Bonhoeffer, a German pastor was hiding Jews and was arrested on April 5, 1943. The authorities could not determine how deeply involved he was so they held Bonhoffer without charges or trial and it seemed possible he eventually might be released. During his time in prison, he wrote a series of remarkable, often heartbreaking, letters. Bonhoeffer saddens us with the hopeful tone of his early letters and then awes us by the serenity with which he faces the prospect of his own death. The film tells the story, but the scattershot fashion of the film depletes the impact of this man's dramatic faith. Knowing the true facts ahead of time, the viewer can tell precisely what is going on and how all the characters and situations relate to one another. The final scenes that leads up to Bonhoeffer's execution are done in a way that stirs the soul. In October 1944, the Nazis finally uncovered evidence that revealed the extent of Bonhoeffer's involvement in protecting Jews. He was tried and sentenced to death. He was hanged on April 9, 1945, just a month before Germany surrendered (May 8th). A doctor at Flossenburg prison, who witnessed the execution, described it thus :
"Through the half-open door in one room of the huts I saw Pastor Bonhoeffer, before taking off his prison garb, kneeling on the floor praying fervently to his 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 steps to the gallows, brave and composed. His death ensued after a few seconds. In 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.
We do not get all of this in the movie, but we do see Bonhoeffer walking naked to the gallows. The scene in the concentration camp dehumanizing about the victims--They appear in black and white and they are so emaciated, so unhuman. In this scene, Bonhoeffer, is achingly human--pale, naked, and defenseless. Yet he carries himself with a poise and a calm that draws pity from the vile Nazi prosecutor who realizes his own bloodthirst. We view and are equally humbled by the dignity and serenity that is portrayed here. The writer Andrew Delbanco said that, "belief is really not an option for thinking people today." Never mind anything else about this provocative statement; consider just this aspect : Dietrich Bonhoeffer faced death "knowing God heard his prayer" and so died in peace. His life and his death still speak to us today. How will those who believe in nothing, who are certain of nothing, face their imminent deaths? Most importantly, how will the watching world be impacted by your trust in God? How will your quiet confidence that God listens to your prayers be known? "Hear my prayer O God, may my life reflect your peace, your grace, your mercy. I trust in Your promises Lord, and my hope remains in the unseen reality of Your faithful love and eternal resting place." AMEN