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By Stephen Plant

The best recognized Christians of the 20 th century, Dietrich Bonhoeffer is favourite as a theologian for his remarkable independence of brain, creativity and brilliance by way of liberals and conservatives alike. His loss of life by the hands of the Nazis.

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Poland fell in under three weeks and was partitioned with the collusion of the Soviet Union. By May 1940 Norway, Holland and Belgium were under German occupation. Germany had spent most of the First World War bogged down in Belgian and French mud; the surrender of France in the summer of 1940 seemed to right all the wrongs of the conflict a generation earlier. When news of the French surrender was announced over the radio Bonhoeffer and Eberhard Bethge were in a cafe in Memel. The crowd was jubilant and to Bethge's surprise Bonhoeffer joined them in giving the Hitler salute: 'we shall have to run risks for very different things now, but not for that salute' he explained.

To focus opposition into a 'Confessing Church' Bonhoeffer was asked, with a colleague, to draft a confession of faith, a statement that might summarize and express the heart of theological opposition. But when Bonhoeffer presented the document to the representatives who had commissioned it they insisted on redrafting the more 'controversial' sections on the Old Testament and the Jews with the result that, from Bonhoeffer's perspective, the statement was eviscerated. He refused to sign, and his disillusionment was a contributory factor behind his decision to take up the Parish minister's job in London in October 1933.

Double agent Thus disillusioned, in 1938 Bonhoeffer made first contact with a hub of anti-Nazi sentiment in the Abwehr, the German military intelligence agency, where his brother-in-law, Hans von Dohnanyi was a senior legal advisor. He sensed that if he stayed in Germany he would feel it necessary to be drawn into the conspiracy against Hitler: it was a far from natural course of action for a pastor and a theologian who had advanced Christian pacifism. He made a will. In March and April 1939 Bonhoeffer travelled to England to nurture his ecumenical contacts; he took the opportunity to put out feelers towards America.

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