In 20th-century history, the names Dietrich Bonhoeffer and Martin Niemoeller elicit awe. They were the most prominent anti-Nazi leaders within the German Lutheran Church. Both were imprisoned as a result of their activism; Bonhoeffer was hanged. We know their stories from their writings and those of others.
A compelling novel, Day of No Return, provides a different perspective: what it was like to be a theological student in Berlin in the 1930s.
In January1938, Leopold Bernhard, 23, made his way from Germany to New York. His anti-Nazi activities had put him in danger. Bernhard wanted to tell his story to the U.S. public, but he had family in Germany who would have suffered the consequences.
Instead, he collaborated with Kathrine Kressmann Taylor, who later taught at Gettysburg [Pa.] College. Changing Bernhard's name to "Karl Hoffmann," Taylor fictionalized his story in Until That Day. It caused a brief sensation when published in 1942, then dropped from sight.
Until last year. That's when Taylor's son, Charles Douglas Taylor, republished it as Day of No Return. This edition identifies "the real Karl Hoffmann" as Bernhard. After ordination in the United Lutheran Church in America (predecessor of the Lutheran Church in America and of the ELCA), he served several parishes, was an organizer of inner-city neighborhoods, and taught seminars on the relationship between faith and civil society. He died in 1985.
The novel grippingly describes a period when the world knew little of the Nazis' brutal efforts to control the German church. Censorship of sermons, church bombings and closings, seizure of church money and pastors' salaries were only a few of the regular persecutions. Christians' efforts to aid Jews brought even more violence.
How young students with no leadership experience rebelled is an amazing tale. Many died; a few escaped. Along with honoring the well-known resisters, we need to remember others, like Bernhard, whose names went unknown.
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© 2013 Augsburg Fortress, Publishers