Answering for the Past, Shaping the Future: In Memory of Dietrich Bonhoeffer

By Huber, Wolfgang | The Ecumenical Review, July 1995 | Go to article overview
Save to active project

Answering for the Past, Shaping the Future: In Memory of Dietrich Bonhoeffer


Huber, Wolfgang, The Ecumenical Review


"Anyone who feels neither responsibility towards the past nor desire to shape the future is someone who 'forgets', and I don't know how one can really get at such people and bring them to their senses." In these words, written in his prison cell in Tegel in February 1944, Dietrich Bonhoeffer describes the task which we too have to face, fifty years after his execution in the concentration camp at Flossenburg.

Answering for the past is something which concerns even those born after the events. They also have a duty to form a clear opinion on the past and to draw the lessons from it. Anyone wishing to take part in shaping the future also has to accept responsibility for the past. Responsibility here does not mean assuming the blame for actions one had nothing to do with - could not possibly have, given one's age. Rather it means informing oneself of the historical facts and what lies behind them, being clear about the moral categories by which these facts are to be judged and applying these categories systematically to one's own present and future. It also means cultivating solidarity of remembrance with the victims of historical injustice and doing whatever is possible to ensure that nothing of the kind ever happens again.

For those of us who are Germans, the brutal Nazi regime in power from 1933 to 1945 requires taking particular responsibility for our past and drawing lessons from it for shaping the future. But this task is not confined to Germans, for remembrance of and solidarity with the victims of the Hitler tyranny do not stop at national borders. And we as Germans must acknowledge to our shame that such solidarity of remembrance has been more convincingly expressed elsewhere than it is in the country at the origin of the horror. While Yad Vashem in Jerusalem and the Holocaust Memorial in Washington bear impressive witness to this, fifty years after the end of the war we in Germany have not yet managed to build a central memorial to the victims of Nazi tyranny. One reason is the argument about which groups are to be counted among the victims. It is in no way to detract from the uniqueness. of the Shoah, the genocide conducted against European Jews, to remember that Sinti and Roma, communists and homosexuals were also among the victims of the systematically planned campaign of murder. We cannot discriminate yet further against these groups by excluding them from our commemoration of the victims of Nazi tyranny.

Bonhoeffer's journey

As we seek to come to terms with the Nazi dictatorship and the second world war, the martyrs of that time are an important source of help. By martyrs I mean the people who in their efforts to help their persecuted fellow beings risked or actually forfeited their own lives. People who, for the sake of those persecuted and in danger, tried to put an end to the dictatorship, even if it meant using violent means. They can truly be called martyrs when, directly or indirectly, their commitment was a testimony of faith and that testimony lives on beyond their own death.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer is one of those martyrs. His life story and his literary legacy hold a special fascination for many people. Born in 1906, the son of a psychiatrist, he grew up in a large family that was open to the enlightened thinking of the day, and his surprising decision - alone among the eight children - to study theology did not mean he rejected contemporary thinking. Very early on Bonhoeffer's theology showed itself to be a critical examination of modernity. At the age of 21 he submitted a doctoral thesis entitled Sanctorum Communio: Eine dogmatische Untersuchung zur Soziologie der Kirche ("The Communion of Saints: A Dogmatic Enquiry into the Sociology of the Church"). The last part of the title identified him as a young theologian clearly anxious to engage in an exchange with the most progressive sciences of the day, in this case sociology.

Barely seventeen years later, while still a young man of 38, Bonhoeffer gave final form to his theology in fragments written in Hitler's prison.

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Sign up now for a free, 1-day trial and receive full access to:

  • Questia's entire collection
  • Automatic bibliography creation
  • More helpful research tools like notes, citations, and highlights
  • Ad-free environment

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited article

Answering for the Past, Shaping the Future: In Memory of Dietrich Bonhoeffer
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

While we understand printed pages are helpful to our users, this limitation is necessary to help protect our publishers' copyrighted material and prevent its unlawful distribution. We are sorry for any inconvenience.
Full screen

matching results for page

Cited passage

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited passage

Welcome to the new Questia Reader

The Questia Reader has been updated to provide you with an even better online reading experience.  It is now 100% Responsive, which means you can read our books and articles on any sized device you wish.  All of your favorite tools like notes, highlights, and citations are still here, but the way you select text has been updated to be easier to use, especially on touchscreen devices.  Here's how:

1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
2. Click or tap the last word you want to select.

OK, got it!

Thanks for trying Questia!

Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

Already a member? Log in now.