Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy
Meticulously-researched biography of Dietrich Bonhoeffer, the German theologian who became an outspoken resistor of the Nazis, and an eventual plotter in Hitler’s assassination, for which he was executed just before the Allies would have reached him.
The book really doubles as a history of the rise of the Third Reich. It’s as much a history of that as it is a biography. Bonhoeffer was a valiant resistor of evil, and the book shows how many in Germany – and even in the German military – were horrified at what Hitler was capable of. Lots of people tried to kill him, it turns out, though none succeeded.
We tend to think of Nazi Germany as a unified whole, but there was great division inside the country. At the same time, German was reeling from the humiliation of World War I, and was determined to regain some of its dignity. This was the environment that enabled Hitler to rise to power.
The only weakness is that there are long, long stretches of Bonhoeffer’s writing, and entire love letters between Bonhoeffer and his fiance are included. While these have some value, Bonhoeffer’s writing can be found in other places, and the love letters get a little repetitive.
The last few chapters of the book are very sad, as Bonhoeffer is moved from camp to camp, not knowing what his fate would be. The possibility that he might have lived if things had gone just a little bit differently is tantalizing. Bonhoeffer was killed by Hitler out of pure spite.
My son read it before me. He texted me: “What a dichotomy of two different life trajectories meeting in the middle.”