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German Federal Archives/Wikipedia

The great preacher, writer, theologian and witness to the faith, Dietrich Bonhoeffer,was executed on April 9, 1945, just days before the Nazi camp where he was held, Flossenbürg, was liberated. He was 39.

Here’s what happened: 

On 4 April 1945, the diaries of Admiral Wilhelm Canaris, head of the Abwehr, were discovered, and in a rage upon reading them, Hitler ordered that the Abwehr conspirators [those who had plotted for Hitler’s assassination] be destroyed. Bonhoeffer was led away just as he concluded his final Sunday service and asked an English prisoner, Payne Best, to remember him to Bishop George Bell of Chichester if he should ever reach his home: “This is the end—for me the beginning of life.”

Bonhoeffer was condemned to death on 8 April 1945 by SS judge Otto Thorbeck at a drumhead court-martial without witnesses, records of proceedings or a defense in Flossenbürg concentration camp.  He was executed there by hanging at dawn on 9 April 1945, just two weeks before soldiers from the United States 90th and 97th Infantry Divisions liberated the camp,  three weeks before the Soviet capture of Berlin and a month before the surrender of Nazi Germany.

Bonhoeffer was stripped of his clothing and led naked into the execution yard where he was hanged, along with fellow conspirators Admiral Wilhelm Canaris, Canaris’s deputy General Hans Oster, military jurist General Karl Sack, General Friedrich von Rabenau, businessman Theodor Strünck, and German resistance fighter Ludwig Gehre.

Eberhard Bethge, a student and friend of Bonhoeffer’s, writes of a man who saw the execution: “I saw Pastor Bonhoeffer… kneeling on the floor praying fervently to God. I was most deeply moved by the way this lovable man prayed, so devout and so certain that God heard his prayer…In the almost fifty years that I worked as a doctor, I have hardly ever seen a man die so entirely submissive to the will of God.”

For the rest of the post…

Lambeth Palace Library

Former Archbishop of Canterbury George Carey has said he is “appalled” at how the Church of England has destroyed the reputation of the wartime Bishop of Chichester, George Bell.

Bell was a revered figure in the CofE, a close friend of the martyred German pastor and theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer and a firm opponent of the destruction of German cities in mass bombing raids.

However, he was accused long after his death in 1958 of abusing a young girl in the late 1940s and 1950s. The woman came forward decades later and after investion the CofE announced last October it had formally settled her claim after experts said they had “no reason to doubt” its truth. Bell’s name has been stripped from buildings and institutions and the current Bishop of Chichester, Martin Warner, has apologised to the victim.

However, a fightback in favour of Bell led by columnist Peter Hitchens has questioned the Church’s handling of the issue and now Lord Carey has joined the fray.

Responding to a letter from Bell’s 92-year-old niece Barbara Whitely, he said it had “delivered a ‘guilty’ verdict without anything resembling a fair and open trial”.

He added in the letter date March 3: “His reputation is in tatters and as you sadly point out, all references to him in the diocese he loved and served have been removed and renamed.

“[…] I am frankly appalled by the way the church authorities have treated his memory.

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Coffee House

8 February 2016

Christian columnists of left (Giles Fraser) and right (Charles Moore, Peter Hitchens) agree: Bishop Bell has been most sorely wronged. The Church should not have compensated the person he allegedly abused about seventy years ago. It has damaged the reputation of one of its major figures, without any sort of trial taking place.

I disagree. I think the Church has behaved – shock, horror – Christianly. The Church knew what a huge step it was taking in believing this woman, who has now told her story to the Brighton Argus. (She was a relative of a member of staff in the bishop’s palace; she was occasionally read bedtime stories as she sat on his knee, and was interfered with.) The Church knew that, by compensating her, it would transform the reputation of this heroic figure, friend of the martyred Bonhoeffer.

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Note: Dietrich Bonhoeffer and Bishop George Bell were good friends.

Highly respected Church of England bishop was a paedophile

Lambeth Palace Libray

A highly-respected 20th century Church of England bishop was a paedophile, it was revealed today.

The shocking revelations about the late Bishop of Chichester George Bell came when the Church of England disclosed it had apologised and paid damages following a civil sex abuse claim against him.

The allegations against Bell date from the late 1940s and early 1950s and concern sexual offences against an individual who was at the time a young child.

Bishop Bell, born in 1883 and who died in 1958, became Bishop of Chichester in 1929. He was revered as a leading light on the Anglo-Catholic wing of the Church and at one time was even in the running to be Archbishop of Canterbury. He had been a Queen’s Scholar at Westminster School and was elected after that to a scholarship at Christ Church Oxford where he studied theology.

He was a prolific author and also appeared in works of fiction by others, most notably in the best-selling novel Ultimate Prizes by Susan Howatch and as Francis Wood, Bishop of Cirencester in Anthony Horowitz’s TV series Foyle’s War. He was also a character in Alison McLeod’s novel Unexploded.

