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April 10, 2017 by

Between my own blog, this one, and a couple others, I’ve written about 1,500 posts in the last six years. I try to do it well, with a less formal tone and much greater pace than typical academic writing but still reflecting a reasonably careful degree of prior research. But I’m afraid that my haste sometimes leads me to sloppiness — worse yet, sloppiness on topics where I’m writing outside of my fields of direct expertise and already at risk of stepping heedlessly into scholarly minefields.

As in the case of something I wrote over the weekend…

On Saturday I encouraged readers to seek out Come Before Winter, a new movie about the last days of the German pastor, theologian, and martyr Dietrich Bonhoeffer. I mentioned that it featured clips of an interview with Ferdinand Schlingensiepen, a German scholar whose 2006 biography of Bonhoeffer was published in English in 2010. At least among American readers, I noted, that work “was overshadowed by those written by Charles Marsh and Eric Metaxas….”

But then I went on (unnecessarily, I fear) to point out that Schlingensiepen has criticized both Metaxas and Marsh “for wrenching the German martyr out of his historical and theological context.” I quoted the following passage from Schlingensiepen’s dual review of Marsh’s Strange Glory and Metaxas’ Bonhoeffer:

Metaxas, BonhoefferMarsh and Metaxas have dragged Bonhoeffer into cultural and political disputes that belong in a U.S. context. The issues did not present themselves in the same way in Germany in Bonhoeffer’s time, and the way they are debated in Germany today differs greatly from that in the States. Metaxas has focused on the fight between right and left in the United States and has made Bonhoeffer into a likeable arch-conservative without theological insights and convictions of his own; Marsh concentrates on the conflict between the Conservatives and the gay rights’ movement. Both approaches are equally misguided and are used to make Bonhoeffer interesting and relevant to American society. Bonhoeffer does not need this and it certainly distorts the facts.

In retrospect, I think I did wrong to include this quotation — or, at least, to include it without adding any kind of critical comment. Here’s why:

For the rest of the post…

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During the morning hours of 9 April (1945), Wilhelm Canaris, Hans Oster, his colleagues Theodor Strunck and Ludwig Gehre, Karl Sack and Dietrich Bonhoeffer were hanged and cremated. Friedrich von Rabenau was to follow them a few days later. Their ashes, together with those of many thousands of other victims of Hitler’s regime, form the now grass-grown pyramid in the middle of the former concentration camp at Flossenburg.

(Ferdinand SchlingensiepenDietrich Bonhoeffer 1906-1945: Martyr, Thinker, Man of Resistance, 378)

On April 8, 1945, Bonhoeffer was asked by his fellow prisoners to lead them in the Morning Prayer and worship. At the conclusion of this service, Bonhoeffer was asked to leave the room with two men dressed in civilians clothes. This meant that it was the end for Bonhoeffer. Captain Payne Best described his farewell with Bonhoeffer…

“We bade him goodbye. He drew me aside. ‘This is the end .’ he said, ‘for me, the beginning of life,’ and then he gave me a message to give, if I could to the Bishop of Chichester (George Bell), a friend to evangelical pastors in Germany.” As Bonhoeffer rad hurriedly down the stairs, Mrs. (Anneliese) Goerdeler called out a final goodbye…  

(Ferdinand SchlingensiepenDietrich Bonhoeffer 1906-1945: Martyr, Thinker, Man of Resistance, 378)

On April 8, 1945, Bonhoeffer was asked by his fellow prisoners to lead them in the Morning Prayer and worship. As this service was going on…

The prisoners’ families on the ground floor could hear that a service was being held upstairs, and were considering how to smuggle Bonhoeffer downstairs to lead one for them as well, when two men dressed as civilians appeared and called him:

“Prisoner Bonhoeffer, get ready and come with us.”

(Ferdinand SchlingensiepenDietrich Bonhoeffer 1906-1945: Martyr, Thinker, Man of Resistance, 377-378)

On April 8, 1945, Bonhoeffer was asked by his fellow prisoners to lead them in the Morning Prayer and worship.

So Bonhoeffer read the Bible texts for that Sunday, led the group in prayer, and spoke on the texts for that day, “With his stripes we are healed” (Isaiah 53:5) and “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! By his great mercy we have been born anew to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead” (1 Peter 1:3).

(Ferdinand SchlingensiepenDietrich Bonhoeffer 1906-1945: Martyr, Thinker, Man of Resistance, 377)

Saturday, 7 1945, was the most pleasant day the prisoners had had since they were taken to Buchenwald. They found an electric outlet in the classroom, and Payne Best got out his electric razor and passed it around…Bonhoeffer is said to have spent much of the day sitting in conversation with others at one of the open windows. The rain had stopped, and the valley was green and springlike. In the bright sunshine the prisoners’ spirits rose as they looked forward to freedom and new life.

(Ferdinand SchlingensiepenDietrich Bonhoeffer 1906-1945: Martyr, Thinker, Man of Resistance, 375-376)

Klaus Bonhoeffer, Rudiger Schliecher, Hans John, Friedich Justus Perels, Albrecht Haushofer and 11 other prisoners were told on 22 April  that they were to be moved from the prison in Lehrter Steeet to another building, where they were to be released. Instead, they were to be taken out that night behind Leheter Railway Station and murdered by machine pistol shots in the back. 

(Ferdinand SchlingensiepenDietrich Bonhoeffer 1906-1945: Martyr, Thinker, Man of Resistance, 374)

Dietrich Bonhoeffer and fellow prisoners were moved from the Nazi Concentration camp at Buchenwald Concentration Camp to the Flossenburg Concentration Camp. The trip began on April 4, 1945 when the prisoners had to enter a large van that was fueled by wood. There were times when it was very difficult to breathe. However, this did not hinder Bonhoeffer from ministering to others…through tobacco!

Payne Best, a heavy smoker, remembers that in this situation Bonhoeffer found the last of his tobacco in his pocket and insisted on sharing it with everyone. “He was a good and saintly man!”

(Ferdinand SchlingensiepenDietrich Bonhoeffer 1906-1945: Martyr, Thinker, Man of Resistance, 372)

Dietrich Bonhoeffer and fellow prisoners were moved from the Nazi Concentration camp at Buchenwald Concentration Camp to the Flossenburg Concentration Camp. The trip began on April 4, 1945 when the prisoners had to enter a large van that was fueled by wood…

The prisoners had to squeeze past a great stack of wood and huddle together inside. The van departed that night, headed southward. Everyone now travelled at night if all possible, since the Allies had long dominated Germany’s air space and military transports were a prized target for bombers. This lorry could only manage twenty hours per hour at most, and had to keep stopping to be serviced. While the air filters were being cleaned, the boiler refilled with chopped wood and the whole engine reheated, the air inside the van became almost unbreathable, yet the prisoners were not allowed to get out, and they had no water and nothing to eat during these stops. 

(Ferdinand SchlingensiepenDietrich Bonhoeffer 1906-1945: Martyr, Thinker, Man of Resistance, 371-372)

Dietrich Bonhoeffer was a prisoner at the Nazi Concentration camp at Buchenwald Concentration Camp, Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s fellow prisoner was English officer, Hugh Sigismund Payne Best. After the war, Best wrote to Sabine and Gerhard Leibholz that Bonhoeffer stood apart from most of the other inmates who often complained:

His soul really shone in the dark desperation of our prison…(we were) in complete agreement that our warders and guards needed pity far more than we and that it was absurd to blame them for their actions. 

(Ferdinand SchlingensiepenDietrich Bonhoeffer 1906-1945: Martyr, Thinker, Man of Resistance, 370)

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