Bonhoeffer Read-Along Part 2: Ch. 19 – 31

I’ve read some of Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s writing years ago, but knew close to nothing about the life of this highly admired Christian theologian, pastor and anti-Nazi martyr. Eric Metaxas’s 2010 biography of Bonhoeffer is an informative first step for me to delve into a selfless and heroic life. Within the close to 600 pages are highly readable narratives, at times humorous and even entertaining, albeit juxtaposed with pathos and sombre accounts.

Book Cover

What I’ve appreciated most is Metaxas’s inclusion of Bonhoeffer’s own voice, excerpts from his writing, letters, sermons, and words spoken as reported by witnesses. One of the most important sources is from his theology student and confidant Eberhard Bethge who had written what generally considered the definitive biography on Bonhoeffer. That’s over a thousand pages. I’m in no position to offer any critique on the accuracies of Metexas’s book, for I have not read both or any other historical documents to compare notes. Here I’m just sharing my thoughts as a reader, casting my two pebbles into the pond of resonance.

In this second part, Chapters 19 to the end, the mood changes as we see Hitler tightening the noose on his opponents, especially the Jews and their sympathizers. Bonhoeffer had to help his twin sister Sabine’s family flee the country before it was too late, as her husband Gerhard Leibholz was Jewish.

Dietrich’s own Confessing Church which had boldly stood against Hitler’s anti-semitic laws was now facing Gestapo arrests, its seminary Finkenwalde shut down, and its pastors slapped with the ordinance to swear an oath to Hitler. For his own safety, he had made arrangement to leave Germany for America. The Union Seminary in NYC had offered him a teaching post, welcoming the return of this brilliant theologian from Germany.

Bonhoeffer sailed to NYC on June 12, 1939, finding a safe haven in America, but not peace of mind. His inner turmoils were so overwhelming that he stayed there for just twenty-six days. His pastor’s heart prodded him to rush back to Germany to be with those who were suffering. My admiration for the man grew even more as I came to this part.

Mere waiting and looking on is not Christian behavior. The Christian is called to sympathy and action, not in the first place by his own sufferings, but by the sufferings of his brethren, for whose sake Christ suffered.

It was a much deteriorated country to which he returned under the grip of a mad Führer. War broke out. His brother Karl and brother-in-law Dohnanyi were in the Resistance against Hitler’s regime. Soon, Dietrich was involved too, at first offering encouragement and emotional support, but later worked for the Abwehr, the German spy agency, as a pastor, which he was, but unbeknownst to the Abwehr, as an undercover for the Resistance. What a dangerous job to take on!

In Operation 7, Bonhoeffer successfully helped seven Jews escape to Switzerland from certain death. A larger amount of foreign currency had to be transferred out of the country to suport their livelihood. Thus a track was left for his later Gestapo arrest. It’s interesting to note one of the two relatively minor reasons for his arrest is money laundering, for it’s much easier for the Gestapo to believe that than for them to think any German of sound mind would want to help Jews escape.

I can see a courageous man with integrity. Bonhoeffer could not stand aside to see the murders of innocents and the spread of evil. Yet, it’s disturbing to see his stance belonged only to a dearth of people at that time. Hitler’s murderous rampage and the Gestapo’s torturous tactics seized the country with a ferocious grip. Soon, those few dissident voices had to go underground, for their own lives were at stake. I kept asking myself what would I have done… a question I’m afraid to answer.

It was also then that Dietrich was swept by love with Maria von Wedemeyer. Their love was like silver linings behind dark, ominous clouds. Most of their time was spent apart, for Dietrich was held in prison by then, a most precarious relationship indeed. Yet from their letters, I could see love bring them hope, and hope in turn enriches their bond. It was heartbreaking to read their letters to each other, foreseeing wedding and marriage. From the dreadful Gestapo prison, Dietrich wrote Maria:

You mustn’t think I’m unhappy. Anyway, what do happiness and unhappiness mean? They depend so little on circumstances and so much more on what goes on inside us. I’m thankful every day to have you – you and all of you – and that makes me happy and cheerful.

Maybe the title of this book should add in one more description: Lover.

Bonhoeffer and Bethge
Photo taken from the book.

Dietrich had earlier written a Wedding Sermon from the Tegel military prison in Berlin for the wedding of his best friend Eberhard and his niece Renate. In there is a most inspiring thought:

It is not your love that sustains your marriage, but from now on, the marriage that sustains your love.

Later, he was transferred to the Buchenwald death camp outside Berlin, and ultimately, to Flossenbürg for his execution. It’s heart-wrenching to read about Bonhoeffer’s last days, still keeping a calm and peaceful composure, touching other prisoners and even the doctor overseeing his execution. What is death? In his own words:

… life only really beigns when it ends here on earth, that all that is here is only the prologue before the curtain goes up….  if only we can be still and hold fast to God’s Word… Death beckons to us with heavenly power, if only we realize that it is the gateway to our homeland, the tabernacle of joy, the everlasting kingdom of peace.

