Fiction from Tegel Prison

Fiction from Tegel Prison

Dietrich Bonhoeffer

Augsburg Fortress, $20.95

We are familiar with the previously published work of Dietrich Bonhoeffer, renowned theologian and ethicist.

In living out his Christianity, he has been an example to all who face oppression, cruelty and injustice.

A number of brief fictional pieces are gathered together in this book. While any attempt to write critically about the Nazi regime would have meant further punishment and confiscation of these articles, Bonhoeffer thinly disguises his comments in a play and a number of delightful short stories.

To outline the storyline here would take away the fascination of identifying the characters and situations with his real life experiences. At the same time, we are reminded of the danger facing the author and the serious nature of the impending penalty.

“There is an infallible standard to test the great and the small, the valid and the immaterial, the genuine and the fraudulent, the weighty word and frivolous gossip; that standard is death.”

We often wonder about the rise of the Nazi party in Germany and ask how people could allow it to happen. We are disappointed that the voice of the church was silenced.

Institutions and organisations seem to develop a life of their own, independent of their purpose and origins. In the play, the comments by characters about the church’s position are revealing and remain a challenge to us today.

Grandmother’s dissatisfaction with the watered-down message from the church is expressed in her comments to her grandson, while sitting in the park on Sunday: “this pious chatter has absolutely nothing in common with Christianity; it’s more dangerous than outright unbelief.”

“Dear boy; what’s important is not that something is new, but that it is right.”

The innocuous nature of the church and its silence on issues of oppression, victimisation and collective apathy, impels Bonhoeffer to speak out. His frustration prompts him to foresee “a non-religious Christianity”.

In one brief story a young man is warned, “You’ve said something very dangerous. Perhaps it’s necessary for Germany, but — it’s playing with fire.”

The tree from which he was hanged bears the inscription: “Dietrich Bonhoeffer, a witness to Jesus Christ among his brethren.”

The editor’s long Afterword is not necessary, as those who choose to read this book will be smart enough to have made the connection between the fiction and reality.

John Atkinson

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