This is not the first book I have read about Dietrich Bonhoeffer, and he remains one of the most inspiring historical figures that I have ever read about.
About the Book
Title: The Faithful Spy: Dietrich Bonhoeffer and the Plot to Kill Hitler
Author: John Hendrix
Genre: nonfiction, graphic novels, history, biography
My Rating: 5/5 stars
Synopsis (from Goodreads) (truncated):
“Interweaving handwritten text and art, John Hendrix tells the story of Dietrich Bonhoeffer and his fight against the oppression of the German people during World War II. Bonhoeffer was a German Lutheran pastor and theologian who was shocked to watch the German church embrace Hitler’s agenda of hatred. He spoke out against the Nazi party and led a breakaway church that rebelled against racist and nationalist beliefs of the Third Reich. Struggling with how his faith interacted with his ethics, Bonhoeffer eventually became convinced that Hitler and the Nazi Party needed to be stopped–and he was willing to sacrifice anything and everything to do so.“
Bonhoeffer was a German pastor who was involved in a conspiracy to assassinate Hitler. This book tells both the story of Bonhoeffer and the development of his life philosophy in parallel with the rise of Nazi Germany.
Against the idea that the Church sound be bound to any leader, Bonhoeffer was initially disturbed by the way Hitler was attempting to use religious institutions to further loyalty to the Nazi party and shoving Nazi ideology into religion.
He was further mobilized against Hitler when the Aryan paragraph was introduced into legislation, which banned all Jews from participating in civil service. Bonhoeffer was reminded of the discrimination he witnessed towards his black friend during the time he spent studying theology in America (one of the nastier things they don’t tell you about American history is that the Jim Crow south inspired the Nazis) and he believed strongly that the Church had a Godly duty to protect people being oppressed by the state. He started an illegal anti-Nazi religious movement called the Confessing Church, which was opposed to this perversion of Christianity.
(this is one of the examples that I would bring up to atheists who think that everything about religion is bad)
Meanwhile, as Hitler became more powerful and annexed Austria, the Sudetenland, and Czechoslovakia, even some top Nazi officials were growing wary of him and began thinking about an assassination in order to stop him from starting another world war. After the invasion of Poland, they were also horrified at the massacre of Polish civilians by the SS.
Bonhoeffer became involved with a circle of German intelligence agents who were plotting against the Nazis. Together they compiled evidence of Nazi atrocities, smuggled Jews out of the country, attempted to contact Winston Churchill to tell him what was happening to the Jews and to inform him of their dissident movement, and began concocting a plan to assassinate Hitler. Their assassination attempts failed three times by astonishingly bad luck.
Bonhoeffer was eventually arrested and he was executed in 1945.
One of the things that strikes me the most about Bonhoeffer is his insane selfless and commitment to his cause. For example, he had actually fled Germany to the US in 1939 just months before the start of WW2, but he changed his mind and came back on the last boat to cross the Atlantic before the invasion of Poland because he could not abandon his country. And in 1945 he had an opportunity to escape from prison in the confusion as Germany was crumbling around him but even though he knew he was probably going to die, he decided not to run away in order to prevent the Gestapo from coming after his family.
The other major thing about Bonhoeffer is how he had to reconcile his commitment to pacifism with his participation in an assassination plot. He had to decide whether violence was justified to stop someone like Hitler, because of course one of the Ten Commandments is “thou shalt not kill.”
I’m also a pacifist, and this is a question I have always worried about since I was a kid: is violence ever justified to stop evil? I was raised Catholic, and the Catholic Church has this thing called “just war” which outlines the conditions in which war/violence is justified: 1) the aggressor is inflicting severe damage on a community or nation 2) there’s no other way to stop them 3) you have a chance to win and 4) the harm you will cause in fighting is less than the harm the person you are fighting will cause if you do not intervene.
This idea is also sort of reminds me of the non-aggression principle (often associated with libertarianism) which has a similar philosophy that violence is not justified against non-aggressors but may be justified in retaliation to someone who is infringing upon the rights of others.
There’s also the common moral dilemma thought experiment of “if given the opportunity, would you travel back in time to kill Hitler to prevent WW2?” (Apparently men are more likely to say yes than women so that’s sort of interesting)
Likewise Bonhoeffer had two choices: either do nothing and let Hitler destroy his country and massacre innocent people, or make an attempt to stop him, even if this attempt necessitated committing one of the worst sins.
The Faithful Spy is a really good nonfiction book and I’d highly recommend it. It’s also written as a graphic novel, and the illustrations are beautiful.
Have you read The Faithful Spy: Dietrich Bonhoeffer and the Plot to Kill Hitler by John Hendrix? If so, what did you think of it?
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