Double Victory: Minorities and Women During World War II
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Bonhoeffer, Dietrich (1906–1945)

German theologian and Abwehr counterspy. Born on 4 February 1906, in Breslau, Silesia, Dietrich Bonhoeffer was the son of the prominent neurologist and psychiatrist Karl Bonhoeffer and studied theology at Tübingen, Rome, and Berlin between 1923 and 1927. From 1930 to 1931, he attended classes taught by Reinhold Niebuhr at Union Theological Seminary in New York City. In 1931, Bonhoeffer began teaching theology at Berlin and was ordained a Lutheran minister. From July 1933 until April 1935, he served two German parishes in London.

After Adolf Hitler came to power in 1933, Bonhoeffer rejected his government's efforts to create a united national Protestant church, the German Christians, that would synthesize National Socialism and Christianity. Instead, he urged evangelical Christians to join the Confessional Church, which opposed Nazism. Bonhoeffer returned to Germany to lead a Confessional Church seminary at Finkenwalde, which was closed by the authorities in October 1937.

In 1938, Bonhoeffer's brother-in-law Hans von Dohnanyi introduced him to Major General Hans Oster, Colonel General Ludwig Beck, and Admiral Wilhelm Canaris of the Abwehr. Bonhoeffer then decided to offer active resistance to the regime, and by 1939, he had become a double agent in Canaris's counterespionage service. As an Abwehr counterspy, he maintained links abroad and held to his pacifist principles.

In Stockholm in 1943, Bonhoeffer secretly saw Anglican Bishop George Bell of Chichester, England, for the Abwehr. This meeting failed to gain Allied support for the German resistance. Bonhoeffer also participated in Abwehr Operation seven to spirit Jews out of Germany.

Arrested by the Gestapo on 5 April 1943 on charges of conspiring to overthrow the regime, Bonhoeffer was held at the Tegel, Buchenwald, and Flossenburg concentration camps. He was hanged at Flossenburg on 9 April 1945. Many Christians consider him to be a martyr.

A. J. L. Waskey


Further Reading
Bethge, Eberhard. Dietrich Bonhoeffer: A Biography. Rev. ed. Minneapolis, MI: Fortress Press, 2000.; Gruchy, John W. de., ed. The Cambridge Companion to Dietrich Bonhoeffer. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1999.; Robertson, Edwin. The Shame and the Sacrifice: The Life and Martyrdom of Dietrich Bonhoeffer. New York: Macmillan, 1988.
 

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