Inspiration : Flossenburg


On Sunday, April 8, 1945, Dietrich Bonhoeffer conducted a service of worship. As he ended his last prayer, two men came for him.  He spoke to an English officer, "This is the end, but for me it is the beginning of life."  The next day, April 9, 1945, he was hanged in Flossenburg.  Among those who died with Bonhoeffer were fellow participants in the Resistance Movement:  Admiral Wilhelm Canaris, Major General Hans Oster, Judge Advocate General Carl Sack, Captain Ludwig Gehre, and a man named Strunk.  Also executed on the same day was Bonhoeffer's brother-in-law, Hans von Dohnanyi  at Sachsenhausen.  It is difficult to understand the persistence of revenge at the time the German armies were falling apart.  The allies were rapidly advancing, resistance was crumbling.  Huppenkothen, a magistrate, was sent from Berlin with instructions to conduct a summary trial and to execute Canaris, Sack, Oster, Gehre, Strunk and Bonhoeffer, all prisoners in Flossenburg.  The prisoners were ordered to remove their clothing and were led down the steps under the trees to the secluded place of execution. Naked under the scaffold, Bonhoeffer knelt for the last time to pray.  Within five minutes, his life was ended.  Memorial services for Bonhoeffer were held at Holy Trinity Church in London on July 27, 1945, at the instigation of the Bishop of Chichester.  The announcement of this service over the radio was the first word of Bonhoeffer's death that his family had received.

I wake early and take train from Nuremberg to Weiden, where I will then travel by bus to the Flossenburg Concentration Camp built by the SS in 1938. While much smaller than many camps in Germany, it has a brutal lineage.  It is also the final resting place of Dietrich Bonhoeffer.  

 After an hour, I exit the train in the middle of a forest.  There is not a person in site.  I look to my right and see a small glass bus shelter where I assume my bus will arrive and take me to the camp.  It is a brisk day, but the sun is shining.  I wait there for over thirty minutes and finally deduct that I have gone one stop too many and must return to Weider where the main bus terminal is.  Another hour wait and I finally board the correct bus.  It snakes through tiny towns and tangled wooded hillsides making multiple stops where locals enter and exit. I wonder what their life is like here, where they work and call home. 


Before long, I am the only remaining passenger as we enter the town of Flossenburg.  Not knowing where the camp is and not knowing enough German to ask the driver, I exit somewhere in the town and figure I will find my way there by chance.  I take only a few steps before the bus stops again and the driver says something to me while pointing up the hill.  I can't make out any of the words he is speaking, but somehow understand that he realizes I where I want to go.  I find it interesting that while I haven't spoken English and don't appear any different than the locals, I am still distinguished as a foreigner.  Either that or he knows everyone on the route personally.

Thanks to his providence, I am let out at the gates to the camp.  It is quiet.  A cold gust of wind whistles around my ears and icy gravel crunches beneath my feet.  

It is a stark and deserted landscape of remaining buildings, crumbling stone structures and an open yard where prisoners were subjected to extreme acts of cruel endurance. 


I wonder alone around snow covered graves and a Jewish memorial to arrive at Capella "Jesus in Carcere" (Chapel "Jesus in the Dungeon") built with stones from the watch towers and incorporating a former watch tower as the spire.  Entering the the church is a haunting experience.  The temperature seems to drop 20 degrees and my breath shoots out in thick vapor.  The air is still and compressed.  Looking at the stained glass and plaques, I feel keenly aware and at once feel the weight of the history of the camps, the victims and the war itself.  I can only linger for a short time; it is strangely uncomfortable in here.