December 18, 2013
Book Review: 'No Ordinary Men,' by Elisabeth Sifton and Fritz Stern : The pastor Dietrich Bonhoeffer and his lawyer brother-in-law worked together to resist the Nazis and help Jews escape Germany. (ALEXANDER KAZAM, Dec. 18, 2013, WSJ)
Posted by Orrin Judd at December 18, 2013 8:07 PM
Though the Nazis never won an outright majority in the parliament of the decaying Weimar Republic, they received nearly 44% of the vote in the critical election of March 1933--a mandate that enabled Adolf Hitler's anointment as supreme leader. To some, however, the evil character of the Nazi regime was visible from the start. Among them were the young Lutheran theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer and his brother-in-law Hans von Dohnanyi, the subjects of Elisabeth Sifton and Fritz Stern's "No Ordinary Men." In this concise, engaging account, Ms. Sifton, an eminent book editor, and Mr. Stern, a distinguished historian of Germany, trace Bonhoeffer and Dohnanyi's evolution from partaking in small acts of opposition to playing leading roles in the anti-Hitler resistance.Bonhoeffer, a pastor, fought Nazi efforts to meld Protestant churches into a single "Reich Church." Dohnanyi, a lawyer in the military intelligence service, used his position to document Nazi crimes and save Jews while joining several plots to kill Hitler. Their paths of resistance intertwined when Dohnanyi recruited Bonhoeffer to the anti-Hitler conspiracy. [...]Dohnanyi came into contact with a circle of anti-Hitler army officers, and in 1939 he became a deputy in the Abwehr (military counterintelligence), a redoubt of anti-Nazi sentiment. Hans soon brought on board Bonhoeffer, who was to use his foreign contacts to gather intelligence for the resistance. Together they coordinated a daring rescue operation--brilliantly conceived by Dohnanyi--that allowed more than a dozen Jewish refugees to escape to Switzerland using false papers. Bonhoeffer called on Swiss friends, including Karl Barth, to help secure their passage.It wasn't long, however, before the Gestapo had the pair in its sights, as more and more evidence linked them to the rescue operation and multiple failed attempts on Hitler's life. After they were arrested in early April 1943, their resistance took another form: withstanding isolation and harsh interrogations and refusing to name names. Both men found sustenance in their Bibles. And their families provided indispensable support, sending letters and packages with hidden messages that helped them coordinate their responses to questioning. Unbowed to the last, they were finally hanged in April 1945.