Remembering Dietrich Bonhoeffer

Silence in the face of evil is itself evil: God will not hold us guiltless. Not to speak is to speak. Not to act is to act.


On April 9, we remember a very unique saint in the Episcopal Church, Dietrich Bonhoeffer. He was distinctive since 1) he was not Episcopalian and 2) the only Episcopal saint to die in a Nazi concentration camp.

Bonhoeffer is remembered for his theological writings and his resistance to the Nazis. Even before the Nazis were elevated to power, they sought to seize control of the German Protestant church.  Known as the, Duetsche Christen, the group was fervently pro-Nazi (and anti-Jewish). Bonhoeffer opposed them vigorously, making more than a few enemies. His refusal to acquiesce to the anti-Semitism sweeping Germany in the 1930’s led him to help establish the breakaway Confessing Church. He began teaching in “underground seminaries,” until they were closed by the Nazis.

In late 1939, he accepted an invitation to speak at a seminary in New York. With the war looming, he could have stayed in the States, but instead chose to return to Germany. "I must live through this difficult period in our national history with the people of Germany," he said.

During the war he was forbidden to speak in public, so he served as a courier for the resistance and helped several Jews escape to Switzerland. Bonhoeffer was arrested after the failed assassination attempt on Hitler, although most historians believe he knew little details of the actual plot. After being imprisoned for a year and a half, he was sent to a concentration camp and executed at dawn on April 9, 1945, just two weeks before the camp was liberated by the Allies.

His faith and written works went on to inspire Martin Luther King, Jr and the anti-communist movement in Eastern Europe. This Easter season let us remember those that went before us and sacrificed for their faith, when just staying silent would have been so much easier.