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Monday, 29 June 2015

Dietrich Bonhoeffer (1906-1945)

Another Christian (and I use the word advisedly) gentleman is memorialised just round the corner from Brick Lane - Dietrich Bonhoeffer was pastor at St. Paul's German Evangelical Reformed Church from 1933-1935. The dates are as always significant. He left Germany in late 1933 after opposing the Deutsche Christen who wished to appoint the Fuhrer as head of the German Church and assisted in setting up the rival Confessing Church. St. Paul's Church was bombed in 1941 and the site is now part of London Metropolitan University. Trying to find an exact date I found the rather scary which maps the sites of bombs falling on London during the Blitz and gives and impression of what the population of London underwent at this time. Dietrich Bonhoeffer however had returned to Germany despite being aware of the Nazi party and the possible, even probable consequences for him of returning. The Confessing Church which also had as a member Pastor Niemoller , he of the poem - First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out— Because I was not a Socialist. Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out— Because I was not a Trade Unionist. Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out— Because I was not a Jew. Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me. highlighted the gap between Chrtistian behaviour and the tendency of the church to be bound up with the state - particularly the Nazi state. Cue the oft quoted belt buckle of the SS - "Gott mit uns" - God is with us which they wore while committing their atrocities. One thing that I think the US have got spot on is the requirement to separate church and state - the House of Lords - particularly those members of the Lords Spiritual have to my mind a way too much influence on this end of the pond. In 1935 Bonhoeffer returned to Germany, heading a seminary in Findenwande, in modern Poland. After the Gestapo closed the seminary in 1937 Bonhoeffer travelled, creating a seminary on the run. The Confessing Church opposed the persecution of Jews and the Nazi euthanasia programme - a silent Holocaust which prefigured the Nazis final solution to the "Jewish Question". The Church assisted the concealment of Jews - promoting non-violent resistance to the vile regime and Bonhoeffer became involved in the organised anti-Nazi resistance through the Abwehr, German military intelligence which had a significant anti-Nazi element. As he was required to enlist he left for the US in 1939 but, haunted by regret returned to Germany before the war started thinking that he could only assist from within. He joined the Abwehr, aiding the resistance by acting as a courier. He travelled to Norway, Sweden, and Switzerland as the resistance attempted to engage in dialogue with the Allied powers. He was arrested and imprisoned in Tegel prison by the Gestapo on 5th April 1943 where he continued to his religious work. In September 1944 after the Stauffenberg plot against Hitler's life the Abwehr's anti-Nazi activities became known to the authorities and Bonhoeffer was transferred to the SS Reich Main Security Office in Prinz Albrecht Strasse, a road that we visited a couple of years back when we visited Berlin. In February 1945 he was transferred to Buchenwald and later to Flossenburg concentration camp where on 8th April 1945 two weeks before the Americans liberated the camps he was condemned to death. He was hanged the day afterwards although accounts of his death are now questioned as the witnesses, all Nazis, sought to minimise their culpability. His legacy however can be noted in religious opposition to unjust government - particularly that of the Civil Rights movement in the US.

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