Dietrich Bonhoeffer died 75 years ago today

John Rees writes, “Dietrich Bonhoeffer, a German theologian who has exercised massive influence over the years since the Second World War, was executed 75 years ago today. He had been one of the key Christian opponents of the Nazi regime, and with others had founded the ‘German Confessing Church’ in protest against Hitler’s policies. After much ethical agonising, he took part in the plot too assassinate Hitler in July 1944, and was executed on Hitler’s express orders just a few weeks before the end of the War, on this day 75 years ago.

“Perhaps his most famous writing is a poignant reflection from his prison cell, which may be of some encouragement to all of us at this time of isolation and reflection. It is entitled ‘Who Am I?'”

Who am I? They often tell me
I stepped from my cell’s confinement
Calmly, cheerfully, firmly,
Like a Squire from his country house.

Who am I? They often tell me
I used to speak to my warders
Freely and friendly and clearly,
As thought it were mine to command.

Who am I? They also tell me
I bore the days of misfortune
Equably, smilingly, proudly,
like one accustomed to win.

Am I then really that which other men tell of?
Or am I only what I myself know of myself?
Restless and longing and sick, like a bird in a cage,
Struggling for breath, as though hands were compressing my throat,
Yearning for colors, for flowers, for the voices of birds,
Thirsting for words of kindness, for neighborliness,
Tossing in expectations of great events,
Powerlessly trembling for friends at an infinite distance,
Weary and empty at praying, at thinking, at making,
Faint, and ready to say farewell to it all.

Who am I? This or the Other?
Am I one person today and tomorrow another?
Am I both at once? A hypocrite before others,
And before myself a contemptible woebegone weakling?
Or is something within me still like a beaten army
Fleeing in disorder from victory already achieved?

Who am I? They mock me, these lonely questions of mine.
Whoever I am, Thou knowest, O God, I am thine!