Academic journal article The Catholic Historical Review

Dietrich Bonhoeffer and the Resistance

Academic journal article The Catholic Historical Review

Dietrich Bonhoeffer and the Resistance

Article excerpt

Dietrich Bonhoeffer and the Resistance. By Sabine Dramm. (Translated by Margaret Kohl). (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2009. Pp. 304. $29.00 hardcover. ISBN 978-0-800-66322-3.)

In the foreword to Dietrich Bonhoeffer' s The Cost of Discipleship (New York, 1958, 1995), George Bell, bishop of Chichester, wrote that "Dietrich himself was a martyr many times before he died" (p. 11). Against the "idolatry" of Hitler and his supporters, contended Bell, Bonhoeffer had stood as "one of the first as well as one of the bravest witnesses" (p. 11). In arguing largely against this long-prevailing Bonhoeffer hagiography, Sabine Dramm offers sobering balance.

Dramm is especially successful in explaining how Bonhoeffer' s family and collégial contacts brought him into the orbit of those within the German military opposed to Hitler and his criminal regime, including Hans von Dohnanyi (Bonhoeffer s brother-in-law) and Major General Hans Oster. In spite of his reputation as an opponent of Hitler and in spite of the fact that that he faced police restrictions on his rights of residence, speaking, and publishing, Bonhoeffer was able to use these contacts (remarkably) to gain a position under the German Military Intelligence Foreign Office starting in late 1939. While serving in this clandestine center of resistance, Bonhoeffer was protected from frontline military duty (against which his Christian conscience objected). He also served as a bridge between the resistance and the Christian Churches abroad, particularly in Great Britain. As a purported secret agent, Bonhoeffer made several journeys to neutral Switzerland, where he met, among others, Karl Barth. Here, he hoped to serve notice that a viable resistance movement did exist in Germany and was prepared to act if only it were given reassurance of cooperation from the Allied powers. (Barth remained skeptical.) Temporarily free of the censor while in Switzerland, Bonhoeffer also took the opportunity to reestablish his correspondence with Bell (p. 79). Bonhoeffer subsequently met with Bell personally in the Swedish town of Sigtuna in May 1942, where he informed Bell that a coalition of civil servants, trade union officials, and army officers was prepared to launch a coup against Hitler and end the war. …

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