When the 2003 Sundance Film Festival rejected Martin Doblmeier's feature-length documentary, "Bonhoeffer," Doblmeier and the staff of Journey Films decided to seek out Sundance audiences on their own. They called the interfaith council of Park City, Utah (where Sundance is held) and hatched a plan to show the film in local church sanctuaries as the press and Hollywood heavies arrived in Park City for America's preeminent film festival. All but one showing was sold out, and reporters picked up on "Bonhoeffer," as much for its ingenious method of "going to Sundance" as the film itself.

Since Sundance, many churches and synagogues have shown the film. It's appropriate that the church--the one human institution that Dietrich Bonhoeffer believed above all things was the living incarnation of Christ, of God on earth, and our only hope for salvation--also saved this important documentary from obscurity.

Bonhoeffer is something of a superhero in the Protestant church. His name is dropped frequently in sermons and seminars when the speaker needs to summon the exemplar of someone who gave his life for a just cause. A non-Jewish martyr of the Holocaust, Bonhoeffer gives Protestants a stake in the great tragedy of the 20th century, through the death of one of their own. There is a danger in singling out someone like Bonhoeffer as the ultimate World War II hero, since for every Bonhoeffer scores of Jews died heroically for their people and for God. Still, Bonhoeffer is undeniably and singularly inspiring. His life reads like a thriller crossed with Greek tragedy.

Born on February 4, 1906 in Breslau, Germany into a large, bourgeois family, Dietrich Bonhoeffer was a prodigy. His doctoral dissertation, which he submitted to the University of Berlin at the age of 21, was labeled a masterpiece by his professor Karl Barth, himself arguably the greatest Christian theologian of the last 400 years. Ordained a Lutheran minister and taking his own chair at the university, by 28 Bonhoeffer was one of the few voices in Nazi Germany speaking out publicly against Adolph Hitler. At 33, he became a member of the small team assembled by the resistance to assassinate the tyrant. At 39, he was executed after a term in the concentration camps, just as the Nazis were defeated.

That resume obscures Bonhoeffer's struggle with what seems like an unbroken call to fight evil intellectually and politically. Repeatedly, Bonhoeffer chose to leave his homeland-twice to teach at Union Theological Seminary in New York City, where he was safe to apply his exceptional intellectual gifts to the crucial theological and ethical questions of the day. Yet twice he returned to Germany, for he felt that if he were going to be a part of the nation's rebuilding, he had to be present during its darkest days, whether or not he could do anything to save it or himself from doom.

Because of his stature in the church, his close family connections to members of the resistance, and his non-pacifist ethical stance, he was identified as an ideal conspirator to join in the plot to assassinate Hitler. And conspire he did, working in the Nazi's military intelligence office, while acting as liaison for the plotters to the British. When he was arrested in 1943 and sent to Buchenwald (and later to Flossenbürg), it was for collecting funds to send Jews to safety outside Germany. In the end, Hitler would personally order the death each member of Bonhoeffer's renegade group, even as the Allies had begun liberating the camps.

A giant of the 20th century justice movements
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