Escape

Who wouldn’t like to get away from it all? Who wouldn’t jump at the chance to down tools if only for a few short hours in the sun? However onerous the situation we find ourselves in may be, though, it’s likely that it pales into insignificance in comparison with Bonhoeffer’s.

Having been arrested by the Gestapo on April 5, 1943, Bonhoeffer was still in prison some eighteen months later. Although he made the best of his time behind bars – reading, writing, and carrying out pastoral work in the prison hospital – his position had nevertheless deteriorated drastically. Since the failure of Colonel Claus Schenk Graf von Stauffenberg’s assassination plot on Hitler’s life on July 20, 1944, anyone who'd had anything even remotely to do with the conscientious army officer was counting the days till the Führer took merciless revenge.

Already on the day after the failed coup, Bonhoeffer realized “his fate was sealed”. (Bethge, 2004, p. 928) Having been in the circle surrounding Stauffenberg, he knew that, if their relationship ever came to light, he wouldn’t have long to live. In spite of this, it wasn’t until September that a plan was hatched to enable Bonhoeffer to escape.

The plan relied heavily on the assistance of a friendly prison warden, Corporal Knobloch. He was to escort Bonhoeffer out of the prison. Thereafter, the two men would “disappear”. To this end, a pair of overalls, ration cards, and identity papers had been organized. However, the opportunity to use them never arose.

On September 30, Bonhoeffer’s brother Klaus was coming home from work when he saw a Gestapo car parked outside his house. That could mean only one thing. Rather than let himself be arrested, Klaus went to the home of his and Bonhoeffer's sister Ursula. There, he spent the night wrestling with the alternatives which were open to him: “flight, suicide, or imprisonment”. (Bethge, 2004, p. 929) The following day, the Gestapo pulled up in front of Ursula’s house and took Klaus into custody.

Yet, not enough. The next day, October 2, Ursula had another visitor. The friendly prison guard Knobloch knocked on Ursula's door to say that Bonhoeffer had called off the escape attempt, “so as not to complicate the situation for Klaus”. In addition, he was also concerned “not to expose his parents and fiancée to further danger”. (Bethge, 2004, p. 929)

This selfless and magnanimous gesture sealed Bonhoeffer’s fate as surely as his connection to Stauffenberg had. As if to prove this point, less than a week later, on October 8, Bonhoeffer was transferred to the prison at Gestapo Headquarters – a place from which there was no escape.

 

References

Bethge, E. (2004). Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Theologe-Christ-Zeitgenosse, eine Biographie (author's translation)

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