Much has been written about the Second World War, the Holocaust and of how Germany's plan for empire were eventually defeated by the Allied Powers. Such books are important and deserve our attention; as are books about resistance. What is not so well known is that not everyone was under the spell of delusion put forth by Adolf Hitler in his Utopian plans to dominate the world with his odious ideology, which, of course, included making the world free of Jews (Judenfrei) and cleansed of their presence (Judenrein).
Even before Hitler ascended to power, two German men stand out in this regard: one a priest, the other a lawyer. In an article, "The Tragedy of Dietrich Bonhoeffer and Hans von Dohnanyi" in The New York Review of Books (October 25, 2012), Elisabeth Sifton and Fritz Stern write:
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.
Dohnanyi and Bonhoeffer became close friends, especially after Dohnanyi drew his brother-in-law into active resistance against the regime. And their remarkable family deserves recognition, too, since its principled support was indispensable to their efforts. But Dohnanyi and Bonhoeffer ended in defeat: they were arrested in April 1943 and then murdered, on Hitler’s express orders, just weeks before Hitler’s suicide and Germany’s surrender.1Freedom after all starts in the mind; as does its opposite. I have read Bonhoeffer's Letters and Papers from Prison, and I would recommend it highly to those who wish to gain some insight into this extraordinary man; equally important, I now have more interest in finding out about Hans von Dohnanyi. Both these men were not "perfect," even in their views of the Jews, but then again, why expect them so? Does not such a (false) expectation prevent right actions? After all, they were both human and moral.
What this article shows is that despite dark and dire times, there are always some individuals, who, because of their moral convictions and understanding of what unites us as humans, are willing to risk their lives for the sake of others, and more so to save their nation from "evil." Some might call this a virtue; I call it what it deserves to be called: being an integrated human being. Or more simply, being human.
You can read the rest of the article at [The New York Review of Books].