I have always been intrigued by figures during the Jewish Holocaust who risked their lives to stop the tragic genocide. While there were many heroes and martyrs for this ethical cause, one man, in particular, stands out to me as a compelling “moral hero” – Dietrich Bonhoeffer.
The election of Hitler as chancellor in 1930 saw a politically split and economically-desperate Germany. Dietrich Bonhoeffer was a staunch advocate against Hitler from the beginning. Soon after Hitler’s election, Bonhoeffer criticized the Fuhrer and his supporters on the radio. Bonhoeffer, a Christian leader, also raised his concern about the systematic persecution of Germany’s Jewish population (Schlingensiepen 120). In his essay, “The Church and the Jewish Question,” Bonhoeffer questioned if Germany, under Hitler, would remain a civilized nation or become barbaric. Bonhoeffer said the Church should not keep out of politics if the state abrogates basic human rights (Schlingensiepen 121). Bonhoeffer worked to convince members of the Church to publicly reject the Nazi ideology. The disagreement concerning the Nazis within the Church led to Bonhoeffer helping to form the Confessing Church, which staunchly stood against Nazi ideology and the German Christians who supported it (Pettinger).
In April 1943, after a series of conflicts with the Nazi regime, Bonhoeffer was arrested and detained at Tegel Military prison (Schlingensiepen 139). While there, Bonhoeffer smuggled out messages and writings to his colleagues concerning the defeat of the Nazis, including the murder of their leader. In July 1944, Bonhoeffer was transported to a maximum security prison following a failed bomb attempt. Bonhoeffer was later moved to Buchenwald concentration camp and then to Flossenburg where he was executed by hanging on April 8, 1945 (Pettinger).
Though most of us primarily think of world leaders or corporate titans as having power, the truth is that many ordinary individuals possess it to a smaller degree, such as Bonhoeffer. Besides acquiring leadership in the Church, Bonhoeffer was a relatively normal German. However, unlike so many others, Bonhoeffer was able to find the voice to speak out against Hitler’s disgustingly racist and violent ideology. In fact, he was one of the first theologians to recognize and actively speak on Hitler’s policy against Jews as a problem for the Church.
Even in the face of adversary and threat of execution, the German pastor was...