Dietrich Bonhoeffer

Perspectives: Bonhoeffer, Scholl, Huebener; character where it counts

OPINION – Their names are unfamiliar to most of us. Dietrich Bonhoeffer. Sophie Scholl. Helmuth Huebener.

Their lives may have ended more than seven decades ago, but the influence of how they lived still has significance in our day.

Each of them was a citizen of a government that obtained absolute power over its people. A series of official measures to protect their nation against the threat of terrorism quickly morphed into a system of laws under which everything not forbidden was mandatory.

They were members of a society that willingly discarded its moral compass

They were members of a society that willingly discarded its moral compass. When their leaders sought to disenfranchise certain unpopular groups, most people did not protest. In time, these targeted groups were marked for destruction, first by innuendo, next by legal sanction and finally by the direct action of rounding them up and exterminating them.

By the time most people recognized what was being done, it was too dangerous to express opposition. In a time when safety was found in remaining silent amongst the crowd, these three individuals were among the very few who chose to speak up.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer was a Lutheran pastor who recognized the subtle moral shifts taking place in German society between WWI and WWII. He refused to support Hitler or to join his military at a time when refusal could be a capital offense. His discipleship would not allow him to support the Nazi regime during a time when many German church leaders acquiesced.

He later remarked:

The ultimate question for a responsible man to ask is not how he is to extricate himself heroically from the affair, but how the coming generation shall continue to live.

For his open opposition to the Nazis, Bonhoeffer was imprisoned in a concentration camp and then executed just a few days before Germany’s surrender.

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