives orchestrated” Hitler’s rise to the chancellorship?. The NSDAP in free elections never won more than 33% of the popular vote, so Hitler’s rise to power was illegal. But conservatives? The party program is overtly socialist if modern socialists would take time to read and understand.

  • Mark Veenman

    “German Conservatives orchestrated” Hitler’s rise to the chancellorship?. The NSDAP in free elections never won more than 33% of the popular vote, so Hitler’s rise to power was illegal. But conservatives? The party program is overtly socialist if modern socialists would take time to read and understand.

  • Hanni

    Thanks so much for bringing this article to our attention. When I was young, and visiting my father’s German family, we would always pray for Martin Niemoller. Years later, investigating his life, I discovered Dietrich B. The dvd, “Bonhoeffer” is very enlightening because it features Eberhardt Bethge, alive at the time, DBs closest friend and cofounder of the seminary they started (in the heart of Nazi Germany). Another dvd, “Agent of Grace” is very good, and of course ther are his writings. He was not a “prvocateur” or activist really, but as he said Christ compelled him to act.

  • Hanni

    Thanks so much for bringing this article to our attention. When I was young, and visiting my father’s German family, we would always pray for Martin Niemoller. Years later, investigating his life, I discovered Dietrich B. The dvd, “Bonhoeffer” is very enlightening because it features Eberhardt Bethge, alive at the time, DBs closest friend and cofounder of the seminary they started (in the heart of Nazi Germany). Another dvd, “Agent of Grace” is very good, and of course ther are his writings. He was not a “prvocateur” or activist really, but as he said Christ compelled him to act.

  • SKPeterson

    Mark @ 1 – One has to take into account that political terminology of “Left” and “Right” takes on different meanings when crossing borders. While there are certainly similarities, there are also substantial differences. The Right in Germany had much of its birth and direction in the policies of Bismarck, which were imbued with a quasi-socialist and nationalist character from the beginning. During WWI, it was the Rightists, i.e., the advocates of a strong state embodied in the monarchy, that instituted Kriegssozializmus, the experience of which conditioned much of the German electorate to vote for a socialism that was also conservative and nationalist. The argument in post-war (I) Germany was between socialists of the left and socialists of the right. The Liberals (who in the U.S. context would be the Libertarians or libertarian Republicans, or the old classical liberals of Anglo-American political history) never stood a chance.

  • SKPeterson

    Mark @ 1 – One has to take into account that political terminology of “Left” and “Right” takes on different meanings when crossing borders. While there are certainly similarities, there are also substantial differences. The Right in Germany had much of its birth and direction in the policies of Bismarck, which were imbued with a quasi-socialist and nationalist character from the beginning. During WWI, it was the Rightists, i.e., the advocates of a strong state embodied in the monarchy, that instituted Kriegssozializmus, the experience of which conditioned much of the German electorate to vote for a socialism that was also conservative and nationalist. The argument in post-war (I) Germany was between socialists of the left and socialists of the right. The Liberals (who in the U.S. context would be the Libertarians or libertarian Republicans, or the old classical liberals of Anglo-American political history) never stood a chance.

  • Wrigley Peterborough

    Elisabeth Sifton is Reinhold Niebuhr’s daughter. RN knew DB well.

  • Wrigley Peterborough

    Elisabeth Sifton is Reinhold Niebuhr’s daughter. RN knew DB well.

  • EWR

    I believe Christine was Bonhoeffer’s sister – married to Hans, correct? Dietrich was engaged to be married at the time of his death.

  • EWR

    I believe Christine was Bonhoeffer’s sister – married to Hans, correct? Dietrich was engaged to be married at the time of his death.

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  • Mark Veenman

    @SKP. Fair enough. Most of the Canadian socialists I know are both nationalistic and protectionist, and would find themselves in broad agreement with large swathes of the NSDAP platform. Too often, the NSDAP is presented by North American media with great glee as Germany’s radical right wing party of the ’30s. The media are generally all too pleased to let differences in political nomenclature slide.

  • Mark Veenman

    @SKP. Fair enough. Most of the Canadian socialists I know are both nationalistic and protectionist, and would find themselves in broad agreement with large swathes of the NSDAP platform. Too often, the NSDAP is presented by North American media with great glee as Germany’s radical right wing party of the ’30s. The media are generally all too pleased to let differences in political nomenclature slide.

  • http://donnielawsoniii.com Donnie

    What an amazing man! From his time in New York to what he did back in Germany. I’m thankful for all the recent attention the past few years.

  • http://donnielawsoniii.com Donnie

    What an amazing man! From his time in New York to what he did back in Germany. I’m thankful for all the recent attention the past few years.

  • Don

    Dr. Veith, Christine was his sister not his wife. Bonhoeffer was engaged but never married. I just read Bonhoeffer: Pastor,Martyr,Prophet,Spy by Eric Metaxas this summer. It is a fascinating account of this life.

  • Don

    Dr. Veith, Christine was his sister not his wife. Bonhoeffer was engaged but never married. I just read Bonhoeffer: Pastor,Martyr,Prophet,Spy by Eric Metaxas this summer. It is a fascinating account of this life.

  • Momof3inTenn

    I’d be interested in reading a theological discussion on his involvement in the plot to assassinate Hitler. I’m sure there’s one out there, but I haven’t seen it. Just wondering how he justified it. I have heard defense lawyers use the ‘sumbitch deserved to die’ defense, and if ever a man deserved to be killed, it would be Hitler. But I’m just curious about the theological implications of a pastor being a part of the plot.

  • Momof3inTenn

    I’d be interested in reading a theological discussion on his involvement in the plot to assassinate Hitler. I’m sure there’s one out there, but I haven’t seen it. Just wondering how he justified it. I have heard defense lawyers use the ‘sumbitch deserved to die’ defense, and if ever a man deserved to be killed, it would be Hitler. But I’m just curious about the theological implications of a pastor being a part of the plot.

  • wrigley peterborough

    In re: assassinations, the Lutheran mayor of Leipzig, Goerderler, was against that option. He thought the proper thing was to arrest Hitler and have him brought to trial for his crimes (as the US did with Saddam). I wonder if the mayor’s approach was the right one.

  • wrigley peterborough

    In re: assassinations, the Lutheran mayor of Leipzig, Goerderler, was against that option. He thought the proper thing was to arrest Hitler and have him brought to trial for his crimes (as the US did with Saddam). I wonder if the mayor’s approach was the right one.


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