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Dietrich Bon­ho­effer should be added to the Liberty Walk| Wiki­media Commons

Adolf Hitler’s rise to power in 1933 bewitched the German Evan­gelical Church. They covered their altars with swastika flags and sang Nazi songs in their ser­vices. Their new doc­trine, in the words of Pastor Julius Leutheuser, was “Christ has come to us through Adolf Hitler.”

There were a few who resisted the devel­opment. Of the 18,000 Protestant pastors in Nazi Germany, about 3,000 joined the Con­fessing Church. This church opposed the com­pro­mised doc­trine of the national “Reich Church” in 1934 by signing the Barmen Dec­la­ration, which asserted that they “repu­diate the false teaching that the church can and must rec­ognize yet other hap­penings and powers, per­son­al­ities and truths as divine rev­e­lation alongside this one Word of God.” The Dec­la­ration signees included Dietrich Bon­ho­effer, a Lutheran pastor who would even­tually give his life for the liberty of the Christian faith in Germany.

Hillsdale’s Liberty Walk has no obvious advocate for reli­gious liberty. None of the statesmen on the walk con­tem­plated and wrote about reli­gious liberty to the extent that Bon­ho­effer did, nor did they pay for that liberty with their lives. Bon­ho­effer belongs on our Liberty Walk because liberty defined his thoughts and actions in both life and death, and because his addition to campus would appro­pri­ately reflect the college’s mission statement, in that the college con­siders itself a “trustee” of its the­o­logical inher­i­tance.

Bon­ho­effer died to pre­serve this the­o­logical inher­i­tance in Germany. Yet, like the rest of the figures on the Liberty Walk, he was also a sort of statesman; the Barmen Dec­la­ration, which he signed, was akin to an Eman­ci­pation Procla­mation for German Protes­tants. Through this doc­ument, Bon­ho­effer helped establish the Con­fessing Church, and for two years afterward, he taught at a Con­fessing Church sem­inary, Finken­walde, which the Nazis even­tually shut down.

In June of 1939, Bon­ho­effer left Germany after being informed that war was imminent. But he returned to Germany only a month later. “I have made a mistake in coming to America,” he said. “I must live through this dif­ficult period in our national history with the Christian people of Germany. I will have no right to par­tic­ipate in the recon­struction of Christian life in Germany after the war if I do not share the trials of this time with my people.”

Upon his return, Bon­ho­effer joined the German Secret Service, during which time he secretly helped Jews escape Nazi oppression under the guise of col­lecting infor­mation from dif­ferent loca­tions around Europe. He was also involved in a plot to assas­sinate Hitler. “Silence in the face of evil is itself evil: God will not hold us guiltless,” Bon­ho­effer said. “Not to speak is to speak. Not to act is to act.”

The Nazis arrested Bon­ho­effer after tracing funds he used for “Oper­ation 7,” a plan intended to rescue Jewish immi­grants by giving them papers as foreign agents. After a year in prison, the Nazis even­tually realized the true extent of Bonhoeffer’s resis­tance activ­ities and sent him to the exter­mi­nation camp at Flossenbürg. He was hanged on April 9, 1945, only one month before Germany’s sur­render.

Bon­ho­effer shone as a beacon of liberty in a sea of unbe­lievers who sur­ren­dered to Nazi nation­alism during the war.  He believed that suc­cumbing to the Reich Church by pledging alle­giance to Hitler would com­promise his faith, which is why he resisted the regime and helped free those whom the regime oppressed. Not only that, but he stood for his prin­ciples with boldness, even when they were dan­ger­ously unpopular. Hillsdale stu­dents and pro­fessors express appre­ci­ation for his legacy, and the college, which can identify with Bon­ho­effer in its bold and prin­cipled resis­tance toward federal funding, would do well to memo­ri­alize his stand for liberty.

Bon­ho­effer was com­mitted to liberty even unto death; in fact, death to him was a kind of liberty. “Freedom, we sought you long in dis­ci­pline, action and suf­fering,” reads a poem from prison. “Dying, we now recognise you in God’s coun­te­nance.”

Brooke Conrad is a junior studying English.