No Ordinary Men: Dietrich Bonhoeffer and Hans von Dohnanyi, Resisters Against Hitler in Church and State

No Ordinary Men: Dietrich Bonhoeffer and Hans von Dohnanyi, Resisters Against Hitler in Church and State

by Elisabeth Sifton, Fritz Stern
     
 

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During the twelve years of Hitler’s Third Reich, very few Germans took the risk of actively opposing his tyranny and terror, and fewer still did so to protect the sanctity of law and faith. In No Ordinary Men, Elisabeth Sifton and Fritz Stern focus on two remarkable, courageous men who did—the pastor and theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer and his…  See more details below

Overview

During the twelve years of Hitler’s Third Reich, very few Germans took the risk of actively opposing his tyranny and terror, and fewer still did so to protect the sanctity of law and faith. In No Ordinary Men, Elisabeth Sifton and Fritz Stern focus on two remarkable, courageous men who did—the pastor and theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer and his close friend and brother-in-law Hans von Dohnanyi—and offer new insights into the fearsome difficulties that resistance entailed. (Not forgotten is Christine Bonhoeffer Dohnanyi, Hans’s wife and Dietrich’s sister, who was indispensable to them both.)

From the start Bonhoeffer opposed the Nazi efforts to bend Germany’s Protestant churches to Hitler’s will, while Dohnanyi, a lawyer in the Justice Ministry and then in the Wehrmacht’s counterintelligence section, helped victims, kept records of Nazi crimes to be used as evidence once the regime fell, and was an important figure in the various conspiracies to assassinate Hitler. The strength of their shared commitment to these undertakings—and to the people they were helping—endured even after their arrest in April 1943 and until, after great suffering, they were executed on Hitler’s express orders in April 1945, just weeks before the Third Reich collapsed.

Bonhoeffer’s posthumously published Letters and Papers from Prison and other writings found a wide international audience, but Dohnanyi’s work is scarcely known, though it was crucial to the resistance and he was the one who drew Bonhoeffer into the anti-Hitler plots. Sifton and Stern offer dramatic new details and interpretations in their account of the extraordinary efforts in which the two jointly engaged. No Ordinary Men honors both Bonhoeffer’s human decency and his theological legacy, as well as Dohnanyi’s preservation of the highest standard of civic virtue in an utterly corrupted state.

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Editorial Reviews

The New York Times Book Review - Dagmar Herzog
This spare, elegantly argued book rescues the gifted anti-Nazi lawyer Hans von Dohnanyi from the shadow cast by his better-known brother-in-law, the Protestant theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer—and it also succeeds in rescuing Bonhoeffer from recent attempts to claim him as a progenitor for conservative evangelical causes…It is to Sifton and Stern's credit that they make the intricacies of faith—and their relevance in Bonhoeffer's exceptional political clarity and valor—luminously comprehensible to the theologically uninitiated.
From the Publisher
“Sifton and Stern’s chronicle is brief but deeply informed. And while Hans’s name appears in most academic studies of the resistance, this new book is clearly written with a larger audience in mind. The prose conveys a sense of historical perspective but also, just below the surface, a compassion possibly born of the authors’ own long-distance links to these men and their era.” —The Boston Globe 

“A story that needs to be heard.” —Library Journal

"A convincing argument that theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer and his often overlooked brother-in-law Hans von Dohnanyi 'deserve to be remembered together' for their courageous resistance to Hitler's Nazi regime….A concise yet powerful contribution to an even larger history." Kirkus Reviews

Praise for Stern’s prior works:

“Fritz Stern’s pointed reflections [in Five Germanys I Have Known] upon the fragility of democratic liberties and the unpredictable ease with which they can wither and die should be required reading for every informed citizen.” —Tony Judt
 
“[The Politics of Cultural Despair] is a superb cultural history, erudite, thoughtful, imaginative, beautifully written.” —Klemens von Klemperer, professor emeritus of European history at Smith College
 
“No one has written better on the country’s rise and fall than Fritz Stern.” —Jackie Wullschlager, Financial Times
 
Praise for Sifton’s The Serenity Prayer:
 
“A landmark work on the liberal ideals of the progressive American tradition, reaffirming their relevance for today.... A major contribution to the intellectual history of modernity.” —Arthur Schlesinger Jr.

