The Conservative and Christian Resistance to Hitler

The Conservative and Christian Resistance to Hitler March 2, 2023
I was asked to review a book for the Acton Institute‘s site Religion & Liberty Online, and reading it was an eye-opening and deeply moving experience.  The book by journalist Tom Dunkel is entitled White Knights in the Black Orchestra: The Extraordinary Story of the Germans Who Resisted Hitler.
Here is my review, which Acton editor Anthony Sacramone entitled The Conservative and Christian Resistance to Hitler, with this deck:  “Nazism is often depicted as some kind of extreme ‘conservatism’ when, as history shows, it was essentially radical and destructive of traditional freedoms and faith. In fact, from its very inception, some of the most conservative elements in German society fought for its overthrow.”
 In my review, I give details of the conspiracy as chronicled in this remarkable book, which documents the conspirators’ motivating conservatism and (mostly Lutheran) religious convictions. The author does not make a big deal of that in the manner of a book with a political or religious agenda.  He just gives us a gripping account of what took place.
I am posting the first few paragraphs of my review, whereupon you can click the link and jump to the rest of the piece:

When the Gestapo was uncovering a left-wing conspiracy to overthrow Hitler, they called it “the Red Orchestra.” But they began to realize that there was another resistance movement of far greater scope, reach, and effectiveness. They called it the “Black Orchestra.” This was a conservative resistance, one motivated largely by the Christian faith.

In White Knights in the Black Orchestra: The Extraordinary Story of the Germans Who Resisted Hitler, journalist Tom Dunkel tells the story of this conspiracy, perhaps best known for its failed attempt to assassinate Hitler and that led to the execution of Lutheran theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer.

My impression had always been that Bonhoeffer was caught up in a quixotic and poorly planned attempt by a small group of German aristocrats and military officers at the very end of the war, and that his role was minimal, basically that of a courier. But Dunkel shows that the Black Orchestra conspiracy began in the earliest days of Hitler’s regime, that it penetrated to the highest levels of the German war machine, and that it carried out many anti-Nazi missions, some of which had an impact on the outcome of the war.

Bonhoeffer and his entire well-connected family were in the thick of it. The conspiracy began with his brother-in-law Hans von Dohnanyi, an attorney at the Ministry of Justice. Soon after the Nazis seized power but before the war, Dohnanyi began documenting their crimes and atrocities in a secret file entitled “The Chronicle of Shame,” which would eventually come to thousands of pages.

He shared what he was doing with his friend Hans Oster, a dashing and energetic officer who was serving as deputy to the head of the Abwehr, the department of military intelligence. They resolved to do something about Hitler and pulled into their circle, remarkably, Ludwig Beck, the army general chief of staff, as well as the man who would become the most important conspirator, Admiral Wilhelm Canaris, head of the Abwehr and the spymaster. Those two, in turn, would bring in others, forming an anti-Hitler network that extended throughout the German military and government bureaucracy.

Meanwhile, Dietrich Bonhoeffer was battling the so-called German Christians, who wished to Nazify the Protestant state church by turning Christianity into a cultural religion (as liberal theologians were already doing) and expunging its “Jewish elements” to the point of removing the Old Testament from the Bible altogether. (This, too, was made feasible by piggybacking on the work of generations of liberal Bible scholars who had succeeded in undermining biblical authority within the state church.)

[Keep reading. . .]


Photo:  Admiral Wilhelm Canaris by Bundesarchiv, Bild 146-1979-013-43 / CC-BY-SA 3.0, CC BY-SA 3.0 de,

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