Seventy years ago today, as dawn was breaking on the new year, Dietrich Bonhoeffer sent out a long letter to his closest friends. A copy of this letter was later discovered in the attic of his parent's house. The letter has been published as After Ten Years: A Reckoning made at the New Year 1943, and can be found in Widerstand und Ergebung (English: Letters and Papers from Prison) The letter is a reckoning of 10 years of Nazi rule in Germany: he speaks of how reasonable people are confronted with evil, masquerading as good, and how that evil is not ever entirely absent from within ourselves. Bonhoeffer writes how it feels to experience events from the perspective of the persecuted, the oppressed:
We have for once learned to see the great events of world history from below, from the perspective of the outcasts, the suspects, the maltreated — in short, from the perspective of those who suffer. Mere waiting and looking on is not Christian behavior. Christians are called to compassion and to action.
He then asks the question that must be answered by every Christian (and atheist, and Jew, and Muslim) even today: Are we still of any use? /Sind wir noch brauchbar?
„Wir sind stumme Zeugen böser Taten geworden..., wir haben die Künste der Verstellung und der mehrdeutigen Rede gelernt..., wir sind durch unerträgliche Konflikte mürbe und vielleicht sogar zynisch geworden – sind wir noch brauchbar? Nicht Genies, nicht Zyniker, nicht Menschenverächter, nicht raffinierte Taktiker, sondern schlichte einfach, gerade Menschen werden wir brauchen. Wird unsere innere Widerstandkraft gegen das uns Aufgezwungene stark genug und unsere Aufrichtigkeit gegen uns selbst schonungslos genug geblieben sein, daß wir den Weg zur Schlichtheit und Geradheit wiederfinden?“
(trans.) We have been silent witnesses of evil deeds: we have been drenched by many storms; we have learnt the arts of equivocation and pretence; experience has made us suspicious of others and kept us from being truthful and open; intolerable conflicts have worn us down and even made us cynical. Are we still of any use? We shall not need geniuses, or cynics, or misanthropes, or clever tacticians, but rather plain, honest, straghtforward men. Will our inward power of resistance be strong enough, and our honesty with ourselves remorseless enough, for us to find our way back to simplicity and straightforwardness?
Bonhoeffer was arrested by the Gestapo just four months
after writing this letter. He was executed in April 1945. This year a right-wing student organization accused Dietrich Bonhoeffer of having been a "traitor to his country" (Landesverräter).