I had expected Metexas’s book to be informative, but I had not thought it would read like a page-turner. The last chapters are so intense and engrossing that it felt like I was reading the script to the film Valkyrie, about the foiled plan to assassinate Hitler by Colonel Stuaffenberg and a subsequent coup. Bonhoeffer was not personally involved in the operation. But it was due to the failure of the Valkyrie plan that Bonhoeffer’s hidden identity with the Resistance was later discovered. Nine months after Stuaffenberg’s execution, Bonhoeffer was hanged at the Flossenbürg prison on April 9, 1945, just two weeks before the Allies marched in, and three weeks before Hitler took his own life.

Maria and Dietrich’s parents did not know of his demise until much later. Upon hearing the memorial service on BBC radio broadcast on July 27, 1945, Dietrich’s parents were confirmed of the saddest news a parent could ever hear. I was deeply moved to read the Sermon on the Mount excerpt from Matthew 10:17-42. What jumped out from the passage were these most apt and powerful verses:

And fear not them which kill the body, but are not able to kill the soul…

Whoever therefore shall confess me before men, him will I confess also before my Father which is in heaven. But whosoever shall deny me before men, him will I also deny before my Father which is in heaven.

And with the script of Bishop Bell’s poignant sermon at the Memorial Service, Metaxas ends his biography of Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy.

I thank all those who have read along with me, some with their thoughts posted on their blogs, some silently participating. If you’ve written a post, do let me know in a comment. I’ll be sure to link it here.

Alison of Chino House: 3 Encouragements from reading Bonhoeffer

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CLICK HERE to read my post on Part 1: Chapters 1 – 18

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Next Read-Along: Marcel Proust’s In Search of Lost Time Vol. 1: Swann’s Way

Bonhoeffer Read-Along Part 1: Chapters 1-18

February 4 has come and gone without fanfare, without even being noticed by me, the one hosting a read-along of a bio on Bonhoeffer. That day two weeks ago would have been Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s 107th birthday (1906-1945). I’m feeling a sense of loss for missing it.bonhoefer book cover

A sense of sadness too which comes from knowing a young and brilliant life so purposeful even from the start was cut short violently. It also comes from empathy with the parents Karl and Paula, who had to experience the death of three of their four sons and two sons-in-law during war time. Back in 1918, their second son Walter died in action in WWI. And during WWII, their third son Klaus, youngest Dietrich, and two sons-in-law were executed by the Nazis for their role in the German resistance against Hitler. Sad especially that they only learned of Dietrich’s death through a radio broadcast of his memorial service from England. He was only 39.

My impression from the outset is, Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s was a life of purpose, even from an early age. It was made possible largely by a nurturing and vibrant family, and a lively brood of four boys and four girls. Father Karl Bonhoeffer, a prominent psychiatrist and university professor, instilled intellectual rigor; mother Paula imparted faith and fervor. The young lives benefitted from the cultural and musical home environs, but more importantly, the indomitable sense of social justice.

The Bonhoeffer children
The eight Bonhoeffer children with their governess at a holiday home (ca. 1910). Karl and Paula Bonhoeffer in the background. Dietrich to the right of the governess.

Dietrich knew he wanted to study theology when he was only thirteen. He graduated summa cum laude from the University of Berlin, obtaining his doctorate when he was only twenty-one. What brilliant mind and potential! And with that mind he saw through the trickery and schemes of an emerging demigod in Hitler. This is probably my favorite quotes from him. You can see his driven sense of direction:

If you board the wrong train it is no use running along the corridor in the opposite direction.

This has been my query all the time, and Eric Metaxas’s accounts have partially answered it. How could Hitler have gained such power without being challenged? It can’t be all due to fear, that came later. Hitler was democratically elected by the people as chancellor in 1933. The Führer Principle was readily embraced by most. So nationalism played a large part. Then came racism, with the establishment of new laws barring Jews, many of them in prominent positions too from the legal, academic, and medical fields, and then the engulfment of the German Church by the Third Reich. It’s utterly mind boggling. Why was it that the Bonheoffer family was only one of a dearth of lucid observers during this dark chapter in German history?

Nothing is beyond the Nazis reach. The ‘purging’ of the literary and scientific realms resulted in the casting out of thoughts and works by anyone not of the Aryan race, including Helen Keller, Jack London, H.G. Wells, Albert Einstein, Thomas Mann, and the poet Heinrich Heine, who wrote these prophetic words in 1821 in his play Almansor:

Where books are burned, they will, in the end, burn people too.

Metaxas’s book is informative and detailed, especially on Bonhoeffer’s effort to take back the German Church from the Nazis by establishing The Confessing Church with Karl Barth. Metaxas has also painted a very human portrait, a purposeful young man, bold, principled, passionate, and full of life. I move along eagerly, albeit sometimes confused by the numerous names and historical accounts. I want to find out what actually happened in the end, although not so sure how I can bear to read about Dietrich’s ultimate demise.

