A convincing argument that theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer and his often overlooked brother-in-law Hans von Dohnanyi “deserve to be remembered together” for their courageous resistance to Hitler's Nazi regime.
Sifton (The Serenity Prayer: Faith and Politics in the Times of Peace and War, 2003) and Stern (University Professor Emeritus/Columbia Univ.; Five Germanys I Have Known, 2006, etc.) have unique vantage points. Stern's parents were friends of Bonhoeffer, and he remains a friend to the children of Bonhoeffer's sister. Sifton's father, famed theologian Reinhold Niebuhr, was also a friend and colleague. Both were active opponents of Hitler from the beginning. Bonhoeffer had won an international standing working against the Aryanization of churches in the 1930s. Dohnanyi attempted to help people targeted by the regime and began to compile a chronological record, together with documentation of Nazi crimes, for use after the regime fell. While working in counterintelligence, he recruited Bonhoeffer to join with him and his sister Christine in what the authors call “their conspiracy against the state.” Dohnanyi and Bonhoeffer were subsequently involved in organizing the March 1943 plots against Hitler. Held for two years under appalling conditions, they were executed less than a month before the end of the war, as were other members of their extended families. Particularly powerful are the quotations from letters and communications from jail. The authors quote from a letter Christine wrote in September 1945: “I believe it is better to know for what one dies than not to know what exactly one is living for.” Sifton and Stern answer the question about whether Bonhoeffer has been remembered correctly and also discuss both men’s unsuccessful attempts to reach out to the Allies for support.
A concise yet powerful contribution to an even larger history.