Monthly Archives: February 2011

The Pacifism of Bonhoeffer

Ted Grimsud has posted an analysis of Bonhoeffer that touches on the same issues raised earlier on this blog, namely – is Bonhoeffer a martyr?

Here’s a snippett:

Bonhoeffer was labeled by the Nazi Gestapo from 1933 on as “a pacifist and enemy of the state.” He avoided military service because he could not allow himself to take human life, especially as an agent of the Nazis. Through family connections, he managed to evade military induction by working for a military intelligence agency—but his work there did not involve anything that directly supported the war effort and in fact served as a cover for him to pursue ecumenical contacts in western Europe. The purpose of these secret contacts was to make possible postwar church relationships.

Bonhoeffer was part of a collection of about 100 Nazi resisters in this intelligence agency, and a handful of those were directly involved in the assassination plot. But there is no evidence that Bonhoeffer himself was. After the conspiracy was discovered, thousands were arrested, the vast majority of whom had nothing to do with the plot. At Bonhoeffer’s trial, he was convicted of draft evasion (which itself would have been a capital offense). That is, the Nazis themselves never claimed Bonhoeffer was involved in the plot.

In this scenario, then, stage two is actually fully consistent with stages one and two. Bonhoeffer refused to fight in the military and found a way to do constructive ecumenical work while not violating his convictions. He was arrested mainly because he was known to have connections with assassination conspirators, but was convicted of draft evasion (in his case, a profoundly pacifist stance), not involvement in the plot. In the end, he was executed. We don’t know exactly why, but quite likely simply because he was seen as an enemy of the state (which had been his label from 1933)—one of thousands the Nazis put to death in the final months of the war as a concluding act of revenge.

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