Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy
Thomas Nelson, $29.99, 608 pp.
The final days of Dietrich Bonhoeffer in 1945 make for powerful and painful reading. Imprisoned for two years as a conspirator in a plot against Hitler, Bonhoeffer left Buchenwald packed into a hellish wood-burning van with fifteen other prisoners in a surreal, disorganized drive to an uncertain destination. After a case of mistaken identity almost saved him, his journey suddenly ended at the concentration camp in Flossenbürg, where he was hanged early in the morning of April 9 at the age of thirty-eight.
It was a particularly pointless execution, coming as it did only two weeks before Flossenbürg was liberated by the Allies and three weeks before Hitler’s suicide. The German cause was already lost, and Bonhoeffer’s courageous work as both church leader and clandestine operative was about to reach its goal.
But it is not just Bonhoeffer’s martyrdom that makes him such an immensely appealing figure. An outstanding musician, a loyal and funny friend, and a brilliant, impatient mind, he grew up in a prominent, accomplished, intellectually demanding Berlin family that (unlike many such families) maintained an effortlessly close and joyful life together. Beginning at the age of thirteen he unexpectedly decided to pursue theology with a view toward academic life, but in the end he found himself drawn to pastoral work, and to the fight against the Nazis’ agenda for German religion.
The appeal of Bonhoeffer’s passionate Christianity crosses every...