Dietrich Bonhoeffer recognized the evil of Adolf Hitler and the Nazi movement from the beginning, even in the early days of the movement when most of the Protestants in Germany were Hitler supporters. As a result, he found himself unpopular, even with other Christians. As restrictions and then persecutions came in waves upon European Jews, Bonhoeffer cried against it and warned the church and the German people of the emerging evil. But no one listened. Finding himself in danger, he fled to America, but he felt all the while that his place was with the believers in Germany, and in the early 1940s he returned to the fatherland, only to he arrested and taken to the extermination camp at Flossenburg, where he was stripped and hanged at age, thirty-nine.
Bonhoeffer had to make the ultimate sacrifice with inner tranquility and resignation because of his conviction that there are five different deaths every Christian should die:
1. Death to Natural Relationships. At the time of the Third Reich’s reign, many pastors said they’d endure imprisonment and death but was not able to do so because of family ties. It is one thing for a husband or a father to be persecuted; it is quite another to see children suffer a similar fate. Hitler always used a man’s family as an inducement for absolute obedience. Bonhoeffer answered that our commitment to Christ should be so all-consuming that all natural affection must come under its authority (Matthew 10:37).
2. Death to Success. Bonhoeffer said, “Success is a veneer that covers only the emptiness of the soul.”
3. Death to the Flesh. The Christian should have no fear of suffering, for he is already dead to self.
4. Death to the Love of Money.
5. Physical death for Christ, should a person be thus called.
At Bonhoeffer’s execution, a concentration doctor wrote of what he witnessed:
“I saw Pastor Bonhoeffer … kneeling on the floor praying fervently to 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 short prayer and then climbed the few steps to the gallows, brave and composed. His death ensued after a few seconds. In the almost fifty years that I worked as a doctor, I have hardly ever seen a man die so entirely submissive to the will of God.”
Then said Jesus unto his disciples, If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me. (Matthew 16:24)