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Letters show why UK didn’t act on Bonhoeffer’s Nazi resistance offer

German theologian and resistance worker Dietrich Bonhoeffer
War-time letters published for the first time are shedding light on why Britain refused to support an internal German resistance movement seeking to topple the Nazi regime of Adolf Hitler during the Second World War.

Correspondence in 1942 between Bell and the then British foreign minister Anthony Eden is included in "Bishop George Bell – the Greatest Churchman – a Portrait in Letters" published by Churches Together in Britain and Ireland on 30 March. Anglican Bishop Bell, who was a trenchant foe of Nazism, also opposed British bombing of civilians in Germany and helped found the World Council of Churches.

Bell describes in letters to a friend how he briefed Eden at the Foreign Office on a meeting he had in neutral Sweden that year with his friend from before the war, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, the German theologian and resistance worker executed by the Nazis in 1945. Bonhoeffer gave him details of the membership and structure of the opposition movement within Germany.

Bonhoeffer, who was born in 1906, was allowed to travel outside Germany at the time because ostensibly he was an agent for the Abwehr, the German military intelligence agency, while secretly part of a dissident cell working for Hitler’s downfall.

Bell wrote that a sceptical Eden seemed inclined to believe "it possible in some curious way that the pastors [Bonhoeffer and a colleague who also met the Bishop in Sweden] without their knowledge, were being used to put out peace feelers and that he [Eden] had to be scrupulously careful not to appear to enter in negotiations with the enemy and to be able to say truthfully that this was so, both to Russia and America".

Eden, refused to send a message in reply to Bonhoeffer, but wrote to Bell that the opposition in Germany had done little to prove its existence. Until it showed it was willing to follow the example of other oppressed peoples of Europe in running risks and taking active steps to oppose and overthrow the Nazis rule of terror, the government could not change its position.

A second volume which deals partly with the Bonhoeffer-Bell partnership was also published by CTBI on 30 March. The book, "Bonhoeffer and Britain" by Keith Clements, former general secretary of the Conference of European Churches, describes the people and places in the United Kingdom that influenced the German theologian, particularly during his stay in London as a Lutheran pastor from 1933 to 1935.

Churches Together in Britain and Ireland is the umbrella body for major Christian churches in the United Kingdom and the Irish Republic. Both books are available from www.ctbi.org.uk.

(c) Ecumenical News International

Photo : German theologian and resistance worker Dietrich Bonhoeffer