Dietrich Bonhoeffer – Pastor, Pacifist, Nazi Resister

Dietrich Bonhoeffer with fellow pacifist, Jean Lasserre in New York - 1931

Provision Theater Company’s current production, BONHOEFFER’S COST, is based on the life of theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer – a German clergyman who stood up against Hitler and the Nazis, despite being a committed pacifist.  As the play’s Director Timothy Gregory said, “He was a compelling, paradox of a man; an avowed pacifist plotting the assassination of Hitler.”

Bonhoeffer’s faith and conviction has been recognized world-wide. Martin Luther King even said, “If your opponent has a conscience, then follow Gandhi and non-violence. But if your enemy has no conscience like Hitler, then follow Bonhoeffer.”

But how did this intelligent man of faith, who focused on peace, come to be such an integral part of the active Nazi resistance? Bonhoeffer’s views on morality were most likely what guided him down the path that led to his opposition of Hitler. Bonhoeffer realized early on that he could never swear an oath to Hitler and fight in his army – however, not doing so was potentially a capital offense.

Coincidentally, just as Bonhoeffer began to fear Hitler’s rise, an invitation arrived from the Union Theological Seminary in New York asking him to come to the United States. Bonhoeffer accepted but soon after arriving in the US, he regretted his decision to leave during a time when his homeland was in turmoil. Despite strong pressures from his friends to stay in the U.S., Bonhoeffer forwent his own safety to return to Germany writing, “I have come to the conclusion that I made a mistake in coming to America. I must live through this difficult period in our national history with the people of Germany. I will have no right to participate in the reconstruction of Christian life in Germany after the war if I do not share the trials of this time with my people…Christians in Germany will have to face the terrible alternative of either willing the defeat of their nation in order that Christian civilization may survive or willing the victory of their nation and thereby destroying civilization. I know which of these alternatives I must choose but I cannot make that choice from security.” Bonhoeffer returned to Germany on the last steamer to cross the Atlantic prior to WWII.

Once back in Germany, Bonhoeffer continued to ignore his own safety for the sake of his country and his beliefs. Under cover of the Abwehr, Bonhoeffer served as a courier for the German resistance movement to reveal its existence and intentions and – through his ecumenical contacts abroad – to secure possible peace terms with the Allies for a post-Hitler government. His visits to Norway, Sweden, and Switzerland were camouflaged as legitimate intelligence activities for the Abwehr. Bonhoeffer was also involved in Abwehr operations to help German Jews escape to Switzerland. It was during this time that Bonhoeffer worked on Ethics and wrote letters to keep up the spirits of his former students. He intended Ethics as his magnum opus, but it remained unfinished when he was arrested.

To learn more about the life and beliefs of Dietrich Bonhoeffer, come see BONHOEFFER’S COST at Provision Theater Company, Fridays and Saturdays at 8pm and Sundays at 3pm now through October 30. Purchase tickets here.