No Ordinary Men: Dietrich Bonhoeffer and Hans von Dohnanyi, Resisters Against Hitler in Church and State (New York Review Books Collections)

No Ordinary Men: Dietrich Bonhoeffer and Hans von Dohnanyi, Resisters Against Hitler in Church and State (New York Review Books Collections)

Elisabeth Sifton

Language: English

Pages: 160

ISBN: 1590176812

Format: PDF / Kindle (mobi) / ePub


During the twelve years of Hitler’s Third Reich, very few Germans took the risk of actively opposing his tyranny and terror, and fewer still did so to protect the sanctity of law and faith. In No Ordinary Men, Elisabeth Sifton and Fritz Stern focus on two remarkable, courageous men who did—the pastor and theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer and his close friend and brother-in-law Hans von Dohnanyi—and offer new insights into the fearsome difficulties that resistance entailed. (Not forgotten is Christine Bonhoeffer Dohnanyi, Hans’s wife and Dietrich’s sister, who was indispensable to them both.)

From the start Bonhoeffer opposed the Nazi efforts to bend Germany’s Protestant churches to Hitler’s will, while Dohnanyi, a lawyer in the Justice Ministry and then in the Wehrmacht’s counterintelligence section, helped victims, kept records of Nazi crimes to be used as evidence once the regime fell, and was an important figure in the various conspiracies to assassinate Hitler. The strength of their shared commitment to these undertakings—and to the people they were helping—endured even after their arrest in April 1943 and until, after great suffering, they were executed on Hitler’s express orders in April 1945, just weeks before the Third Reich collapsed.

Bonhoeffer’s posthumously published Letters and Papers from Prison and other writings found a wide international audience, but Dohnanyi’s work is scarcely known, though it was crucial to the resistance and he was the one who drew Bonhoeffer into the anti-Hitler plots. Sifton and Stern offer dramatic new details and interpretations in their account of the extraordinary efforts in which the two jointly engaged. No Ordinary Men honors both Bonhoeffer’s human decency and his theological legacy, as well as Dohnanyi’s preservation of the highest standard of civic virtue in an utterly corrupted state.

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Berlin so that he could see people there and attend the “Thursday meetings” of Beck and Oster in the capital. And he did not forsake the close, confiding relationship that had developed between him and Gürtner; the two of them had been through so much together. He stayed in touch until Gürtner’s sudden death in January 1941—a great blow for Hans and his friends.45 The Reichsgericht was essentially Nazified by the time Dohnanyi joined it; he was appointed to the second senate, where all but one

self-appointed role as chief conspirator in residence. (After the war he ungenerously besmirched some of the resisters’ names, notably Dohnanyi’s, in his testimony at the Nuremberg trials.) After fulfilling various Abwehr chores, Dietrich went to Basel to reassure Barth in person that despite his traveling in neutral Switzerland with official German papers he was still actively involved in oppositional work in the church; he also told Barth in confidence about his new responsibilities in the

retelling limited truths so as to give his questioners no new information, or so he hoped. Throughout the grim winter that followed, Christine did her best to look after her parents, who spent most of their nights in Sakrow, as did, after Schleicher’s arrest in October, his wife and daughters. (Earlier, in February 1944, Christine and her mother had been family midwives when Renate Schleicher Bethge gave birth to her son Dietrich in Sakrow.) The Dohnanyis’ home was a lifesaving refuge for the

with Franz Hildebrandt, Bishop George Bell, and others in England could arrange a memorial service for him in London (which the BBC broadcast) as early as July 1945. But there are doctrinal reasons, too. In his sermon at that service in London, Bishop Bell easily conjoined the dual aspects of Dietrich’s heroism as representing “both the resistance of the believing soul, in the name of God, and also the moral and political revolt of the human conscience against injustice and cruelty.” But

involved Dietrich in the anti-Hitler plots. Inevitably—as is so common in history—the question remains: Is Bonhoeffer remembered correctly? Is the human decency he so well exemplified honored equally with his theological legacy? Is Dohnanyi’s decency also honored, as well as his preservation, in an utterly corrupted state, of the highest standard of civic virtue? Both men’s lives offer lasting moral instruction. Though the world knows of Bonhoeffer in detail and hardly at all of Dohnanyi, they

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