No Ordinary Men (or Women, For that Matter)

I just finished reading No Ordinary Men: Dietrich Bonhoeffer and Hans von Dohnanyi, Resisters Against Hitler in Church and State, by Elizabeth Sifton and Fritz Stern. As the title suggests, the book focuses on the efforts of Bonhoeffer and Dohnanyi, as well as others in their circle, to oppose Hitler, efforts that led both men to be executed (shortly before the collapse of the Third Reich).

There is much that moved me in reading this book, but one of the things that touched me most was the incredible strength and faith of so many members of this family as they suffered the consequences of their opposition to Hitler. One of those was Christine Bonhoeffer Dohnanyi (Hans’ wife and Dietrich’s sister), who all along assisted her brother and husband in their efforts.

When Christine was imprisoned, she wrote to her children

Everything is always immediately at hand, for it lies either on the table or in the suitcase. I should like to introduce this at home. And in general one sees how good it is when one has few needs. Remember that. Not for the jail but for life….

Now I want to tell you one more thing. Don’t carry any hate in your heart against the power that has done this to us. Don’t fill your young souls with bitterness; that has its revenge and takes from you the most beautiful thing there is, trust…

Believe me, when one has experienced this, then one knows that it is after all a really small and meager part of the human being that one an put in jail.

After her release from prison, Christine took care of various branches of the Bonhoeffer and von Donnanyi familes, as well as complying as well as she could with requests from Dietrich from prison. After the war, she held out hope for a long time that her husband had survived, a hope that was finally dashed at the end of 1945.

Many of us are familiar with Bohoeffer’s actions during the war, fewer with von Dohnanyi’s. The book does a good job of letting us see how much of a “family affair” was the Bonhoeffer/von Dohnanyi resistance against Hitler.

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One thought on “No Ordinary Men (or Women, For that Matter)

  1. To oppose such a regime was rare, and to do so in order to protect the sanctity of law and faith was rarer still. We are concerned here with two exceptional men who from the start of the Third Reich opposed the Nazi outrages: the scarcely known lawyer Hans von Dohnanyi and his brother-in-law, the well-known pastor Dietrich Bonhoeffer. Dohnanyi recorded Nazi crimes, helped victims, did his best to sabotage Nazi policies, and eventually helped plot Hitler’s removal; Bonhoeffer fought the Nazis’ efforts to control the German Protestant churches. For both men the regime’s treatment of Jews was of singular importance. Holocaust literature is vast and the literature on German resistance scant, yet the lives and deaths of the two men show us important links between them.

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