Fr. Dietrich versus Der Führer
The Plot to Kill Hitler: Dietrich Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Spy, Unlikely Hero
By Patricia McCormick
Balzer + Bray
By Brianna Westervelt
I’ll be honest, before reading this book, I had no idea who Dietrich Bonhoeffer was. But that’s probably due to years of recycled history in the public school system. But how did I not even learn Bonhoeffer’s name while completing a History degree at a major research university?!
Like any young person, Bonhoeffer is trying to find his place in the world. Fortunately for him, he concludes very early on that he will be a pastor. With the onset of World War II, his staunch anti-Nazi sentiment developed through his work as a pastor traveling around the world. During a trip to Italy in 1923-24, Bonhoeffer was attending St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome on Easter Sunday. Looking around, “he saw Italians, Russians, Greeks, French, and Britons all lifting their voices together. He saw a throng of seminarians, monks, and priests of every skin color imaginable. Suddenly, his own church, which was almost synonymous with being German, seemed small, provincial, and narrow-minded. He scribbled something in his diary: ‘universality of the church.’” It was that term, “universality,” that would propel Bonhoeffer into a life-changing plot to kill Adolf Hitler.
Much like a play, Patricia McCormick lists the cast of characters, setting the scene for all the real-life drama to come. However, for someone like me who is unfamiliar with this particular story, McCormick tends to give details away, even before she gets into the narrative. Can I get a spoiler alert?? I would like to think McCormick is a bit more attuned to readers not knowing Bonhoeffer’s ultimate fate before picking up this book.
That aside, right away McCormick sets up Bonhoeffer as the unlikely hero (so that’s how she came up with that title…) in his shy, quiet, individualistic nature as a child. This establishes a loneliness motif throughout the story—amidst his large family, among friends from all over the world, in the church, in the plot to kill Hitler. Perhaps the only place Bonhoeffer does not seem alone is in his relationship with his (very young) fiancé, with whom he keeps in contact throughout the whole plot to kill Hitler.
The rat-a-tat-tat flow of the book's early, very short chapters tended to interrupt the narrative flow. Also, the appearance of the epilogue surprised me because I didn’t see it coming so soon and I wanted something longer and more satisfying.