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Dietrich Bonhoeffer was arrested on April 5, 1943.  He was interrogated by Manfred Roeder

(Manfred) Roeder’s interrogations of Bonhoeffer focused initially on his role in Operation 7…When this line of interrogation did not produce the needed results, Roeder turned to the issue of Bonhoeffer’s UK Classification.  Bonhoeffer wrote a number of draft letters to Roeder…following up on the interrogations concerning the UK classification…In the indictment against Bohohoeffer nothing was mentioned about his involvement in Operation 7; his UK classification and avoidance of military service were the primary concerns.

In addition, he was indicted for helping Confessing Church pastors and students avoid military service.


The indictment also included a long list of his wartime activities for the Confessing Church, revealing the duration and extent of the Gestapo observation of both Bonhoeffer and Confessing Church circles.

(Editor’s Introduction to the English Edition of to Dietrich Bonhoeffer Works in Volume 16: Conspiracy and Imprisonment: 1940-1945, 14-15)

After Dietrich Bonhoeffer was arrested on April 5, 1943, the interrogations began…

During  (Hans von) Dohnanyi‘s arrest, interrogator Manfred Roeder found notes that discussed plans for a journey on April 19, 1943, by Bonhoeffer and Josef Muller to Rome, where they would explain to church leaders why the assassinations attempt on Hitler in March had failed.  Roeder’s initial interrogations of Dohnanyi focused on these notes, which where evidence of highly treasonous behavior.

(Editor’s Introduction to the English Edition of to Dietrich Bonhoeffer Works in Volume 16: Conspiracy and Imprisonment: 1940-1945, 14)

I have been slowly working my way through Dietrich Bonhoeffer Works, Volume 16: Conspiracy and Imprisonment: 1940-1945

Here is a paragraph describing the arrest of  Dietrich Bonhoeffer:

On April 5, 1943, less than a month after the failure of the March 1943 coup attempt, Dohnanyi and Bonhoeffer were arrested.  Ironically, they were not arrested for their involvement in this coup attempt or for their role in the conspiracy efforts; Nazi officials were not yet aware of the full extent of their conspiratorial activity.  What led to their arrest was currency irregularities in the Munich Military Intelligence Office Concerning Operation 7, the successful attempt to smuggle fourteen (0riginally it had been seven) “non-Aryans” into Switzerland.  As Bonhoeffer wrote in this letter of August 26, 1942, Operation 7 lay very close to the hearts of the conspirators (13-14).

Bonhoeffer‘s good friend, Eberhard Bethge identified three of them.  The third one is:

The third stage lasted until the failure of the March 1943 coup attempt, which led to the obliteration Hans Oster‘s resistance efforts.  Oster was the chief of Department Z (Central Department) in the Military Intelligence Office; Bonhoeffer’s brother-in-law Hans von Dohnanyi worked under him.   To a significant extent Dohnanyi was the mastermind of the conspiratorial work in Oster’s office.  Bonhoeffer’s main task during this third stage was to convey information about the planned coup to Allied leaders through his ecumenical contacts.  His trips included a trip to Norway, a third trip to Switzerland, a trip to Sweden to meet with Bishop (George) Bell, and a trip with Dohnanyi to Italy.

(Editor’s Introduction to the English Edition of to Dietrich Bonhoeffer Works in Volume 16: Conspiracy and Imprisonment: 1940-1945, 12-13)

Bonhoeffer‘s good friend, Eberhard Bethge identified three of them.  The second one is:

The second stage…began with the invasion of the Soviet Union.  It ended with the defeat of the German Sixth Army at Stalingrad in the winter of 1941-42 and with Hitler’s dismissal of Brauchitsch as commander in chief of the army on December 19, 1941.  Bonhoeffer’s primary purpose during this stage was to explore and help shape the peace aims of the Allies through his ecumenical contacts.  Accordingly, he embarked on a second trip to Switzerland in September 1941.  In Geneva he secured a copy of Bishop (George) Bell’s Christianity and World Order.

(Editor’s Introduction to the English Edition of to Dietrich Bonhoeffer Works in Volume 16: Conspiracy and Imprisonment: 1940-1945, 12)

Lift Up Your Heads (By Chuck Colson of BreakPoint)
von Galen and the Third Reich

Yesterday, I told you the story of Lothar Kreyssig, the Protestant German judge who defied the Third Reich’s program to rid Germany of what it called “lives unworthy of life.”

But while Kreyssig was exceptional, he wasn’t alone.

Clemens August Graf von Galen was the Bishop of Muenster. He became bishop in 1933, the same year Hitler came to power, and from the start he made life difficult for Nazi officials.

He opposed Reich policies in education and its attacks on religious freedom. When others were bending over backwards to avoid provoking the Nazis, von Galen went on the rhetorical offensive: He mocked Nazi ideology and defended the authority of the Old Testament against Nazi attacks.

But von Galen’s most important confrontation with the regime came over the Action T4 program-the Nazi effort to eliminate the physically and mentally disabled. By 1941, Nazi persecution of Catholics, which included sending thousands of priests to concentration camps, had caused leading German prelates, as historian Richard Evans put it, to “[keep] their heads down.”

But as more and more disabled patients were being murdered, keeping one’s head down became tantamount to complicity with evil. What’s more, as von Galen realized, it was futile – because the Nazis were going to persecute the Church, anyway.

So, in July and August of 1941, he delivered a series of sermons that denounced the Nazi regime. He told the German people that if the disabled could be killed with impunity, “then the way is open for the murder of all of us, when we become old and weak and thus unproductive.” If a regime could disregard the commandment against murder, it could do way with the other nine commandments as well.

