The Second World War remains one of the most studied and brutal conflicts in the history of man. The rise and fall of Adolf Hitler and the Third Reich have become a case studies for history buffs and students learning about a war that nearly resulted in the complete destruction of Germany and the continent of Europe. It is true that Hitler had many supporters but he also had large numbers of detractors, some of whom were serving in his own army. The attack of personal liberties and treasured institutions, caused shock and consternation across Germany. The persecution of the Catholic church by the National Socialists is among Hitler’s darkest deeds. Throughout the war, Hitler would ramp up his attacks on the church and his bloodthirsty purge of religion knew no bounds. The horror with which the clergy watched the rise of the Third Reich spurred many to action and they were determined to rid Germany and the world of the man they saw as the very incarnation of evil. Among them was Dietrich Bonhoeffer (1906-1945), the man who became a pastor, martyr, prophet and spy.
Before reading this book, I had never head of Bonhoeffer. I did know of Hitler’s persecution of the church and his never ending attacks on anyone deemed to be against the Reich. This excellent biography by author Eric Metaxas came as a recommendation on Amazon and encouraged me to revisit Nazi Germany. From start to finish, the book is seductively intriguing and it caused me to wonder why Bonhoeffer’s story is not more widely known. In history classes, his name was never discussed and in none of the specials I watched regarding the war, was he ever mentioned. But having finished the book, I can say with certainty that his story and that of the resistance by the Catholics opposed to Hitler, is a side of the war that needs much further exploration and exposure.
History continues to examine how and why Adolf Hitler was able to seize control of Germany and plunge the world into yet another major conflict. By nearly all accounts, he was initially viewed as a mere distraction in politics and his group of brown shirts were seen as thugs determined to interfere with important elections. The Beer Hall Putsch nearly cost Hitler his life but even that was not enough to deter the Austrian menace. Hitler had a sharp eye with regards to social changes and human nature. As Paul Von Hindenburg (1847-1934) saw the end of his life near, he made one decision that change the course of world history and for the German people, cast upon them a stain that Germany may never be able to remove. Some Germans saw the writing on the wall and left the country before Hitler unleashed his wave of tyranny and insanity. Others remained and for those of Jewish heritage, the genocidal Final Solution would result in a horror that one will ever be able to forget.
Hitler’s promotion to Chancellor of Germany was the moment the Austrian had been waiting for and the Nazis wasted no time in enforcing new laws based on racial ideology. The Nuremberg Laws and others that not only stripped Jews of their rights but in the process made them second class citizenst shocked many Germans. The persecution of the Jews eventually reached the church, which would have to make a decision regarding the growing menace from Berlin. Bonhoeffer had come to embrace the teachings of the church and his beliefs would lead him on a course that no one thought possible for a man of the cloth. But his story is among of the most fascinating that I have ever read. Metaxas presents his life beautifully here and includes many of Bonhoeffer’s writings to show the mindset and the very personal side of a man who followed the path of God while at the same time joined several plots to assassinate Hitler.
The thought of a pastor assisting in an assassination plot is simply astounding. But Bonhoeffer was not living in ordinary times and Germany was under siege and caught in the grip of a madman whose only goal was world domination. Metaxas does an incredible job of not only capturing Bonhoeffer’s life but also revisits key moments in the advancement of Hitler’s agenda. The two sides are on a collision course and the plotters knew they would have to act at some point in time. Bonhoeffer is firmly entrenched in it all while at the same time, holding on to his convictions and proving to many why he was such a beloved figure by those who knew him well.
As the author told Bonhoeffer’s story, I found myself in amazement at the things that I learned. Bonhoeffer was multi-lingual, an excellent writer, world traveler and a strong advocate for civil rights as a result of his two visits to America. His experiences in Harlem were surely eye opening for a New York such as myself. But what really struck me the most was his calm ability to accept the fate that he knew awaited him. His prophetic nature is on display early in his writings and his final act is a testament to his commitment to the word of the lord. His words are touching and uplifting. And his observations about the world he embraced are still relevant today. Long before Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Bonhoeffer saw the direction that would be needed for true change to occur in America and for Black Americans to have equal rights under the law. How ironic it is that the horrors he saw in America were slowly being replicated and in some cases surpassed by the devious and sadistic officials of Hitler’s inner circle.
To say the book is well-written would be an understatement. If you are curious about the Third Reich and the impact it had on German religion, then this book is a good place to start. Further, the book is not only Bonhoeffer’s story but that of many others including Hitler himself. World War II buffs will absolutely love this book. Bonhoeffer’s story is inspiring yet tragic but one that is integral to the history of Nazi Germany. And in this soul-reaching biography, Eric Metaxas has given Bonhoeffer his rightful place in the annals of Germany history.