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Hans Von Dohnanyi

A resistant within the state machine

Hans Von Dohnanyi was the brother-in-law of the most well known protestant theologian that opposed Hitler, Dietrich Bonhoeffer. He was an official of the Ministry of Justice as well as an analyst of the secret military service that documented the evil doing of the Nazi regime for future generations. Dohnanyi was a unique man for his era: a young lawyer instilled with the democratic values of the Weimar Republic. He was captured with Bonhoeffer and executed in April 1945, a month before the end of the war. The theologian was 39, Dohnanyi 43. 

Dohnanyi came from a family of intellectuals. His father was the Hungarian composer Erno Von Dohnanyi. In October 1934, while he was the assistant of the conservative Minister of Justice, but not a Nazi of the Third Reich, the young attorney started to collect documents on Nazi crimes at the military base outside of Berlin. A key figure in the conspiracy against Hitler, in 1943 he put a bomb on the airplane that was supposed to bring Adolf Hitler to Smolensk, occupied by Russia. However, at the last moment the airplane was switched with another aircraft and did not take off. 

These episodes are recalled by Elisabeth Sifton and Fritz Stern (this latter author is 87 years old and a Holocaust survivor) in the book No ordinary men: Dietrich Bonhoeffer and Hans von Dohnanyi, resisters against Hitler in Church and State, New York Review Books. The authors are friends of Dohnanyi’s children and Sifton’s father was Bonhoeffer’s teacher. According to a review done by Haaretz’s, their book presents these figures in the most accessible way, there are other books on the subject, but all of them were intended for more specific audiences. 

At the end of 1940, with the help of Dohnanyi and other conspirators, Bonhoeffer became a German secret agent, obviously a double agent and cover-up of his activities against the resistance. He worked in Norway helping part of the Protestant church that strived to protect Jewish people. His task was to get to know the Norwegian resistance that they had comrades in Germany, as well. Furthermore, given that he was inserted into German intelligence with full clearance, Bonhoeffer was not supposed to worry about being contacted, for example, the English agents kept relations between the combatants for German liberty and Churchill’s government. 

Bonhoeffer and Dohnanyi were arrested in 1943 following investigations conducted by the Gestapo and SS that inspected non-Nazis inserting themselves in the ranks of the intelligence bureau and conspiring against Hitler since 1938. In 1944 the documents collected by Donhnanyi were found, for him this was the end. Yad Vashem honored him with the title of Righteous Amongst Nations in 2003. According to Haaretz, after the war Dohnanyi and Bonhoeffer’s families and had a difficult life in Germany where their loved ones were repeatedly vilified as their position of opposition became more scandalous; that there were many ex Nazi officials who were actually the authors of plots against the regime. 

4 December 2013

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whoever saves a life saves the entire world

In Yad Vashem's Memorial, in Jerusalem, the Garden of the Righteous remembers those who tried to rescue the Jews in the Holocaust: those who hidd them, helped them expatriate with forged documents, nourished them or gave them a job; those who, seeing them suffer, helped them somehow instead of remaining indifferent.In Yerevan's Wall of Remembrance the memorial stones remember the rescuers of Armenians during the genocide of 1915, those who tried to stop the massacre, refused to obey orders, sheltered children, reported the extermination that was occurring beneath their hopeless eyes to the world's public opinion.
In 1994 in Rwanda, some Tutsies who were hunted by the interahamwe militias were protected by neighbours, friends - some times strangers, too - belonginf to the Hutu ethnic group, who refused participating in the "man hunt" with machetes that had been planned by other Hutus to exterminate the country's Tutsi minority.
While ethnic cleansing was ravaging Bosnia leading to the murder of thousands innocent victims some people trying to escape the massacre were helped in the same way by neighbours, school mates, friends, or strangers, who were members of other ethnic groups.
Still todate, in many places in the world, there are such rescuers who risk and sometimes lose their lives in the attempt of helping the victims, and become victims themselves. Other times they lose their jobs, wellbeing, social status or they are imprisoned, tortured, cast out. At any rate, even before starting their endeavours, they know they run a serious risk, but they prefer doing so rather than bearing the weigh of remorse for remaining indifferent for the rest of their lives. Everytime by their action they "save the entire world", as stands in the Talmud.

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