This week we received our first copies of a new book on Dietrich Bonhoeffer. But don’t pass on this as just one more title about Bonhoeffer. The title is Bonhoeffer the Assassin?. The critical thing to note in this title is the question mark. Here’s a short paragraph from the Introduction:
“This book will challenge that reading. [The traditional reading that Bonhoeffer was involved with a conspiracy to assassinate Hitler.] Or rather it will argue not only that Joachim Kanitz [One of Bonhoeffer’s students.] is accurately remembering what he had been taught by his teacher in 1935, but that the evidence suggests that Bonhoeffer continued to believe these things in 1942 and beyond. Without question, his contexts and involvements—of necessity—changed from, say, 1935 to 1942 or 1939 to 1944. But we will argue for fundamental continuities in Bonhoeffer’s theology and life from 1932 until the end of his life. And specifically we will argue that it is highly unlikely that Bonhoeffer was involved in any assassination attempts. And since he was not involved in such attempts, there is no textual evidence that he attempted ethically to justify such attempts.” (13)
The paragraph above mentioned one of Bonhoeffer’s students, Joachim Kanitz. Here is what he wrote about the last time he saw his teacher. I found it moving.
“The last time I saw [Dietrich] was in the summer of 1943 [sic], shortly before his arrest. I visited him in his home in Berlin while I was on leave from the Russian front. I was wearing an officer’s uniform since I was just on my way back. I was wearing the Iron Cross; I was terribly ashamed, because I had an idea of what he was involved with here in Berlin. I knew nothing for sure; he didn’t even tell his closest friends anything about the conspiracy activities. Then he asked me, in utter sincerity, without any judgment, how I had earned my medal. And all I could do was mumble that I didn’t know, that it was merely routine. It was then that my wish, my desire was strengthened to will only one thing: to survive the war and see to it that such a thing never happened again. The reason I tell about this is that through the pacifism that Bonhoeffer had taught us, that we had come to by reading the Bible, the will to resist fascism and dictatorship had been planted so firmly in me that these seven years as a soldier were utter hell for me. Sometimes I was close to insanity because of it. At any rate, the only thing I could conclude for the rest of my life was: never again.” (11)
Bonhoeffer the Assassin? by Mark Thiessen Nation, Anthony G. Siegrist and Daniel P. Umble is from Baker Academic. It is a paperback with 272 pages and sells for $29.99. Those with an interest in church history and Bonhoeffer in particular cannot afford to neglect this work.
Mark Thiessen Nation (PhD, Fuller Theological Seminary) is professor of theology at Eastern Mennonite Seminary in Harrisonburg, Virginia, and has authored several books, including John Howard Yoder: Mennonite Patience, Evangelical Witness, Catholic Convictions.
Anthony G. Siegrist (ThD, Wycliffe College, University of Toronto) is associate professor of theology at Prairie Bible College in Three Hills, Alberta.
Daniel P. Umbel (MDiv, Eastern Mennonite Seminary) is a pastor, formerly of Mt. Olivet Church in Dyke, Virginia, and lives in Grafton, West Virginia.