“Silence in the face of evil is itself evil.”
-- Dietrich Bonhoeffer
“...Then they came for me--and there was no one left to speak for me.”
-- Martin Niemoller
In THE PLOT TO KILL HITLER, young readers are provided an introduction to
the rise of madman Adolf Hitler. Patricia McCormick’s well-researched and
documented history of little-known hero, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, also
repeatedly shows the failure by clergymen, both inside and outside of
Germany, to oppose or speak out against Hitler’s actions.
“Dietrich had seen the effects of ‘separate but equal’ in the United
States, and even though he was just a junior lecturer at Berlin University,
he knew he had to speak out. The rest of the country might have fallen
under Hitler’s spell, but Bonhoeffer thought that the clergy, men who had
taken solemn vows to love and care for their fellow man, would take a stand
against such blatant injustice. This, after all, was why he had become a
minister, as he’d told his brothers back when he was thirteen--not to
retreat from the issues of the day but to affect them.
“As church leaders gathered to debate the Aryan Paragraph, Bonhoeffer asked
for an opportunity to speak. He was only twenty-seven, but he was already
known for his opposition to Hitler. As he stood, the purple-robed clerics
fidgeted in their seats.
“Bonhoeffer said that his fellow clergymen had a responsibility to question
the government when it was in the wrong. This was a bold statement when
Hitler’s men were routinely arresting and torturing anyone who spoke
against the Fuhrer. Then Bonhoeffer went further.
“The church, he said, has an obligation to ‘assist the victims’ of
government wrongdoing--’even if they do not belong to the Christian
community.’ He didn’t say so, but everyone knew he was talking about the
Jews. At that, some of the ministers in the meeting got up and walked out.
“But Bonhoeffer had more to say. It was not enough to simply ‘bandage the
victims under the wheel’ of the government, he said. The church had a duty
to jam a stick in the wheel itself. He was calling on his fellow pastors to
stop Hitler in his tracks.
“Millions of lives might have been saved if Germany’s Christian leaders had
listened to the young preacher. But no one heeded his words.”
As the author reveals, young Bonhoeffer’s moral pleas fell on deaf ears. In
contrast, Adolf Hitler successfully appealed to the German clergy by taking
advantage of their desire for more power. After Hitler announced that his
government would make Christianity “the basis of our collective morality,”
the clergymen installed Hitler’s choice as the church’s leader, and then
they all started hanging swastikas behind their altars.
One minister declared “Christ has come to us through Adolf Hitler.” This
was, of course, before Hitler decided that there should be a national
church, one devoid of crosses, crucifixes, and images of saints. There
should only be swastikas.
In response to Hitler’s unspeakable actions against Jews, gays, and other
people, Bonhoeffer became a double agent. He developed the means to move in
and out of Germany, desperately seeking to share the truth of what was
taking place under Hitler. Thanks to his ability to spirit information out
of the country, he was the first to attempt to alert the outside world to
Hitler’s plan for ridding Germany (and all conquered countries) of
Meanwhile, Bonhoeffer’s brother-in-law developed a plot to murder the
Fuehrer and began recruiting participants. But how could Bonhoeffer, a
pacifist preacher, reconcile being part of such an effort? This is one of
many great questions the author probes.
Bonhoeffer’s plotting was eventually discovered and he was taken to a
prison camp and hanged, just weeks before Hitler took his own life in the
face of defeat.
Interestingly, we learn in the author’s note that Bonhoeffer’s papers,
which he’d hidden in his parents’ attic, were found, translated into
English, and subsequently “passed around jail cells in the South during the
civil rights movement” and “quoted by student demonstrators in the United
States in the 1960s.”
Dietrich Bonhoeffer failed in his attempts to prevent or stop the
Holocaust, but I think of him as a hero. I’m glad to have learned about him
and hope that lots of young people will also have the opportunity to learn
If You Liked this book, try BOMB by Steve Sheinkin and other Steve Sheinkin titles; also, try SOLD by Patricia McCormick and other Patricia McCormick titles