Eighty years ago, as war clouds gathered over Europe, the 33-year-old Christian theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer, then a faculty member at Union Theological Seminary in Manhattan, returned to his native Germany after a short stay in the United States.
At the time, Bonhoeffer believed his church’s response to Hitler and Nazism was marked by weakness and cowardice. He saw his country consumed by a monstrous cancer that had devoured nations and had already murdered many hundreds of people on its way to murdering millions.
Frustrated and angered, Bonhoeffer went home to join the political underground movement in Germany. He wrote: “Not in the flight of ideas, but only in action is freedom. Make up your mind and come out into the tempest of living.”
It was a fateful and ultimately lethal decision. Six years later, on April 9, 1945, a month before the end of World War II in Europe, the Nazis executed Bonhoeffer for his opposition to the regime.