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Dietrich Bonhoeffer, a German pastor and theologian most known for his book The Cost of Discipleship and his involvement in the plot to assassinate Nazi dictator Adolf Hitler, suffered a great deal at the hands of the Nazis, including his eventual execution. In the summer of 1937, just as the Gestapo was arresting Bonhoeffer’s friends, the pastor preached about God’s judgment in Psalm 58 — but he didn’t say what a modern American might expect.

“The wicked are perverse from the womb; liars go astray from their birth. … O God, break their teeth in their mouths; pull the fangs of the young lions, O LORD. Let them vanish like water that runs off; let the arrows they aim break in two. … The righteous will be glad when they see the vengeance; they will bathe their feet in the blood of the wicked. And they will say, ‘Surely, there is a reward for the righteous, surely, there is a God who rules in the earth'” (Psalm 58:3, 6-7, 10-11).

So how did Bonhoeffer, a Christian who lost his life trying to assassinate Hitler, apply this verse to his own life? Did he rail against Hitler’s evil? Not exactly. (For the full letter, read Meditating on the Word, a compilation of Bonhoeffer’s works compiled and translated by David McI. Gracie.)

“Is this fearful psalm of vengeance to be our prayer? May we pray in this way? Certainly not! We bear much guilt of our own for the action of any enemies who cause us suffering,” Bonhoeffer declared in a sermon on July 11, 1937

This message is powerful, given what had happened to Bonhoeffer in the months — and even days — before. In January 1936, he lost his grandmother — who defied a Nazi boycott of Jews by shoving through brownshirts to buy strawberries from a Jew. Throughout 1937, the Gestapo carried out interrogations, house searches, confiscations, and arrests against Bonhoeffer’s seminary students. Ten days before this sermon, they arrested his friend and fellow pastor Martin Niemöller (the man famous for the “first they came for the Jews …” poem).

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A sign above the entrance of the former Dachau concentration camp reads in German, “Work makes you free.” (Photo: Michael Dalder/Reuters/Newscom)

It’s November 1938, and the Nazis have confiscated a silk factory owned by the same Jewish family for over a decade, arresting the owner.

Fast forward to 2014, and a state official has compared a Colorado Christian baker to the same group that took away what belonged to the Jewish silk factory owner—the father of my grandmother’s cousin, Godofredo.

This in a country founded by people who fled religious persecution.

While America, the country that mostly turned away Jews fleeing Adolf Hitler, is thankfully not on a course to repeat the Holocaust’s atrocities, some of its citizens have taken to comparing matters of individual freedom—such as a baker refusing to make a same-sex wedding cake—to the actions that led to the deaths of 11 million people, including 6 million Jews and 1.5 million children.

Colorado Civil Rights Commissioner Diann Rice said, “Freedom of religion and religion has been used to justify all kinds of discrimination throughout history, whether it be slavery, whether it be the Holocaust.”

Especially as the grandson of Holocaust survivors, my message for Rice and for those who make religious liberty comparisons to the Shoah is simple: Stop it.

The late Nobel laureate Elie Wiesel, who survived the Holocaust, warned against comparisons like this. He said:

Only Auschwitz was Auschwitz. I went to Yugoslavia when reporters said that there was a Holocaust starting there. There was genocide, but not an Auschwitz. When you make a comparison to the Holocaust it works both ways, and soon people will say what happened in Auschwitz was “only what happened in Bosnia.”

Apply that logic to the case of Colorado baker Jack Phillips: Only Auschwitz was Auschwitz.

I went to Colorado where a baker refused to bake a cake for a same-sex wedding. I personally think it’s a shame, but it’s a private business refusing to bake a cake for a purpose of which the owner doesn’t agree.

It was a denial, not an Auschwitz. When we make a comparison to the Holocaust, it works both ways, and soon people will say what happened in Auschwitz was “only what happened in a bakery.”

To cheapen the Holocaust by making such comparisons is to convolute and deny its atrocities.

The Holocaust, which only started with the discriminatory Nuremberg Laws only to end up in genocide, didn’t happen so much because of a hatred of a religion, but rather an explicit hatred for a people. This hatred extended to people who helped those the Nazis targeted, like the family who hid my only living grandmother when she was a child in France.

In fact, once Hitler took power, he sought to reduce Christianity’s influence on German society.

Rice’s comment was nothing but perverted and bigoted. I dare her to tell my living grandmother that what the Colorado baker did compares to the atrocities at Dachau, of which her late husband survived (his father perished there), and about which Phillips’ father wrote notes regarding the atrocities there and other places like Buchenwald, which he helped liberate.

