She was a quiet, unassuming lady, apparently the ideal “Hausfrau” – housewife – to a famous man. Her husband Eberhard Bethge was famous due to the fact he had been Pastor Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s closest buddy, his confidant and his disciple. Eberhard Bethge had willingly and passionately taken up the burden of publishing Bonhoeffer’s papers, of explaining and interpreting his theological legacy, and of maintaining the memory of a great Christian alive in a modern planet that was typically hostile to faith and religion. But Renate Bethge was herself a woman of excellent courage and intelligence, and she provided me with some of the most considerable insights into what life in Nazi Germany was genuinely like.
Renate was the daughter of Rüdiger Schleicher and Ursula Bonhoeffer, one of Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s sisters. In the aftermath of the unsuccessful coup attempt against the Hitler on July 20, 1944, her father and 3 of her uncles had been executed for treason by the Nazi regime. Her father and her Uncle Klaus had been identified to have been tortured by the Gestapo before their death. This alone is an indication of how staunchly anti-Nazi Renate’s upbringing was. It was a family that opposed Hitler just before he came to energy, and recognized the full extent of his immorality. It was a family that was actively involved in attempting to put an end to the dictatorship.
Beneath the situations, it is not surprising that, on the day when “Heil Hitler!” was introduced as the compulsory greeting in college, Renate rebelled. Outraged that she was supposed to greet her teachers every morning with “Heil Hitler,” she stormed home and announced to her parents that she “totally refused” to say “Heil Hitler!” Only God, she told her profoundly devout parents, ought to be adulated in such a manner. (It was customary in much of Germany to say “God’s Greetings” rather than “Good Morning” of “Excellent Day.”)
Renate’s father was at this time a senior civil servant at the Ministry of Aviation and Head of the Institute for Aviation Law at the University of Berlin. He knew that Renate at this stage in her life wanted to study medicine like his personal brother. When his young daughter furiously declared her determination not to “insult God” by saying “Heil Hitler!” he nodded and told her that she was “old adequate to make her personal choices.” But he then went on to warn her: “Nonetheless, you must be ready to reside with the consequences of your choice. If you refuse to say ‘Heil Hitler’ then you may be sent home from college. You will certainly not be allowed to go to high college, and that means you will not be capable to go to university to study medicine. The choice you make these days that it will impact your complete future, so make it wisely.” Renate went to school the subsequent day and mentioned “Heil Hitler” just like all the other pupils.
The significance of this story can not be more than-emphasized. It is too basic for anyone who has not lived beneath a totalitarian regime to think that it is easy to resist and protest. We neglect that even small acts of defiance could have huge consequences. A child’s stubbornness may possibly not lead inevitably to a concentration camp, but cutting off all avenues to larger education for a bright young particular person is a powerful disincentive to dissent!
Time and once again in my interviews, I was confronted with stories in which compromise was mixed with opposition simply because even the most courageous and dedicated of opponents had to earn a living. A woman whose closest buddies had been Jews took a job as translator with the Propaganda Ministry because it was “safer in the lion’s den” since of exactly where she worked, she was significantly less subject to suspicion and she continued to go to her buddies and take them forbidden gifts till they have been deported. Individuals joined various secondary organizations, the Frauenschaft, the Deutsche Beamten Bund and the like, to steer clear of becoming complete members of the Nazi Party. It was unsafe to refuse to participate in a comprehensively organized society. It was really harmful to be observed to reject the spirit of the occasions.
On the other side of the coin, it is crucial to remember that not everybody who was a supporter of the Nazi regime was a fanatic or an evil particular person. Secret opinion polls taken among official members of the Nazi Party in the late 1930s show that a majority of Nazis opposed the Nazi Celebration policies against the Jews! Most folks in German supported the Nazis for a selection of complicated causes – simply because they had supplied full employment, since they abrogated the hated Treaty of Versailles, because they had restored national sovereignty to the Rhineland etc. That does not imply that most folks supported every thing the Nazis did – and undoubtedly not every thing that all the increasingly corrupt officials of the regime did.
Ultimately, no matter how a lot a man or lady hated Hitler, he or she also had loved ones, whom he or she wished to defend from harm. And at times really like leads us in strange directions. In a tiny, studio apartment in Munich I met with the widow of Field Marshal Alfred Jodl. Jodl ended his profession as Chief of the Joint Operations Employees – and on the gallows. He was a single of the guys condemned at the 1st trial of key Nazi war criminals at Nuremburg. But his second wife was Luise von Benda, a close friend and associate of two of the most crucial leaders of the German military resistance to Hitler, Generaloberst Beck and Common Henning von Tresckow.
Luise von Benda had been Beck’s secretary for the duration of the period when Beck challenged his fellow generals to join him in a collective protest against Hitler’s planned invasion of the Sudetenland in what was then Czechoslovakia. Beck urged his fellow generals to refuse to obey Hitler’s orders to strategy the illegal attack and advocated confrontation with Hitler that would – he hoped – end in the restoration of “the rule of law.” His secretary worked long and challenging with him for the duration of this period in his futile efforts to win the support of his fellow generals. She shared Beck’s views on the illegality and disastrous consequences of Hitler’s foreign policy.
Luisa von Benda was in addition the personal and household pal of Henning von Tresckow. Tresckow was the thoughts behind two of the most promising assassination attempts and a tireless conspirator in the result in against the Nazis. Clearly, Tresckow did not confide in her what he was arranging, but he would not have kept secret his opinion of Hitler. As yet another family members pal of Luisa von Benda, told me, Luisa shared Tresckow’s opinion of Hitler totally. It was this friend, Ludwig Baron von Hammerstein, who sent me to visit her. “You require to meet her,” he told me smiling, his eyes vibrant with mischief.
Luisa Jodl was a delicate, fragile woman in her eighties when she received me in Munich. She was anxious to be a gracious hostess, as was fitting for a lady born into the gentry, but she was embarrassed by what she could provide all her china was chipped, and some of it glued back together once more. As the widow of a “key Nazi war criminal,” she had not had an straightforward life in post-war West Germany.
She was nervous also. Of course she had agreed to see me since Ludwig had supplied the introduction, and Ludwig Hammerstein was an old buddy, dating back to the days when his father had been Chief-of-Employees of the German Army and Luisa had been a secretary at Army Headquarters. But she nevertheless feared an American would judge her – and her husband – harshly.
“You have to realize,” she begged me, “my husband was a item of his upbringing.” Her husband, she explained (and most historians agree), was in no way a Nazi, by no means a believer in Hitler’s ideology or even in his genius – he was just a man who could not find the moral courage to disobey. “At the age of seven,” she told me, “he as sent to a cadet college by his father. On the initial day the boys were lined up and told: ‘Gentlemen, you are right here to discover how to die effectively.'” That was it. From that point forward, he had followed the rigid code of self-sacrifice, duty and blind obedience. Trapped by his personal sense of duty into serving a man he inwardly detested, Jodl was a man in much more desperate need of comfort and affection than a lot of other individuals. And so, although Luise knew that Hitler was major Germany to both moral and physical destruction, she could not deny her love to the man she knew to be inwardly suffering and in need of what comfort she could offer you as a wife.
Luise’s selection, no less than Renate’s, was the extremely human selection in favor of life and hope for a much better future. No one particular, who has not been in their shoes, has the appropriate to condemn them for it.