Today, I went Black Friday shopping. And guess what? No Nazis tried to threaten me to stay away from certain stores.
What, that’s not surprising to you? Maybe I’m just sensitive to the issue because I’m reading Eric Metaxas’s biography of Dietrich Bonhoeffer, the German pastor and theologian who joined a plot to assassinate Hitler. Suddenly, I’m expecting to see swastikas on every street corner, especially because of my favorite part of the book so far, a story about Bonhoeffer’s grandma.
It was early 1933. Sometimes I think that Hitler just kind of exploded on the world scene when the war started in 1939. But that’s not usually the way history works. Things change slowly, quietly, through subtle propaganda and redefined terms and committee meetings.
Most Germans didn’t really know what was happening. They knew their hero Martin Luther, at the end of his life at least, had some violently anti-Semetic things to say. And they thought they knew, based on Hitler’s various accusations, that the Jews were controlling the press overseas and spreading lies about Germany. They didn’t see the death camps coming. All they saw was a day in April when all loyal citizens of Germany were supposed to peacefully boycott Jewish stores in protest of the Jews' anti-German attitudes and actions.
And, on that day in April 1933, 90-year-old Julie Bonhoeffer went shopping.
She lived in Berlin, the heart of the chaos. I can almost picture her, prim, white-haired and dignified, walking right past the rally and the SA officials handing out pamphlets reading, “Germans, protect yourselves! Don’t buy from Jews!” ignoring the noise and the ungodly racket.
A line of SA thugs stood outside a store marked with a yellow Star of David, glaring at people passing by. Their job was to intimidate the masses into complying with the boycott.
But little Julie Bonhoeffer marched right up to that store. When the SA accosted her, she informed them, “I will shop where I like.” And she did, both there and at another Jewish department store later in the day.
No, Julie Bonhoeffer didn’t know what was coming, no more than the rest of Germany. It’s likely she wasn’t even trying to make a deep, deliberate statement against Nazi ideology that day. But the fact remains that she had every reason to turn back from that store, and she didn’t.
Little choices matter. If a million Germans had each made one or two small choices like Julie Bonhoeffer, Hitler would not have been able to do what he did.
I went Black Friday shopping today. I made no statement. The money I spent was not a small act of defiance against anything. I almost wish that it could have been, because I want so badly for what I do to mean something.
At the same time, I’m grateful that our country is free, and that we aren’t being encouraged to take little steps of hatred against a particular group of people. I’m glad I can shop where I like without the SA trying to stop me.
But it could happen someday. Not for a very long time, some would quickly add. But seventy years from now? Maybe. And, if by God’s grace I’m a 90-year-old grandma at that time, I hope that I’ll have the courage to be just a little bit like Julie Bonhoeffer.