Hypocritically, those on the left, like Rice, cite the plight of Jewish refugees during World War II as a reason for why the U.S. should take in refugees from war-torn places like Syria. Apparently they failed to learn about the Holocaust, which consisted of Jewish bakeries and other businesses being looted on Kristallnacht, or “Night of the Broken Glass,” let alone being sent to concentration camps.

(Important side note: Where is the outrage from the left over the atrocities in Rohingya, Darfur, Tibet, in Iraq against the Yazidis, and other persecuted groups in the Middle East? Those conflicts are severe compared to a bakery refusing to bake a same-sex wedding cake.)

Intolerance was part of the Holocaust. Blatant discrimination was part of the Holocaust. Concentration camps and gas chambers were part of the Holocaust. Death marches were part of the Holocaust. Indifference was part of the Holocaust.

Bakers refusing to bake same-sex wedding cakes were not part of the Holocaust.

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by Stanley Hauerwas

Bonhoeffer For Us?

“Yet one may wonder how Bonhoeffer should be read by those in the ministry in our time. The challenges he faced are so different from the everyday tasks incumbent on those in the ministry in our day. Bonhoeffer confronted the Nazis and Hitler – it is hard to imagine a more dramatic conflict. Dangerous though it may have been, those confronted by the Nazi’s knew what sides they needed to be on. We seldom enjoy such clarity. The result is often a stark divide between activities associated with pastoral care and the social witness of the church.

Those in the ministry today must negotiate a very different world than the world Bonhoeffer encountered. We are unsure who our enemy is, or even if we have an enemy. We lack the clarity Bonhoeffer enjoyed – which, of course, is not a bad thing. But it leaves us confused about how to discern in the world in which we live what the primary challenge facing the church may be. Bonhoeffer saw quite early who the enemy was, though he was surrounded by many who did not see what he saw in the Nazis. Indeed, one of the interesting questions for Bonhoeffer’s relevance for pastors in our time is what enabled him to see the threat Hitler represented.”

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“If I sit next to a madman as he drives a car into a group of innocent bystanders, I can’t, as a Christian, simply wait for the catastrophe, then comfort the wounded and bury the dead. I must try to wrestle the steering wheel out of the hands of the driver.”

Bonhoeffer, who joined his brother-in-law Hans von Dohnanyi in a resistance group led by Maj. Gen. Hans Oster, was hanged April 9, 1945, at the Flossenbürg concentration camp, weeks before World War II formally ended. He had been linked to the failed attack on Hitler that took place July 20, 1944, by documents the Gestapo found after the event. Ironically, Bonhoeffer was in prison at the time, following his arrest for “undermining the military” 14 months earlier.

According to the German state broadcasting organization Deutsche Welle, “Bonhoeffer’s Christian theology influenced the post-war period like no other of his generation,” adding the cleric “preached the presence of Christ in the world and laid the foundations for an interdenominational church image to which today both conservative and progressive theologian profess.”

A paradox of Bonhoeffer’s life is that he had an “out” from being involved in a Germany ruled by National Socialism. In 1939, as war broke out in Europe, Bonhoeffer was a student at Union Theological Seminary in New York City. He could have remained in the United States, but told his American friends, “I must live through this difficult period of our national history with the Christian people of Germany,” according to the Minneapolis Star-Tribune.

Yet, his New York experience left its mark, Deutsche Welle said. While in Manhattan, Bonhoeffer’s “faith shifted. He became profoundly fixated on, and influenced by, the famous Sermon on the Mount and the notion of living in Christ’s image. Bonhoeffer later wrote that ‘until New York I was a theologian but not yet a Christian.'”

Writing in Leadership Journal, Chris Nye, a pastor in Portland, Oregon, notes, “Bonhoeffer was a paradoxical figure. He was non-violent, but participated in a plot to kill Hitler. He was cosmopolitan (he loved music, the theater and literature of all kinds) and yet he was a monastic thinker who led students in solitude.”

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Dietrich Bonhoeffer and the Confessing Church
by Wendy McElroy

A destructive myth haunts World War II. It is that a flaw within the German character allowed the rise of Hitler and Nazism. How else can you explain the Holocaust coming from one of the world’s most cultured nations? Oddly, no one seems to consider Mussolini to indicate a flaw within Italians or view Stalin as proof of a Russian defect.

The ‘German character flaw’ is a destructive myth because it deflects attention from the crucial task of analyzing the dynamics that allowed Nazism to rise. It permits other nations to believe “it could never happen here.” But totalitarianism can happen anywhere, to any nationality. Understanding the evolution of totalitarianism involves institutional analysis, especially of the interrelation between institutions that were active or complicit in creating tyranny.

