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“On April 5, 1943, when Bonhoeffer called (brother-in-law) Hans von) Dohnanyi’s home, a strange voice answered the phone. Bonhoeffer hung up. He then knew that the Gestapo had finally caught up with them. They were searching Dohnanyi’s house right that very minute. His parent’s house would be next.

Calmy he went next door, where his sister Ursula lived. He told her the Gestapo would soon arrive and arrest him.

She made him a hearty lunch.

It was the last home-cooked meal he would ever have!”

~ Patricia McCormick, The Plot to Kill Hitler121.

New Film Follows Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s Final Chapter

Gary Blount, psychiatrist-turned-producer, has created a remarkable new film about the last days of Dietrich Bonhoeffer in a Nazi concentration camp, told through the eyes of a British broadcast team.

Question: You have just produced a film about influential theologian and anti-Nazi dissident Dietrich Bonhoeffer after years of studying his work. What has kept you so interested in Bonhoeffer?

Answer: Since first hearing the story more than 50 years ago, I’ve never hit a roadblock or detour.  (That is, once I got used to my Christian hero being a chain smoker.)

As with all of my heroes, I’ve constantly tried in one way or another to relate to Bonhoeffer, and I suppose this has gotten a bit easier as I’ve become acquainted with a few members of his family in Germany and England.

From the beginning, I’ve loved his hard-core faith and courage, but I confess I’ve also been increasingly wowed by his good taste:  Bechstein piano, Audi (okay DKW), and pet Saint Bernard.  And it was easy to relate to his need to move back in with his parents and his willingness to accept an adult allowance.  Dare I mention his eagerness to marry a girl half his age who was possibly smarter than he was  and a lot better looking?

You work as a psychiatrist in Minnesota. Do you have a particular interest in theology? Does your expertise in psychiatry give you particular insights into Bonhoeffer and his still-discussed ideas?

It seems to me there is a kinship between theology and psychiatry.  Many people seem convinced that neither one requires a degree or even specialized study.

Seriously, I love theological insights and, in fact, really look forward to hearing them occasionally from the pulpit.

You know, Bonhoeffer said some harsh things about mental health treatment, but some of his actions in prison reveal a more open stance.  For instance, recently I read that when he would learn from a fellow inmate in Tegel that a family member might benefit from a psychiatric consultation either to address a condition or simply mitigate what otherwise might seem to be a hopeless forensic situation, Bonhoeffer would find a way to refer the person to his father, the recently retired psychiatrist Karl Bonhoeffer.  I would put that in the practical theology column.

I recall a legendary professor of medicine at the University of Minnesota who would tell his residents and students:  “With this new patient, I don’t care who does the physical exam; I’ll do the history.”  That’s what I want to continue doing — focus on the dynamic story.

What is your film Come Before Winter about?

Our story is about the final chapter in Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s life and what must have been the aching for deliverance by the Allies, who were rapidly closing in.  We felt our time frame might extract something of the essence of his life and the perspective which he seemed to seek — “the view from below.”  This view now includes more uncertainty, wartime cruelty, and vengeance.

Bonhoeffer had long been an outspoken foe of Hitler, and we chose to tell the story with the help of a couple of other anti-Nazis: seriously broken vessels Sefton Delmer and Otto John.  The latter has been called “the living link” between Bonhoeffer’s last days and the storyteller in England.

For the rest of the post…

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.

Was Bonhoeffer a Conspirator?

It is a foregone conclusion among many scholars, and certainly the wider public, that by the late 30′s Dietrich Bonhoeffer had changed his view on violence. While earlier in the 30′s he had articulated a perspective on violence that could be characterized as pacifism rooted in his interpretation of the Sermon on the Mount captured clearly in Discipleship, the realities of Nazi German had caused him to see the necessity of violence in the face of such evil. This interpretation of Bonhoeffer finds its plausibility in his later letters from prison and his unfinished Ethics that was later published by Eberhard Bethge.

But a new book robustly challenges this assumption. And it is quite convincing. The thesis of  Bonhoeffer the Assassin?: Challenging the Myth, Recovering His Call to Peacemaking is that this widely held belief is flat wrong. When one looks carefully at Bonhoeffer’s life and his writings one finds that Bonhoeffer was consistent throughout his life on the question of violence. His work in the Abwehr, which is often pointed to as evidence of his involvement in the conspiracies, does not necessitate his participation in the plot(s) to assassinate Hitler. According to the argument of the book, Bonhoeffer’s decision to join the German Intelligence agency was his way of avoiding service in the military. Further, there is no evidence of his involvement in these plots.

Bonhoeffer was a conscientious objector, but not a conspirator.

Let me summarize the five key arguments (summarized in the conclusion) in this well-argued and well-written protest:

1. It is highly unlikely that Bonhoeffer was involved in any assassination attempts. There is no evidence that during his time in the Abwehr connecting Bonhoeffer to the five assassination attempts on Hitler from 1938-44.

2. Bonhoeffer claimed that he had become a Christian pacifist. He believed it was “self-evident” in light of the Sermon of the Mount. There is no evidence to suggest that he recanted that statement.

For the rest of the post…

These men were in truth the upholders of the Europeans and Western tradition in Germany, and it was Dietrich Bonhoeffer who more than anybody else realized that nothing less than a return to the Christian faith could save Germany. The failure of these men was not only a tragedy for Germany, but for Europe as a whole, and historians may well come one day to the conclusion that the consequences of this failure cannot be made good.

Memoir by G. Leibholz in  Dietrich BonhoefferThe Cost of Discipleship1961 edition, 27.

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