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As we celebrate the 500th anniversary of the Reformation, I want to share with you the story of one of the great witnesses to the Christian faith that come from our Lutheran tradition. Dietrich Bonhoeffer, was a German pastor who opposed Adolph Hitler's rise to power and stood beside the Jewish people during the Nazi era. Much of the detail of this article comes from "Christian History and Biography" magazine.

Bonhoeffer was born into a very prominent family. His father was a neurologist and professor of psychiatry at the University of Berlin. Bonhoeffer's family was socially concerned but not very religious, so when at age 14, Dietrich announced he intended to become a minister, the family was not pleased.

After studies in Germany and America, Bonhoeffer wrote his doctoral dissertation and became a lecturer at the University of Berlin. During these years, Hitler rose to power, becoming chancellor of Germany in January 1933. Together with other pastors and theologians, Bonhoeffer organized the Confessing Church, which opposed Hitler's anti-Semitism. "The Barman Declaration"-a confession of faith expressing confidence in Christ alone, above any earthly authority stands as a lasting monument to the brave pastors and theologians who risked their lives in opposition to Hitler.

Bonhoeffer's opposition to Hitler forced him to leave the prestigious University of Berlin. He began teaching dissident pastors in an underground seminary in the small town of Finkenwalde. But after the seminary was discovered and closed by the Gestapo, the Confessing Church became increasingly reluctant to speak out against Hitler. Bonhoeffer began to change his strategy. To this point he had been a pacifist, and he had tried to oppose the Nazis through religious action and moral persuasion.

In 1939, Bonhoeffer joined a hidden group of high-ranking military officers based in the Abwehr, or Military Intelligence Office, who wanted to overthrow the National Socialist regime by killing Hitler. He was arrested in April 1943 after money used to help Jews escape to Switzerland was traced to him. He was charged with conspiracy and imprisoned in Berlin for a year and a half. He was moved to a series of prisons and concentration camps ending at Flossenburg. Here, he was executed by hanging at dawn on 9 April 1945, just three weeks before the liberation of the city.

A decade later, a camp doctor who witnessed Bonhoeffer's hanging described the scene: "The prisoners ... were taken from their cells, and the verdicts of court martial read out to them. Through the half-open door in one room of the huts, I saw Pastor Bonhoeffer, before taking off his prison garb, kneeling on the floor praying fervently to his God. I was most deeply moved by the way this lovable man prayed, so devout and so certain that God heard his prayer. At the place of execution, he again said a prayer and then climbed the steps to the gallows, brave and composed. His death ensued in a few seconds. In the almost 50 years that I have worked as a doctor, I have hardly ever seen a man die so entirely submissive to the will of God.

Pastor Peter

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