“[An] ebullient and shrewd meditation on faith and social action. . . . A peaceable state of mind simply accompanies the reader as he ends this effortlessly elegant, uniformly sensible paean to the human faith that Sifton inherited.” —Carlin Romano, Philadelphia Inquirer
 

Kirkus Reviews
A convincing argument that theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer and his often overlooked brother-in-law Hans von Dohnanyi "deserve to be remembered together" for their courageous resistance to Hitler's Nazi regime. Sifton (The Serenity Prayer: Faith and Politics in the Times of Peace and War, 2003) and Stern (University Professor Emeritus/Columbia Univ.; Five Germanys I Have Known, 2006, etc.) have unique vantage points. Stern's parents were friends of Bonhoeffer, and he remains a friend to the children of Bonhoeffer's sister. Sifton's father, famed theologian Reinhold Niebuhr, was also a friend and colleague. Both were active opponents of Hitler from the beginning. Bonhoeffer had won an international standing working against the Aryanization of churches in the 1930s. Dohnanyi attempted to help people targeted by the regime and began to compile a chronological record, together with documentation of Nazi crimes, for use after the regime fell. While working in counterintelligence, he recruited Bonhoeffer to join with him and his sister Christine in what the authors call "their conspiracy against the state." Dohnanyi and Bonhoeffer were subsequently involved in organizing the March 1943 plots against Hitler. Held for two years under appalling conditions, they were executed less than a month before the end of the war, as were other members of their extended families. Particularly powerful are the quotations from letters and communications from jail. The authors quote from a letter Christine wrote in September 1945: "I believe it is better to know for what one dies than not to know what exactly one is living for." Sifton and Stern answer the question about whether Bonhoeffer has been remembered correctly and also discuss both men's unsuccessful attempts to reach out to the Allies for support. A concise yet powerful contribution to an even larger history.
Library Journal
09/01/2013
Under the Third Reich, many a moral compass was abandoned in capitulation to prejudice and mania. Basing their work on Dietrich Bonhoeffer's and his brother-in-law Hans von Dohnanyi's own letters and writings, Sifton (senior vice president, Farrar, Straus & Giroux; The Serenity Prayer: Faith and Politics in Times of Peace and War) and Stern (Univ. Professor Emeritus, Columbia Univ.; Gold and Iron: Bismarck, Bleichröder, and the Building of the German Empire) explore how these two extraordinary men influenced the German resistance movement. Bonhoeffer, a Protestant pastor, provided the religious center with his writings on faith, ethics, and the role of the church. Von Dohnanyi, a lawyer, worked to keep the rule of law alive, using the Nazi machine against itself in his work in the courts, in German military intelligence, and in saving others under Nazi threat. These men collaborated closely while working with other well-known resisters in a race to save their country. Briefly but effectively, the authors highlight each man's special place in the German resistance and underscore his deep humanity. VERDICT Specialists and academics are well familiar with these men but will appreciate this treatment; those unfamiliar with Bonhoeffer and von Dohnanyi will find this book a starting point for further study. [See Prepub Alert, 5/20/13.]—Maria Bagshaw, Elgin Community Coll. Lib., IL

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Product Details

ISBN-13:
9781590176818
Publisher:
New York Review Books
Publication date:
09/17/2013
Pages:
160
Sales rank:
365,201
Product dimensions:
5.88(w) x 8.38(h) x 0.74(d)

Meet the Author

Elisabeth Sifton has been an editor and book publisher for many decades. She is the author of The Serenity Prayer: Faith and Politics in Times of Peace and War (2004), about the background to the famous prayer written by her father, Reinhold Niebuhr.

Fritz Stern is University Professor Emeritus and the former provost of Columbia University, with which he has been associated since the 1940s. His many books include The Politics of Cultural Despair (1963), Gold and Iron: Bismarck, Bleichröder, and the Building of the German Empire (1977), Einstein’s German World (1999), and Five Germanys I Have Known (2006).

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