Sunday, December 20, 2015

No, Dietrich Bonhoeffer Did Not Try to Kill Adolf Hitler

Dr. Joseph McGarry

When people think about the Bonhoeffer’s life and involvement in the resistance, the flow of logic goes something like this:

a) Dietrich Bonhoeffer worked for the Abwehr, and was recruited there by his brother in law, Hans von Dohnányi. b) Members of the Abwehr’s leadership (specifically Hans Oster, Admiral Wilhelm Canaris, and Dohnányi) actively planned attempts on Hitler’s life. c) When the “Zossen files” were discovered in September 1944 (after the failure of the 20 July plot) von Dohnányi was clearly implicated in assassination planning, and the rest of the Abwehr by extension. Therefore, everyone associated with these files was executed for treason against the Reich. Generally, it is then assumed that— because Bonhoeffer was executed with these other people who actively planned Hitler’s assassination—Bonhoeffer himself was actively involved as well.

Unfortunately, it is this assumption that scholars have again and again called an overstatement of the evidence. Something closer to reality is that Bonhoeffer was (at least) one level removed from the active planning. He was part of the organization but not part of the core. He was surely knowledgeable that *something* was being planned, but he was not part of the inner circle and it is likely he didn’t know what that *something* was.

Rather, Dietrich Bonhoeffer was a courier, passing messages—particularly to England through his friend Bishop George Bell—and trying to get assurances from the Allied forces that they would stop bombing Germany when Hitler’s regime was overthrown. Bonhoeffer’s job was to try to find a way to convince England to stop destroying Germany. He was a messenger, not an assassination planner. He likely provided a measure of theological justification for what others were doing (as can be seen in his Christmas 1942 letter “After 10 Years”), but he himself was—at best—a bit player in the overall scheme of things. When we think of Bonhoeffer and Hitler’s assassination, it’s probably better to think of his role as “message boy” and not “core leader”.

Now, there is a current stream of interpretation that says that Bonhoeffer had actually no knowledge whatsoever that the Abwehr leadership was planning an assassination, but this seems to me to be a bit of an overstatement from the other side.

Either way, the general consensus of scholarship is that Bonhoeffer himself was neither a core member of the resistance, nor was he central to any of the planning that the Abwer did.

No comments:

Post a Comment