Bonhoeffer: Agent of Grace (2003) 




Director:     Eric Till.  

Starring:     Ulrich Tukur (Dietrich Bonhoeffer),  Johanna Klante (Maria Von Wedemeyer),  Robert Joy (Manfred Roeder),  R.H. Thomson (Knobloch),  Tatjana Blacher (Christel von Dohnanyi),  Ulrich Noethen (Hans Von Dohnanyi),  Susanne Lothar (Sabine Leibholz),  Richard Partington (Reinhold Niebuhr),  Dominique Horwitz (Gerhard Leibholz),  Justus von Dohnányi (Eberhard Bethge),  Rosemarie Fendel (Ruth von Kleist-Retzow),  Christian Goebel (Captain Ludwig Gehre),  Blu Mankuma (Frank Fischer),  Dieter Kirchlechner (Josef Müller),  Christian Doermer (General Hans Oster).

German theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer is one of the first clear voices of resistance to Adolf Hitler; he openly challenged his church to stand with the Jews; hanged April 1945


Spoiler Warning:  below is a summary of the entire film. 

Bonhoeffer attends a black church service in the United States.  After the service the black minister, named Frank, takes Dietrich Bonhoeffer into see the distinguished men of the church.  Professor Niebuhr has a surprise for Dietrich.  He has a copy of the freshly translated into English from the German, hot off the press copy of the Bonhoeffer book The Cost of Discipleship.  Frank talks to Dietrich about going around the United States on a speaking tour.  Bonhoeffer, however, says that he has to go back to Germany. Frank warns him that the Nazis will put Dietrich in prison.  Dietrich replies:  "See, if I stayed I think I'd become a living lie to everything I believe in."

Bonhoeffer has been speaking out against Adolf Hitler and the Nazis.  So the Gestapo come to his church.  Dietrich currently is denouncing Hitler and speaking up for the Jewish people.  He says:  "Christ himself was a Jew."  As the Gestapo man comes down the center aisle of the church, Dietrich tells his friend Eberhard to take Charlotte out of the room.  The Gestapo man says:  "Until further notice you're forbidden to speak in public, to publish your writings and to teach.  And you're to report to the Gestapo once a week."   The Gestapo fellow now turns to the people in the church. He says that he will have to arrest anyone in the church who does not agree to take the Oath.  "I swear to be true and obedient to the fuehrer of the German Reich Adolf Hitler, to abide by the law and fulfill my duty, so help me God." 

Bonhoeffer and Eberhard take down two large Nazi swastika flags and throw them into the river. 

Bonhoeffer speaks with some Jews on the plans of the Nazis for the Jewish people.  A man reads from a Nazi paper that "on the outbreak of war, the Jews will be exterminated without a trace."  Bonhoeffer's twin sister Sabine, who is about to marry a Jewish man, does not believe this.  She says it is just Nazi propaganda.  Bonhoeffer tells Sabine:  "You've got to leave Germany."  He says they could first go to Switzerland and then on to England. 

Bonhoeffer talks with a small room full of anti-Nazi thinkers.  The Gestapo comes again.  Dietrich sees them standing on the lawn looking toward his little room. 

Sabine agrees to leave Germany and she and her brother have to say goodbye to each other.  He also says goodbye to his future brother-in-law Gerhard. 

One day Bonhoeffer arrives at the church to find the pews thrown out of the church and onto the lawn.  He asks a woman named Ruth what happened?  The Gestapo.  She says some of the boys were forced to go into the army, while those who refused were arrested.  Ruth tells Bonhoeffer that he has to leave. 

Bonhoeffer plays the piano.  Ruth's granddaughter comes downs the stairs very quietly.  Ruth comes over shouting that the monstrous, little corporal has started a war with Poland.  "What on earth will he do next?"  Dietrich tells her that he thinks he better go back to Berlin.  Later he tells another fellow that he now thinks it was a mistake for him to come back to Germany. 

A man named Hans speaks with Dietrich.  He says he can help get Dietrich a certificate saying that he is indispensable and, therefore, unavailable for military service.  Hans goes on to say:  "The resistance needs a courier  -- someone with international contacts and a valid reason to travel."  Dietrich tells Hans that he's a minister, not a spy.  "That is treason, Hans!"  Hans replies:  "Treason or not, we've got to get rid of Hitler."  He reminds Dietrich that there is no legitimate law now because Hitler has destroyed it.  Dietrich balks at the idea of being involved in the murder of another human being.  He tells Hans that he's sorry, but he just can't do it. 

Hans takes Dietrich to his home.  He has a folder documenting that Hitler and the Nazis have been and are involved in:  arson, forced death, murder, lies, suffering and extermination camps.  Dietrich is shocked to learn just how evil Hitler and his crew are. 

