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Nazi Germany produced an unusual group of Christian martyrs--among them, the nun philosopher Edith Stein, the mystical philosopher Simone Weil, and the peasant conscientious objector Hans Jgerstatter--but perhaps none so complex as the Lutheran theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer. Born into a large upper-middle-class, professional family that was not particularly devout or observant (his father was one of the leading psychiatrists in Germany), Dietrich early in life decided he wanted to be a Christian theologian. Yet his family background and connections insured that he wouldn't be one in the narrow mold of so many of his colleagues. Opportunities for travel-to Spain, North Africa. Mexico, Cuba, America (twice), and England (often)-gave him a broad horizon of possibilities. The greatest thing about America for him was his experiences in Harlem and his friendships with African Americans. His great regret was that he missed an opportunity to travel to India to meet Gandhi. He was one of the few German churchmen who spoke forthrightly against the persecution of Jews as Jews and not merely of Christians of Jewish descent. (How much of this was due to his beloved, 90-year-old grandmother Sophie, who defied the Nazi ban on shopping in Jewish stores? "I buy the things I need where I like.") His family connections drew him into a dangerous double game. His "employment" as a member of the Counterintelligence Office of the High Command of the Armed Forces enabled him to continue work as a pastor and seminary director. It allowed him to travel abroad, where he worked for a negotiated peace. And it eventually drew him into the plot to kill Hitler-an ethical stand which many German Christians of his generation couldn't understand or forgive. He was executed on 9 April 1945, three weeks before Hitler committed suicide. He was thirty-nine years old.
The life of Dietrich Bonhoeffer has been told at great length and in magnificent detail by his younger colleague, Eberhard Bethge. It's a biography that will never be surpassed but which only the most devoted will have the perseverance to read. Elizabeth Raum has retold the story concisely and readably for a whole new generation of readers.
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