The sermons caused an international sensation: Copies were sent to German soldiers at the front lines; the BBC read excerpts on the air. The local Nazi leader demanded that von Galen be executed. The bishop’s sister, a nun, was arrested and locked in the nunnery basement, from which she escaped by climbing out the window.

Von Galen himself expected to be martyred. But something extraordinary happened: The Nazis backed down. The bishop’s sermons had galvanized the public: nurses and orderlies began to obstruct the program. So Hitler issued an order suspending the gassing of disabled adults.

While the Nazis did continue to kill the disabled, especially children, they killed fewer and they took pains to hide it. As Evans has written, but for von Galen’s actions, the Nazis would have continued unhindered in their quest to rid German society of “those they continued to be a burden to it.”

Von Galen outlived the Third Reich but not by much: shortly after being made a Cardinal in 1946, he died from an appendix infection. But he wasn’t forgotten: in 2005, he was beatified by the Catholic Church. In Catholic terms, that makes him the “Blessed Clemens von Galen.” But it is we who are blessed by examples like his and that of Lothar Kreyssig. They stood up for life in circumstances we can’t imagine and forced a demonic dictatorship to back down.

Imagine what we could accomplish today with their kind of commitment and courage.

Bonhoeffer‘s good friend, Eberhard Bethge identified three of them.  The first one is:

The first stage began with the surrender of France on June 17, 1940, and continued until Hitler made his decision in June 1941 to invade the Soviet Union.  In February 1941, Bonhoeffer made his first trip for the conspiracy, traveling to SwitzerlandThe primary purpose of this trip was to reestablish lines of communication with the Allies.  Bonhoeffer’s previous ecumenical ties with people such as Bishop (George) Bell and Visser ‘t Hooft made him well suited for such a task.

(Editor’s Introduction to the English Edition of to Dietrich Bonhoeffer Works in Volume 16: Conspiracy and Imprisonment: 1940-1945, 12).

Confessing Courage (From BreakPoint)

January 24, 2011

You have probably never heard of Lothar Kreyssig-I hadn’t until recently. Yet, after hearing his story, I realized Kreyssig was a hero for our times: a man whom, at almost unbelievable risk, stood up for the sanctity of human life.

In October, 1939, the Third Reich created what came to be known as the “Action T4” program. In furtherance of what the Nazis called “racial hygiene,” Reich bureaucrats, working with doctors, were authorized to identify and kill those deemed to be “unworthy of life,” that is, institutionalized patients with “severe disabilities.”

Of course, expressions like “unworthy” and even “severe” are subjective. In reality, they were a license for mass murder. Hitler called for at least 70,000 people to be killed under this program, so doctors and officials set about meeting the Fuhrer’s quotas.

Fearing domestic and international reaction, the Nazis tried to hide what was going on: they lied to patients’ families and, fore-shadowing Auschwitz, they disguised the gas chambers as showers.

When I think of what happened to those people, especially the children-some like my autistic grandson, Max-it breaks my heart-horrifies me.

The Nazis also took pains to provide a patina of legality to the murders: Hitler personally ordered German judges not to prosecute doctors for killing their patients. And that’s where Kreyssig comes in: He was a highly regarded judge in his native Saxony.

But he was more than a judge-Kreyssig was a leader in the Confessing Church, which resisted the Reich’s efforts to “Nazify” protestant churches. To be a Confessing Churchman, never mind a leader, was to live with a bull’s-eye painted on your back.

As more and more death certificates for mentally ill people crossed his desk, Kreyssig realized that something terrible was happening.

He wrote the Reich Minister of Justice protesting not only the Action T4 program but also the treatment of prisoners in concentration camps.  He then charged a doctor with murder in connection with the deaths of his patients.

When he  was called into the Minister’s office, where he was told that Hitler himself had authorized the program. To which Kreyssig replied: “The Führer’s word does not create a right.”

The courage to say that to a government official in Nazi Germany was extraordinary. Kreyssig was forced to retire. Although the Gestapo tried to get him sent to a concentration camp, fears over drawing attention to the T4 program probably saved Kreyssig’s life.

He spent the rest of the war at home tending to his farm and, oh yes, hiding Jews on his property.

The only judge to stand up to the Nazis outlived the “1000-year Reich” by forty-one years. Twenty years after his death, Germany held a memorial honoring his bravery and compassion.

In a culture where “go along to get along” was literally a survival strategy, Kreyssig refused to be silent. When the majority of German Potestants adapted the faith to the demands of the Reich, he refused to go along and made it clear that there was a higher law.

Thankfully, defending the sanctity of life nowadays doesn’t require anything like Kreyssig’s courage. But it does require courage. And it requires, as well, as an understanding of Whose Word does create a right

On this “Sanctity of Human Life Sunday“, Ray Ortlund put it best on his blog…

This is evil

Bonhoeffer‘s UK classification (declaring him unabkommich, or “indispensable” because he was engaged in a civilian occupation essential to the war effort) came only after he became a courier for military intelligence, assigned to engage in covert talked with foreign church leaders who would communicate with Allied leaders…

…Bonhoeffer’s UK military classification was a fiction, created to keep him out of active duty and provide a cover for resistance activities, and this issue became a crucial focus of the Nazi investigations and interrogations of him, (Hans von) Dohnanyi and Hans Oster.  His interrogators presumed that Bonhoeffer was considered fit for active service (kriegsverwendungsfahig), and they claimed that the Office of Military Intelligence had acted illegally by issuing his UK classification.  The complete history, however…remained unresolved to this day.

(Editor’s Introduction to the English Edition of to Dietrich Bonhoeffer Works in Volume 16: Conspiracy and Imprisonment: 1940-1945, 11).

January 2011


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