Two institutions are commonplace and powerful around the globe: the state and the church. In Hitler’s Germany, most churches went along with the Nazis. Some did so reluctantly, many were enthusiastic. But there was also dramatic resistance by churches and religious leaders who opposed Hitler at great personal risk. For example, the German Protestant Church became a battleground between the majority who supported the Nazis, either explicitly or implicitly, and a minority who resisted them. At the core of the conflict was the question of how the church should respond to the “Jewish question.”

No man spoke more eloquently on behalf of the civil liberties of Jews than the Protestant pastor and theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer. He became a prominent voice in ‘the Confessing Church’ that was founded when approximately 3,000 Protestant pastors broke off from the main religious body in protest.(Konfession is German for denomination.) Bonhoeffer reminds us that there are people of conscience and moral courage in every nation. He is also a window into the institutional dynamics of church and state that both facilitated and hindered Hitler.

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Friedrich Bonhoeffer’s wife Julie (Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s Grandmother) was the direct link between a long history and Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s life. Born on 21 August 1842, she could talk about the days of Eduard Mörike and Justinus Kerner. But it was just as characteristic of her that, at the age of ninety-one, she marched past the S.A. (Nazi Storm Troppers) cordons promoting the boycott of Jewish businesses on 1 April 1933, to shop at the Jewish-owned “Kaufhaus des Westens” on Tauentzienstrasse in Berlin.  

~ Eberhard Bethge, Dietrich Bonhoeffer: A Biography (Revised Edition); Chapter 1: Childhood and Youth: 1906-1923, 10-11.

Trump is far from a Hitler, but an interesting read anyway ~ Bryan

Americans today might do well to heed Bonhoeffer’s warning.

Although he was in power for only a handful of years, Hitler and his Nazi government slaughtered millions. One of the more well-known victims of that slaughter was Dietrich Bonhoeffer, who was executed on April 9th, 1945, a few short weeks before Hitler’s own death.

Unlike many of Hitler’s victims, Bonhoeffer was not a Jew, but a Lutheran minister, scholar, and theologian who boldly spoke against Hitler’s policies. Bonhoeffer landed a position in the German government during WWII and subsequently used that position as cover for assassination attempts against Hitler.

While awaiting execution, Bonhoeffer recorded a number of his thoughts in a work we now know as Letters and Papers from Prison. One of these essays, entitled On Stupidity, records some of the problems which Bonhoeffer likely saw at work in Hitler’s rise to power:

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Apr. 13, 2017

 
Director of WWII-Set BONHOEFFER'S COST at Agape Theatre Blasts Sean Spicer for Holocaust RemarksJeff Davis, Director of Agape Theatre’s upcoming Texas Premiere of the WWII-set BONHOEFFER’S COST, blasted White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer for his recent remarks regarding Hitler and the Holocaust.On Tuesday, April 11th, when speaking on President Trump’s recent air strikes against Syria, Spicer said, “We didn’t use chemical weapons in World War II. You know, you had someone as despicable as Hitler who didn’t even sink to using chemical weapons.” When reminded that Hitler used gas chambers to execute millions, Spicer replied, “[Hitler] was not using the gas on his own people the way that Assad is doing,” before referring to Concentration Camps as “Holocaust Centers.”

In response to Spicer’s outlandish and false statements, Davis writes “It baffles, saddens, angers, and greatly concerns me-both as someone who identifies as half-Jewish and simply as a human being-that a key White House representative ignores the atrocities of the Holocaust and then, when reminded of history, downplays its significance and importance. […] But Spicer is a microcosm of a bigger issue. There are thousands of people worldwide who deny the Holocaust ever happened, as if 6 million people just mysteriously disappeared. There are millions more, particularly among the younger generations, who live in ignorance of the Holocaust because they’ve yet to hear about the horrors perpetrated during World War II. And I’d wager there are billions worldwide who are oblivious that a new Holocaust is currently happening in Chechnya as homosexuals are being sent to Concentration Camps. It’s for these reasons and more that Agape Theatre has chosen to tell the story of Bonhoeffer’s Cost. […] As the final Holocaust survivors die off, it becomes the responsibility of artists and storytellers to tell the stories of those who are no longer with us.”

You can read Mr. Davis‘s full response to Spicer’s statements here.

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“I have come to the conclusion that I made a mistake in coming to America. I must live through this difficult period in our national history with the people of Germany. I will have no right to participate in the reconstruction of Christian life in Germany after the war if I do not share the trials of this time with my people.”

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