History Essay


Dietrich Bonhoeffer- What can a study of this person’s life teach us about the nature and impact of fascism and/or national socialism?



Bonhoeffer was born in Germany in the year of 1906 in a family that was not so religious but had a strong musical and artistic heritage. Throughout his life, Bonhoeffer showed great interest in music, and it became one of the most important parts of his life. However, at the age of 14, he announced that he wanted to train and become a priest. After that, he graduated from the University of Berlin and traveled to Spain and America where he was moved by the notion of Church’s participation in social injustice. In the year of 1931, he returned to Berlin and was ordained as a priest at an age of 25. The life after was not same for Bonhoeffer. The rise of Hitler in 1933 not only changed the life of Bonhoeffer but also changed entire Germany under the influence of Nazism and Fascism. This study will mainly focus on the nature and impact of Nazism that was influenced by the fascist theories of Italy, which affect the whole the life of Bonhoeffer until his death.

Background to Fascism

Fascism was a dictatorial movement that was established mostly in Italy and some other European countries to protest against the social and political changes that took place after the World War I. The primary goal of this movement was also to express reaction against the socialism and communism during that time. The name Fascism came from the fasces that was a prehistoric Roman symbol of authority including a bunch of rods and an ax. Benito Mussolini was the father of Fascism that he found on March 23, 1919. Nazism was another philosophy that was derived from Fascism and was used to rule Germany.

Fascist Ideology and Nazism

The neo-idealist philosopher, Giovanni Gentile, mainly founded fascist philosophy highlighted the relegation of the individual to a “totalitarian” state which will regulate all the aspects of national life. Fascism supported violence and promoted it as a creative force of the philosophy. The feature of Italian Fascism was to disregard the class struggle from history by using patriotism and the corporate state. Depending on the same philosophy, Nazism was developed under the shadow of totalitarian Fascist creed and strategies that were accomplished by Adolf Hitler and his “National Socialist German Worker’s Party” from 1920-1945. Therefore, there not much difference between the Fascism and Nazism as both of the philosophies were related to each other and were build on same policies with same goals.

Nature of Nazism

After gaining power in Germany, Adolf Hitler turned the country into a fascist state where the economic system of the country remained capitalistic. However, the state used to play a significant role in managing the economy of the country. The government of Germany at that time forced the industrialists to produce the goods required by the Government. The Government personnel also set the price. Besides, Government also had the control to command workforces to move to where they were essential.

The life of Bonhoeffer was change due to this Nazism in the country that created an impact on the lives of the people of Germany. While most of the Germany welcomed the election of Hitler, Bonhoeffer was the only person who raised his voice against it. He firmly understood that Hitler will not bring anything good for the country when a radio broadcast of him was cut off mid air as he was speaking against Hitler. Slowly but steadily Nazism gained so much control in the country that in the year of 1934, Hitler and the pop Puis XI signed a contract that stated the Government of the country will not interfere any religious events of decisions of the Church and the Church will not interfere in the politics of the country. As a result, the Church became weak and Bonhoeffer understood that it will not be easy to run any bold initiatives to oppose the Nazification of society with the help of the Church.

During the same period, Hitler ceased the freedom to speak and protest abilities of the Germans. Most of the political administrations were debarred or became a part of Nazis. All elections both native and state were eradicated except the occasional referendum. People were allowed to have only that information related to fascist beliefs. In order to do this task and to promote fascism among the people of Germany, Joseph Goebbels kept a close check on the information that was delivered by the newspapers, magazines, books and radio broadcastings. Anything that tried to speak against Nazism or Hitler was either banned or eliminated.

Impact of Nazism

In spite several horrible experiences and stories of Nazism some historians believed that there was a little bit right in it. Most of the opponent parties joined hand with Hitler either for fear or prosperity. They got best houses, preferential treatments and superior jobs in the Government that gave them power over other people. Ordinary people at that time were also happy until 1939. The economic policies undertaken by Hitler and his associates provided a good life for ordinary people as the country was nurtured with full employment and security regarding finance. During that time, there was no poverty in Germany. The special program introduced by Hitler which was Strength through Joy (KdF) gave a lot of people fun and holidays. The movement called as Beauty of Work (SdA) allowed people to feel proud in what they were doing. Besides, transportation system was improved, new propagandas gave people hope and trust in Adolf Hitler gave the Germans a sense of security.

However, some people absolutely rejected this atmosphere as The Nazis were a very male-dominated group. Their philosophy believed that women exist only as a child breeder and creator of the family. Job discrimination against women was encouraged. Even in the war, women were not permitted to take part. The life story of Bonhoeffer reflects the condition of protestors who stood against Hitler and his Nazi philosophy. Hitler used fear and horror for anyone who disapproved of their regime. All the trade unions were banned in 1933 with their offices closed; properties ceased and leaders were put in prison. Believers of Communism were either put into a concentration camp or were killed. Bonhoeffer was such a person who was prosecuted as he tried to oppose the Nazi beliefs and policies. However, Bonhoeffer is just an example as, during 1934-1945, nearly 300,000 men and women were sterilized. During the same period, nearly 85% of Germany's Gypsies were killed along with black people. Over 70,000 mentally people and over 5,000 mentally challenged children died as they were used as core subjects of Nazi experiments.

The biggest effect of Nazism was World War started on 1st September, 1939 when Germany attacked Poland. It was the bloodiest war in human history as it killed almost 2.5% of world's total population. This period is also called as Holocaust that is considered as the biggest genocide in the history of humankind. During 1933 to 1945, almost six million Jews were killed along with homosexuals, Jehovah's witnesses and physically and mentally challenged people. Some of those people were taken to concentration camps where the able-bodied men were forced to do hard labor. Women, children and older people were killed by gas chambers. With little food and two hours of sleep, most of the people died due to Typhus, Typhoid, Dysentery and Tuberculosis. Even today, the effect Nazism haunts the people Germany as they are sometimes considered as racists and Neo-Nazis. As a result of the war, Germany lost 20% of its land. Most of the German living in those areas were either displaced or killed. Nearly one million Germans lost their lives during the displacement. The war ended in 1945 with Hitler committing suicide along with his 40 hours wife Ema Brant; however, the effect of Nazism is still present in the Germany as they are still believed as descendants of Nazi Germany.


In the end, it is clear that in spite of some people tried to defend the post-war Nazi Germany for its property; the truth is entirely opposite. From the above study, it can be assumed that all the policies and rules implemented by Hitler for the people were only to gain their support and to distract them from the bigger picture. The Government of Germany under the rule of Adolf Hitler implemented employment but mostly in armed forces and its factories to build weapons. They were getting ready for the War and that is why they used this distraction of good policies. Some people who understood the situation such as Bonhoeffer were arrested and were murdered brutally later. This clearly indicates that in the name democracy the Nazi Germany was a country where Hitler had the right to say the final word without even getting any opinion or counter questions. Therefore, the effect of Nazism was so severe in Germany that even after 72 years of the, people of other countries cannot put their trust of German people.


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