The current Bishop of Chichester, Dr Martin Warner, said the news had brought “a bewildering mix of deep and disturbing emotions.”

In its effect on the legacy and reputation of George Bell, it “yields a bitter fruit of great sadness and a sense that we are all diminished by what we are being told,” Dr Warner added. “We remain committed to listening to all allegations of abuse with an open mind. In this case, the scrutiny of the allegation has been thorough, objective, and undertaken by people who command the respect of all parties. We face with shame a story of abuse of a child; we also know that the burden of not being heard has made the experience so much worse. We apologise for the failures of the past.

“The revelation of abuse demands bravery on the part of a survivor, and we respect the courage needed to tell the truth. We also recognise that telling the truth provides a legitimate opportunity for others to come forward, sometimes to identify the same source of abuse.”

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A month later (May 1942) two Lutheran clergymen made direct contact with the British in Stockholm. These were Dr. Hans Schoenfeld, a member of the Foreign Relations Bureau of the German Evangelical Church, and Pastor Dietrich Bonhoeffer, an eminent divine and an active conspirator, who on hearing that Dr. George Bell, the Anglican Bishop of Chichester, was visiting in Stockholm hastened there to visit him–Bonhoeffer traveling incognito on forged papers provided him by Colonel Oster of the Abwehr.

Both pastors informed the bishop of the plans of the conspirators and…inquired whether the Western Allies would make a decent peace with a non-Nazi government once Hitler had been overthrown. They asked for an answer–either by a private message or by a public announcement. To impress the bishop that the anti-Hitler conspiracy was a serious business, Bonhoeffer furnished him with a list  of the names of the leaders–an indiscretion which later was to cost him and to make certain the execution of many of the others. 

~ William L Shirer, The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich, 1320-1321.

On April 9, 1945, Dietrich Bonhoeffer was executed by hanging at the Flossenburg concentration camp.

His last recorded words were: “This is the end–for me the beginning of life.”

Bonhoeffer’s impact continues well into the twenty-first century. There are countless resources about his life and works and influence. It is never too late to learn about his life and influence. 

(A wall at Flossenburg. Perhaps Bonhoeffer was hung near it)

In previous posts, we began to answer the question if Dietrich Bonhoeffer should be considered a “martyr” in the traditional way that Christians understand martyrdom?

Craig J. Slane, in his book, Bonhoeffer as Martyrwrote that even in Bonhoeffer’s own church, he was not recognized a martyr. Yet, there were some who disagreed…

Even while the dust of was settling, Reinhold Niebuhr was hailing Bonhoeffer as a martyr whose story belonged amongst “the modern Acts of the Apostles.” Bishop George Bell of Chichester, Bonhoeffer’s chief contact in the ecumenical movement, echoed Niebuhr’s sentiments as he recounted the background of the Hitler plot (30).

The opinion of English Bishop George Bell (a good friend of Dietrich Bonhoeffer) could be seen in his statement to British Foreign Minister Anthony Eden

If there are men in Germany also ready to wage war against the monstrous tyranny of the Nazis from within, is it right to discourage or ignore them? Can we afford to reject their aid in achieving our end?

(Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy by Eric Metaxas, 394).


It was actually a farewell message to Bishop George BellDietrich Bonhoeffer passed this message through fellow prisoner, English Captain S. Payne Best. It was on April 8, 1945 in the Flossenburg concentration camp, a day before he was executed…

…Will you give this message from me to the Bishop of Chichester (Bell), “tell him that this is for the end, but also the beginning–with him I believe in the principle of our Universal Christian brotherhood which rises above all national hatreds and that our victory is certain–tell him, too, that I have never forgotten his words at our last meeting.” He gave me this message twice in the same words, holding my hand firmly in his and speaking with emotional earnestness.

(Dietrich Bonhoeffer Works: Volume 16: Conspiracy and Imprisonment: 1940-1945, 468-469).

Bishop George K. A. Bell‘s letter to Gerhard Leibholz contains some statements from Dietrich Bonhoeffer. It was dated June 20, 1942. The letter helps us understand both the secret life and the on-going ministry of Bonhoeffer…

My dear Leibholz,

Very many thanks for your letter and its welcome back. To my great surprise I saw Dietrich at the end of my stay. He had come over specially as a courier with a 48 hours visa in order to see me. We talked very much on very on very important matters. I told him your news, of which he was very glad. He was very well. He said that Hitler’s health was unfortunately very good; the uncle of whom he spoke in his letter was the war, not Hitler, His Seminary had been closed twice, and he had been forbidden by the Gestapo to preach or speak. He is at work now on a book (Ethics) and in connection with the Brethren’s Council and at night on political work.

(Dietrich Bonhoeffer Works: Volume 16: Conspiracy and Imprisonment: 1940-1945, 326-327)


July 2020


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