During the twelve years of Hitler’s Third Reich, very few Germans took the risk of actively opposing his tyranny and terror, and fewer still did so to protect the sanctity of law and faith. In No Ordinary Men, Elisabeth Sifton and Fritz Stern focus on two remarkable, courageous men who did—the pastor and theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer and his close friend and brother-in-law Hans von Dohnanyi—and offer new insights into the fearsome difficulties that resistance entailed. (Not forgotten is Christine Bonhoeffer Dohnanyi, Hans’s wife and Dietrich’s sister, who was indispensable to them both.)
From the start Bonhoeffer opposed the Nazi efforts to bend Germany’s Protestant churches to Hitler’s will, while Dohnanyi, a lawyer in the Justice Ministry and then in the Wehrmacht’s counterintelligence section, helped victims, kept records of Nazi crimes to be used as evidence once the regime fell, and was an important figure in the various conspiracies to assassinate Hitler. The strength of their shared commitment to these undertakings—and to the people they were helping—endured even after their arrest in April 1943 and until, after great suffering, they were executed on Hitler’s express orders in April 1945, just weeks before the Third Reich collapsed.
Bonhoeffer’s posthumously published Letters and Papers from Prison and other writings found a wide international audience, but Dohnanyi’s work is scarcely known, though it was crucial to the resistance and he was the one who drew Bonhoeffer into the anti-Hitler plots. Sifton and Stern offer dramatic new details and interpretations in their account of the extraordinary efforts in which the two jointly engaged. No Ordinary Men honors both Bonhoeffer’s human decency and his theological legacy, as well as Dohnanyi’s preservation of the highest standard of civic virtue in an utterly corrupted state.
A story that needs to be heard.
A convincing argument that theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer and his often overlooked brother-in-law Hans von Dohnanyi ‘deserve to be remembered together’ for their courageous resistance to Hitler’s Nazi regime….A concise yet powerful contribution to an even larger history.
Praise for Stern’s prior works:
Fritz Stern’s pointed reflections [in Five Germanys I Have Known] upon the fragility of democratic liberties and the unpredictable ease with which they can wither and die should be required reading for every informed citizen.
[The Politics of Cultural Despair] is a superb cultural history, erudite, thoughtful, imaginative, beautifully written.
—Klemens von Klemperer, professor emeritus of European history at Smith College
No one has written better on the country’s rise and fall than Fritz Stern.
—Jackie Wullschlager, Financial Times
Praise for Sifton’s The Serenity Prayer:
A landmark work on the liberal ideals of the progressive American tradition, reaffirming their relevance for today…. A major contribution to the intellectual history of modernity.
—Arthur Schlesinger Jr.
[An] ebullient and shrewd meditation on faith and social action… . A peaceable state of mind simply accompanies the reader as he ends this effortlessly elegant, uniformly sensible paean to the human faith that Sifton inherited.
—Carlin Romano, Philadelphia Inquirer