Form and Content

(Literary Essentials: Nonfiction Masterpieces)

In April, 1945, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, a distinguished young German theologian, was executed by the Gestapo for implication in a plot to assassinate Adolf Hitler. During his imprisonment he had corresponded with Eberhard Bethge, who was a fellow theologian, the husband of his niece, and a close personal friend. In 1951, Bethge published extracts from these letters in a volume which was issued in English under the title Prisoner for God in 1953. The success of the book led Bethge to issue a revised and expanded edition in German (1964), which was translated and published in English in 1967 with the title Letters and Papers from Prison. An enlarged edition which added items of personal and family interest was published in West Germany in 1970 and in an English translation in 1971.

When Hitler took power in Germany in January, 1933, he established a dictatorship which brought the major institutions of German society, including the churches, under the control of the Nazi state. Bonhoeffer was a leader among those Protestant clergy who refused to accept Hitler’s control. When World War II broke out in 1939, Bonhoeffer used his contacts through the ecumenical movement to encourage opposition to the war.

In 1942, Admiral Wilhelm Canaris, head of the Abwehr, the counterintelligence service of the German military forces, began plotting to overthrow Hitler and negotiate peace. He recruited Bonhoeffer, his brother Klaus, and Hans von...

(The entire section is 441 words.)