Sunday, August 01, 2004

Dietrich Bonhoeffer

Anyway, when thinking about my friend, I got to thinking about someone by the name of Dietrich Bonhoeffer. For those who don't know him, he was a pastor of the Confessing Church (one of the only protestant churches in Germany during WWII which actively preached against the sins of National Socialism, otherwise know as Nazism). He also spoke out ardently against the treatment of Jews in Germany from 1933 until his death in 1945. He was really just a young man (I'm 38yo, he was only 39yo when he died-->thus my perception of youngness) yet he risked his life daily for his faith and his country. When the Abwehr (the German military intelligence at the time) began to search out ways to depose Hitler, he participated by going to various allied countries. He, ostensibly, was in these countries to preach National Socialism, but instead gave detailed info on what was being done to the Jews in Germany, risking his life in doing so. He also worked with these different countries in an attempt to determine what grace would be shown to Germany as a country if Hitler was to be overthrown. Finally, he joined in an attempt on Hitler's life when it became apparent the Allies would give no promises of charity, viewing this as the only way to save Germany. He was arrested in April of 1943 for "subversion of the armed forces" because he discouraged the young men in his seminary from entering the armed forces. In October of 1944 papers were found showing his role in the assasination attempts so he became a prime target for Hitler. He was moved to different prisons and concentration camps as the allied advance got closer. Finally, on April 9, 1945, at Flossenburg Concentration Camp, he was martyred by hanging. His last words were, "This is the end,--for me the beginning of life." His execution occurred within the sounds of the American artillery, just 21 days prior to Hitler's suicide and 28 days before Germany capitulated.

What does this have to do with engagements, you ask? Pastor Bonhoeffer, at the age of 35, was a scholar deeply involved in what was called "The Jewish Question" at the time (including helping rescue as many Jews as possible from Germany), was trying to save his country via diplomacy, was writing books, etc. He felt he would never fall in love and marry because he was too old and too much of a scholar. In 1941, however, he met Maria von Wedemeyer and they became engaged in 1943, just three months prior to Bonhoeffer's arrest. One of the thing which is so beautiful is how hopeful and encouraging his correspondence was with her. He knew he would have to die for what he came to realize were acts against the laws of God (i.e., his participation in the assassination plot). He also felt his martyrdom was worth it if it saved the life of his country and those he loved. He could have escaped on October 5, 1944 from Tegal Prison (arrangements had all been made) but because of the discovery of the compromising documents, he knew his family and fiance' would be killed if he took the way of escape. Out of his great love for them, to help them live, he chose death.

His love letters from prison (published under the title, "Love Letters from Cell 92") are passionate and articulate. He longed so deeply to be with Maria and have a life together after the war. He wrote in detail about the plans for their wedding, where they would live, and the joy they would have of living the rest of their lives together. Even though he wrote so encouragingly (she was almost fifteen years younger then he & he did his best to keep her spirits up), by the end of 1944 he knew he would not survive. While imprisoned, along with writing "Ethics", he began to write poetry. These poems are beautiful (and can be read in the recently published book, "Voices in the Night" by editor/translator Edwin Robertson); they cry out to God for hope and peace. In two of the last three, "The Death of Moses" and "Jona", he clearly acknowledges his guilt and his peace in knowing his life is in God's hands. As he went from prison to prison and camp to camp, Maria followed, searching desperately for him. In the last poem he ever wrote, written from Prinz Albrecht Strasse @ the Gestapo headquarters, he titles it "By Kindly Powers Surrounded", speaking of the probability of death, but also of the possibility of life. He ends the poem with the conviction "God is by us", that his life was in God's hands.

I was thinking, as I read all of this, how much things have changed. We have worries and concerns, in the present, but it's good to remember what those in the past had to survive. Pastor Bonhoeffer's life is an inspiration to me, to live my life in a way that brings glory to God. I've obviously not had to go through anything approaching what he did, but I believe, earnestly, I can give more of myself to bring the gospel to those I meet, those I work with, strangers on the street, etc.

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