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On the Path That a Decent Person Inevitably Takes

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One of the first Advocates and Allies we featured was Dietrich Bonhoeffer, a pastor who gave his life to resist the Nazi regime, save those targeted by the Nazis, and be an inspiration for those who stood for good. Today we feature a colleague of Pastor Bonhoeffer, Hans von Dohnányi (January 1, 1902 - April 9, 1945).Dohnányi was a German attorney, resistance fighter, and rescuer of Jews who was arrested with Bonhoeffer - and who ultimately lost his life alongside his friend. During the course of the war, Dohnányi compiled lists of the Nazis' crimes, led the resistance against Hitler's government, saved the lives of Jewish people carried out of harm's way, and even personally delivered the bomb that was to have killed Hitler during a failed assassination attempt. For his heroic and selfless actions, Hans von Dohnányi was named Righteous Among the Nations by Yad Vashem in 2003. Below, we've excerpted Elisabeth Sifton and Fritz Stern's wonderful piece on these two brave men, which we hope you'll read in full here:To oppose such a regime was rare, and to do so in order to protect the sanctity of law and faith was rarer still. We are concerned here with two exceptional men who from the start of the Third Reich opposed the Nazi outrages: the scarcely known lawyer Hans von Dohnanyi and his brother-in-law, the well-known pastor Dietrich Bonhoeffer. Dohnanyi recorded Nazi crimes, helped victims, did his best to sabotage Nazi policies, and eventually helped plot Hitler’s removal; Bonhoeffer fought the Nazis’ efforts to control the German Protestant churches. For both men the regime’s treatment of Jews was of singular importance. Holocaust literature is vast and the literature on German resistance scant, yet the lives and deaths of the two men show us important links between them.Dohnanyi and Bonhoeffer became close friends, especially after Dohnanyi drew his brother-in-law into active resistance against the regime. And their remarkable family deserves recognition, too, since its principled support was indispensable to their efforts. But Dohnanyi and Bonhoeffer ended in defeat: they were arrested in April 1943 and then murdered, on Hitler’s express orders, just weeks before Hitler’s suicide and Germany’s surrender...Some of the prisoners asked Dietrich for a short Sunday service; his homily was on a text from Isaiah: “With his wounds we are healed.” At the court-martial held that night by the bicyclist judge, Bonhoeffer, Canaris, Oster, and others were condemned to death; they were hanged early the next morning. Dietrich was composed to the last.One truth we can affirm: Hitler had no greater, more courageous, and more admirable enemies than Hans von Dohnanyi and Dietrich Bonhoeffer. Both men and those closest to them deserve to be remembered and honored. Dohnanyi summed up their work and spirit with apt simplicity when he said that they were “on the path that a decent person inevitably takes.” So few traveled that path—anywhere.

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