Dietrich Bonhoeffer was a double-agent who plotted to assassinate Adolf Hitler in the Wolf’s Lair fortress. When the plot failed, Hitler made sure he was executed in the final days before the German surrender.
Today he is hailed as a 20th century martyr and you can find his statue among the sculptures of the ten modern martyrs above the west entrance of Westminster Abbey in London. But who was he really, and why is his name widely known and why is he a martyr?
To find out, we need to go back to a time in history when there was a huge upheaval in our world. A WWI German corporal from Austria had a vision for Germany and the world. His name – Adolf Hitler.
The German nation was despondent after the defeat of WWI, the end of the monarchy and the subsequent economic collapse. The charismatic Hitler offered a new government to replace the monarchy and appeared to be the nation’s answer to their prayer.
Now the rise of the Third Reich, brought the aristocratic and highly educated Christian pacifist, Dietrich Bonhoeffer into a collision course with Hitler and the Nazi regime. Bonhoeffer struggled with the moral dilemma, his religious views and the courage to do something about the persecution of Jews.
In order to avoid compulsory military service, Bonhoeffer’s brother-in-law helped him get a job with the German secret service – the Abwehr. Soon he became a double agent and was involved in foreign travel, secret meetings and resistance plans, and was soon part of a plot to assassinate Adolf Hitler.
Hitler viewed Bonhoeffer as a threat. He was banned from Berlin, forbidden to write, speak or publish. He tried to sabotage the Nazi war effort and smuggle German Jews to Switzerland.
Bonhoeffer’s personal mantra was, Silence in the face of evil is itself evil: God will not hold us guiltless. Not to speak is to speak. Not to act is to act.
He was arrested for his work as a double agent and assisting Jews to escape Germany. When the plot, Operation Valkyrie failed, Bonhoeffer’s connections with the other conspirators were uncovered and he was sentenced to death.
He chose to face imprisonment and execution with courage and to be faithful to the principles of his beliefs in God. He advocated that Christianity should transform your life and your actions. A famous author wrote this:
“The greatest want of the world is the want of men – men who will not be bought or sold; men who in their inmost souls are true and honest; men who do not fear to call sin by its right name; men whose conscience is as true to duty as the needle to the pole; men who will stand for the right though the heavens fall.” – EGW Education p57.
Today Bonhoeffer is celebrated for his Christian ethics and his theological writings as classics throughout the Christian world. His work is centred around the amazing grace that God offers each one of us. Let’s read what the Bible says about grace in II Corinthians 12:9.
“My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore, I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me.” – II Corinthians 12:9