Words Whisper from the Grave by Rabbi Judith Schindler

Hearing the Words and Celebrating the Work of a Holocaust Hero

The ultimate test of a moral society is the kind of world that it leaves to its children. – Dietrich Bonhoeffer

We must learn to regard people less in light of what they do or omit to do, and more in the light of what they suffer. – Dietrich Bonhoeffer

Today (Thursday, May 5th) is Yom Hashoah —  Holocaust Remembrance Day.  I prepared for this year’s commemoration by reading a biography on the life of Pastor Dietrich Bonhoeffer. I had heard of Bonhoeffer’s greatness but not known the fine details of this man who lived his message and because of the courage of his convictions, died.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer was the first religious voice to publicly preach against Hitler with a radio address. He was a brilliant theologian who left a legacy for the faith community of his teachings. He was a man of conscience who, with Pastor Niemoller, started the Confessing Church when Hitler took over the German Church. The Confessing Church was the Christian opposition to the Nazi regime. Bonhoeffer even ran an underground seminary to train Confessing Church pastors. Though at his core Pastor Bonhoeffer was a pacifist, he was a man of resolve who took part in an assassination attempt on Hitler and was hanged just weeks before the end of World War II for his role.

Bonhoeffer easily could have rode out the war as an academic sheltered in American safety. He came to America in 1939 to fill an academic post but quickly returned, writing the following  to his American professor Reinold Niebuhr: “I have come to the conclusion that I made a mistake in coming to America. I must live through this difficult period in our national history with the 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… Christians in Germany will have to face the terrible alternative of either willing the defeat of their nation in order that Christian civilization may survive or willing the victory of their nation and thereby destroying civilization. I know which of these alternatives I must choose but I cannot make that choice from security.”

From Eric Metaxas’ biography on Bonhoeffer, I learned that we need to stand fast to our faith and not let the tides of the political powers of the day uproot us from the values of human rights and dignity and equality so firmly rooted in our Biblical and Prophetic tradition.

In his eulogy of Pastor Bonhoeffer, Bishop Bell said, “He saw the truth and spoke it out with absolute freedom and without fear.”

May we do the same.

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