What are your thoughts so far? Throw your two pebbles into the pond. I’ll be glad to link your post here. Do go and visit:

Alison of Chino House

Ellen The Happy Wonderer

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To read my wrap-up post on Chapters 19 – 31, CLICK HERE.

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2013 Read-Along Begins: Bonhoeffer

Here we are already the third day into the new year. How fast time flies! To kick things off, here’s the first Read-Along. Allow me to just reiterate from my open invite on Dec. 12, 2012:

Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy by Eric Metaxas 

bonhoefer book cover

In the top ten of Barnes and Noble’s Best non-fiction books of 2010, and on New York Times Best-Seller list, this Dietrich Bonhoeffer biography intrigues me greatly. Author Metaxas’s title makes me want to know more about this legendary figure whose books I had read in my youth, but now think I don’t know him enough to fully appreciate his daring life, a man of faith and anti-Nazi in wartime Germany.

This slow reading plan gives you plenty of time so you can still pursue other books on your plate. I’ve roughly divided the biography in two parts, posting twice:

Chapters 1 – 18 (277 pages): to post on February 15

Chapters 19 – 31 (264 pages): to post on March 15

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With Arti, it’s always a slow read. You still have time now to order your book if you haven’t got it. And for others, dust it off the shelf. We’re reading the first part, Chapters 1 – 18 in Jan/Feb and posting our thoughts on these chapters on Feb. 15

Some of you may not be bloggers, you’re most welcome to join in the reading. Come to any of our posts on Feb. 15 and share your thoughts with us in the comment section. As I always say, the pond is open for all to throw in a pebble or two, make some ripples.

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As of today, those who are joining in this read-along are:

Shoreacres of The Task At Hand (and cousin 🙂 )

Shari Green

Alison of Chino House

And those who have shown interest and still deciding, hope they will hop on soon:

nikkipolani

Jeanie of The Marmelade Gypsy

Hedda of Hedda’s Place

Ellen of The Happy Wonderer (reading already, hope she’ll join in the discussion)

If you’d like to read along with us, or join in any time later, just let me know in a comment and leave a link so I can add you on the list.

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Before Feb. 15, you can always tweet me @Arti_Ripples or anyone of us who speaks in 140 characters.

Happy Reading!

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COMING UP in March to May: Proust Read-Along

Read-Along 2013: Bonhoeffer and Proust

CLICK HERE to Bonhoeffer Read-Along Part 2 Wrap-Up: Ch. 19 – 31

CLICK HERE to Bonhoeffer Read-Along Part 1: Ch. 1 – 18

CLICK HERE for an updated post “2013 Read-Along Begins: Bonhoeffer”

Just because they’ve been on the shelf staring at me for too long. And I’d love some company when I tackle them.

My experience of Read-Alongs started serendipitously this year upon the suggestion of another blogger. Thus began the four months journey of Midnight’s Children. Finding the experience so rewarding, I later held another one, Anna Kareninajust in time to coincide with the film.

So anyone who has come along with me know I like to take things slow. If I can finish a long book, anyone can. So here we are, hope you will join me in the winter months of 2013:

Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy by Eric Metaxas 

Bonhoeffer Pastor Martyr Prophet Spy-Eric Metaxas

In the top ten of Barnes and Noble’s Best non-fiction books of 2010, and on New York Times Best-Seller list, this Dietrich Bonhoeffer biography intrigues me greatly. Author Metaxas’s title makes me want to know more about this legendary figure whose books I had read in my youth, but now think I haven’t known him enough to fully appreciate his daring life, a man of faith and anti-Nazi in wartime Germany.

This slow reading plan allows you plenty of time to pursue your own reading and blogging. I’ve roughly divided it in two parts, posting twice:

Chapters 1 – 18 (277 pages): to post on February 15

Chapters 19 – 31 (264 pages): to post on March 15

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And come Spring, I’d like to step into the world of Proust.

In Search of Lost Time Vol. 1, Swann’s Way by Marcel Proust

My curiosity of Proust has long been latent. The movie Little Miss Sunshine is the trigger. Remember Steve Carell’s character Frank, the Proust scholar in the movie? He just got out of the hospital recovering from a failed suicide attempt… uh… Yeah, that’s when I told myself, umm… one of these days I must read some Proust.

So here I am, again attracted first by the appealing book cover from my favorite publisher: Modern Library.

In Search of Lost Time Vol

I understand Lydia Davis has a newer translation of Swann’s Way. You can chose whatever translation you prefer. It may be good to compare notes on the different versions too.

Again, we’ll post twice. According to the parts in the book:

Part One, Combray (264 pages): to post April 15

Part Two, Swann In Love (278 pages) & Part Three, Places Names, The Name (61 pages): to post May 15

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So these are my Read-Along plans for 2013. Sure hope you can join me on either or both of them. Just leave me with a comment and a link to your blog below. If you’re not a blogger, you can read along too. As we post, you can stop by and share your thoughts in the comment section. As I like to say, stop by the pond and throw in a pebble or two, make some ripples.

On Ripple Effects, the Read-Along bandwagon is a slow ride, but just as convivial. Hope to see you hop on!

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