Lutherans in the Twin Cities

Was Dietrich Bonhoeffer a friend of the Jews?

Scholar says evidence not convincing

German Lutheran pastor, theologian and martyr Dietrich Bonhoeffer is well-known for having opposed Adolf Hitler’s anti-Christian agenda during the Third Reich. But was Bonhoeffer speaking up only for Christians — or for German Jews as well?

Bonhoeffer scholar and author Stephen Haynes addressed that question during an October 24 lecture at Luther Seminary, St. Paul, Minnesota.

Said Haynes, in spite of a variety of perspectives which suggest Bonhoeffer was a champion of the Jews, the evidence is mixed at best and shaky at worst. He said it took a generation, after Bonhoeffer’s 1945 death, for scholars to make any connection between his work and the Jewish tragedy. But when they began to do so, they drew conclusions many of which were unwarranted.

Said Haynes, delineating the arguments that have surfaced, Bonhoeffer was probably not a “philo-semite” (lover of the Jewish people). He may or may not have been a champion of minorities. Nor was he likely a secret rescuer of Jews in any significant numbers.

In fact, Haynes reminded his audience, in 1933 Bonhoeffer said some things not particularly friendly to Jews. He was quoting classic Christian doctrine, which said the Jews suffer because they rejected Christ.

There is no evidence, said Haynes, that Bonhoeffer ever repudiated his 1933 anti-Jewish statements.

In a discussion period, Rabbi Barry Cytron, who directs the Jay Phillips Center for Jewish-Christian Learning said, “Give the guy (Bonhoeffer) a break. Given the circumstances, he actually comes off pretty well.”