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Bonhoeffer became an active part of the open opposition towards Hitler and the National Socialists’ attempts to dilute the teachings of the Bible and the church. He helped found the Pastor’s Emergency League to support affected ministers. In 1933 Bonhoeffer travelled to London, where he played a fundamental role in communicating the trials that the German churches were facing to English church leaders. A year later, he returned to Germany to found a communal underground seminary, which was eventually closed down by Gestapo in 1940. Before its close, Bonhoeffer once again travelled to America at the insistence of friends who wanted to rescue him. However, Bonhoeffer’s conscience would not let him desert his people, so he returned to Germany.
Bonhoeffer was arrested in 1943 and spent the last two years of his life in several prisons and concentration camps. Many of his letters and writings were written while he was in prison and smuggled out by guards whose respect and friendship he earned. He was executed on April 9, 1945 at the age of thirty-nine, just a month before Germany’s capitulation to the Allies, for his ties to a conspiracy to assassinate Hitler.
Jesus tells us that it is just because we live in the world, and just because the world is evil, that the precept of nonresistance must be put into practice.
Seventy years after his death, Bonhoeffer’s meditation on suffering and self-denial is as powerful as ever. He writes, “Self-denial is not individual acts of self-torment or asceticism. It is saying only: Jesus goes ahead of us…”
Eberhard Arnold, Saint Benedict, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Joan Chittister, Dorothy Day, David Janzen, Chiara Lubich, Thomas Merton, Henri J. M. Nouwen, John M. Perkins, Mother Teresa, Jean Vanier, Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove, and others
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