Ultimate Price: Testimonies of Christians who Resisted the Third Reich
Paperback: Orbis Books, 2012.
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Reviewed by C. Christopher Smith
Conversations about Christian ethics, and particularly ones that address questions of war and violence, if they go on long enough, will eventually come to the question: What about Hitler? All too often Christians are plagued in such conversations by their narrow imaginations about how the church should respond to a tyrant like Hitler – i.e., by backing the full military force of the nation-state. The strength of Annemarie Kidder’s new book Ultimate Price: Testimonies of Christians who Resisted the Third Reich is that the stories it contains stretch our imaginations about the sorts of options that are available as Christian responses to a regime like the Third Reich.
The book begins with stories that are familiar: Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Franz Jäggerstätter and Sophie Scholl (who some readers may be familiar with as a result of the 2005 documentary Sophie Scholl: The Final Days, a scene from which has been used on the front cover of Kidder’s new book). Also included are Alfred Delp, S.J., Jochen Klepper, Bernhard Lichtenberg and Rupert Mayer, S.J. Each person’s story is told primarily through their own words, with an introduction by Kidder. The pieces are mostly short, and can feel a bit disjointed in places, but overall they come together in a vibrant mosaic that bears witness to the truth and justice of Christ.
Although the diversity of the stories it tells is helpful in stretching our imaginations, the primary flaw of the book is that it makes no distinction between the violent means of resistance in which Delp and Bonhoeffer (however conflicted he might have been) were involved and the non-violent resistance of, for instance, Franz Jäggerstätter and Sophie Scholl. It is also curious that the book focuses on extraordinary individuals, and excludes church communities, such as the church of Le Chambon in France or the Bruderhof community (with which the book’s publisher is deeply familiar, having in recent years taken over their publishing operations).
Overall, Ultimate Price is a helpful intro to Christian resistance to Hitler and the Third Reich, and particularly is worthwhile because it highlights the complexity of discerning a response in situations like these. Annemarie Kidder concludes her introduction:
Each person wrestled with a conscience held captive by God in the face of state violence, injustice, and lies. While their actions confess to the one who promised that in “dying we live,” their writings testify to the internal struggle that perennially marks faithful discipleship. Both their actions and writings lend us courage to follow the one true leader, Jesus Christ, who vies for our attention and claims our loyalty today.