Hans speaks to a group of Jews to be moved out.  He says they will receive papers saying that they work for military intelligence.  "Operation 7."  They will leave through Switzerland.  They will be traveling with Dr. and Mrs. Rosenthal.   The Jewish Charlotte is there and she has numerous questions and objections.  Dietrich speaks with her and asks her to trust them.  Charlotte asks a good question:  "What good is a handful of Jews when the rest of us are being murdered?"

At a restaurant Hans introduces Dietrich to his superior General Hans Oster and Rudolf Freiherr von Gersdorff.  Oster hands Dietrich's papers over to him.  Dietrich will first be going to Sweden to see an old friend. 

Sigtuna, Sweden.  Dietrich speaks with George Bell.  He tells Bell that they want to assassinate Hitler and it would help them if they could get some words of support from the Allies.  Bell answers:  "The allies are not convinced that Germany can be purged without military defeat."  He adds that Dietrich should be very careful. 

Von Gersdorff is shown how to detonate a bomb with a detonator that looks like a pen.  The detonator will be activated inside von Gersdorff's pocket.  Dietrich observes that this would be sure suicide for the bomber.  Von Gersdorff says:  "But I'll take him with me."  Now he asks Bonhoeffer if he will bless him and his mission?  After some thinking, Dietrich says yes. 

Ruth's granddaughter Maria rides up on a horse and speaks with Bonhoeffer.  She says her father and brother are now at the Russian front. 

Dietrich sees the granddaughter again in the house.  She tells him that since her father and brother have been away there is nobody to dance with.  Bonhoeffer dances with her. 

Later Ruth tells Dietrich that her granddaughter lost both her father and brother at Stalingrad. "She's inconsolable."  Ruth wants Dietrich to talk to her and try to help her in her grief.  Maria asks:  "Why?"  Dietrich says he wished he had an answer for her.  She cries. 

Bonhoeffer falls in love with the 17 year old Maria and becomes engaged to her.  Hans is shocked when he learns the news.

The conspirators are together when the time comes and passes by for von Gersdorff to ignite the bomb.  Gen. Oster looks out the window and tells his colleagues that they are being watched.  And it's Manfred Roeder, the military prosecutor.  Hans says that someone must have talked.  "Why else would he (Roeder) be here?"  Hans picks up the telephone and is informed that the assassination failed.  Gen. Oster now tells the conspirator that he should go and warn Admiral Canaris about Roeder.  Hans tells Bonhoeffer to grab his folder and destroy anything incriminating in it.  Hans then says he will hide their dossier in the Abwehr headquarters in Zossen where they have some old archives and records.   

Roeder knows about the conspiracy and starts arresting the conspirators.  Hans and his wife are arrested.  Now they come to arrest Bonhoeffer.  Gen. Oster has also been arrested.  Bonhoeffer is placed in a cell by himself. 

Roeder starts questioning Bonhoeffer, who tries to give him as little information as possible.  Roeder is very patient and restrained with the minister at this first meeting.  In the second meeting Roeder wants to know all about Bonhoeffer's dealings with Jewish people. 

The next meeting Roeder wants to know all about Operation 7.  Bonhoeffer tries to say as little as possible.  Then Roeder says that Bonhoeffer has a visitor.  He goes into the next room to get her.  It's Maria, his fiancé.  He has Maria sit down in a chair in the room.  Dietrich goes over to sit in the chair next to her.  She says she has moved to Berlin and is now living with his parents.  In addition, she has the right to visit Dietrich in prison.  And his sister Ursula came to visit last weekend with Rudiger and Eberhard and Renate got married.  Maria says that she is busy planning their wedding.  She would like to be married in August.   

She brings him a book, which Roeder quickly grabs in order to examine it closely.  He returns it to Maria who says that she wants him to read it all very carefully and then she will get it back from him the next time she visits. She says then she will read it herself.  And now she has to go.  As she leaves she gives Bonhoeffer's main guard some money and she asks him to please do what he can for Dietrich. 

In his cell Bonhoeffer examines the book very carefully.  It contains coded messages.  The first message is:  "They don't suspect worst, only corruption.  Feud between intelligence and Gestapo.  Deny all.  From Hans.  Love Christel."

His main guard, Herr Knobloch, comes in to ask Bonhoeffer what does a girl like Maria see in him?  Bonhoeffer answers that he has been asking himself the same exact question. 

In Maria's next visit, she tells Bonhoeffer that Knobloch and she are working on a plan to get him out of prison.  He tells her to be careful. 

Knobloch tells Bonhoeffer that someone tried to kill Hitler with a bomb, but failed. (Stauffenberg's attempt.)

