The Holocaust, the world’s unparalleled human catastrophe, began with the simple passing of a law by a new majority in the German national legislature. This law, which forbid individuals with a Jewish bloodline from holding government jobs, went largely unnoticed, and few citizens were bothered by this seemingly small move. TDBI’s namesake, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, however, along with a relatively tiny band of pastors spoke out. Their numbers grew, until the cultural and authoritarian backlash became too much. Cowed into silence, the majority of dissenting clergy ultimately decided to go along with Nazi policy, so they could get along personally and professionally.
Clergy alone were of course not the only ones intimidated into compliance with the political majority’s hatred for Jews and other minorities. Most German citizens either ignored the wicked machinations of the Hitler personality cult or dismissed them entirely as a short-lived aberration in German public life. In contrast, Bonhoeffer, a few family members, and a small cadre of church leaders and seminary students continued their resistance. While in the German Army’s revolutionary intelligence faction (the Abwer), Dietrich would be one of the first “insiders” to see the evidence of genocide against Jews, Roma, homosexuals, and certain religious sects. This knowledge drove him to participate in the conspiracy to bring down the Hitler government.
The story of Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s bravery, persistence, and self-sacrifice is impossible to separate from the story of the Holocaust. To understand the magnitude of fascist-driven anti-Semitism, delusional white supremacy, racist contempt, arbitrary violence, and mass murder that was and is the Holocaust, is to understand the Bonhoeffer story. Except for the unique calamity that was the Holocaust, we would not have the unique individual that was Dietrich Bonhoeffer.
May we all remember—and never forget.