Christel is out and tells Maria and Dietrich's parents that the Gestapo is going through all the papers associated with the Abwehr.  It's there that Hans hid some secret papers.  She must go retrieve them.  Mother asks if Dietrich is named in the papers?  Yes.  Maria says:  "My God!" 

The S.S. start going through the archives.  Knobloch tells Dietrich that they have to go now.  The escape is next week.  Stauffenberg and dozens of co-conspirators have all been executed.  Knobloch says the he will leave a plumber's outfit under Dietrich's pillow.  They will leave Wednesday night. 

Dietrich sees two of his friends being brought into the prison yard:  Klaus and Rudiger. 

Eberhard is arrested by the Gestapo.  Christel tells Maria that Hans says the only thing that will stop him from going to trial is to be sick with something serious, like diphtheria.  She is going to get a culture of diphtheria and get it to Hans. 

One night the prison gets bombed.  Bonhoeffer works amongst the prisoners to calm and soothe them. 

Dietrich tells Maria that he can't escape because there would be reprisals against Hand, Rudiger, Klaus, the Bonhoeffer family and Maria's family.  Maria asks:  "What about me?  I need you.  I love you."  He replies:  "Maria, it is here that I became the man you love."

The Gestapo now have the dossier that Hans tried so hard to conceal in the Abwehr archives.  Roeder reads through the documents inside.  He rushes to Bonhoeffer's cell to yell at him:  "You lied to me!  All the time you knew!  You'll see where your God gets you now!"  After Roeder leaves, Knobloch tells Bonhoeffer that they found a dossier hidden in the archives and in it Dietrich's name is mentioned.  Knobloch asks if this is what Bonhoeffer wanted?  "No.  But I'm ready." 

Undercover Knobloch meets Maria in a cemetery to tell her that Bonhoeffer is being transported to Flossenberg.  He then hands Maria a letter and leaves. 

Roeder comes to Bonhoeffer with an offer to spare his life.  He and his family will be spared if Bonhoeffer will work with them.  They know that Bonhoeffer is a man that the Allies will listen to.  They want him to be their negotiator with the Allies.  Bonhoeffer refers to this as "the Last Temptation".  He adds:  "The answer is no, Dr. Roeder."  Furious, Roeder does a quick about face and leaves. 

Bonhoeffer, along with a British secret agent, a Russian, and an infamous concentration camp Nazi doctor, are transported by truck to Flossenberg.  The Russian tries to kill the Nazi doctor, but Bonhoeffer stops him. 

The truck stops.  Two of the prisoners are taken out to go to Flossenberg.  One is a man named Muller.  The other name, the Nazis can't read.  Another prisoner says they want him for he was in prison with Muller. 

The prison transport truck breaks down.  The German officer keeps saying that he needs an order.  Another bus comes.  Gestapo agent Bader takes over the prisoners. 

Hans is executed with a shot to the head.  Two more of the conspirators are executed by a firing squad.

Maria goes in search of Bonhoeffer without much luck. 

The Gestapo bus stops at an isolated church that has been ransacked.  Bonhoeffer goes inside to look at it.  Three of his fellow prisoners come into the church asking the minister to say something to them.  They sit down in the pews.  As he tells his fellow prisoners about what Jesus will mean to man in the future, a Gestapo agent tells Bonhoeffer he is to go with this man.  He will take him to Flossenberg.  Maria is in a bombing raid and scared to death and rightfully so.   

Flossenberg Prison, April 9, 1945.  When he gets to Flossenberg, Bonhoeffer suddenly sees a gallows put up for him.  He has to strip off his clothes.  Roeder is there to say to him:  "So, this is the end?"
Dietrich tells him: "No", and walks up and onto the gallows. 

"Hanged for 'Political High Treason'.  Less than one month later May 7, 1945 the war was over."


A sad movie, but a moving one.  Bonhoeffer was a very important German theologian.  He stepped up to risk his life to end fascism in Germany.  He did not want to be a martyr, but he was prepared for the worst.  And the worst, of course, did happen.  He had conspired with others to assassinate Adolf Hitler.  And yet Bonhoeffer never expressed any regrets about his role in the conspiracy.  Temperamentally speaking, he was a very calm man.  The guards at the prison where he was held always commented on how composed Bonhoeffer always seemed to be.  The other prisoners also noticed this.   Perhaps this helped Bonhoeffer face death, but certainly his strong faith also was a great help to him.  He could have escaped from prison, but he reasoned that this would only bring more reprisals on his family and his fiancé's family.  When an infamous Nazi doctor is thrown into prison, Bonhoeffer prevents him from being killed by an anti-Nazi prisoner.  His calmness, his commitment to his faith, his always choosing to the right thing morally  --  by his example the minister provides a great model of grace before death and also a model of grace for facing life. 

Patrick Louis Cooney, Ph. D. 



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