Dietrich Bonhoeffer, 1906-1945

Dr Nicholas Evans

Senior Lecturer in Diaspora History

Wilberforce Institute, University of Hull

N.J.Evans@hull.ac.uk

For Holocaust Memorial Day 2023, Dr Nicholas Evans reveals the story behind one of the less familiar names on our wall – Dietrich Bonhoeffer

When the Wilberforce Institute opened in 2006 the rear of our home at Oriel Chambers, facing Hull’s Mandela Gardens, included the names of 18 key figures from across the world who fought for human rights in different times and places. Whilst some needed no introduction, such as Nelson Mandela, Sylvia Pankhurst, Mahatma Gandhi and Martin Luther King Jr., a couple have perpetually left visitors to our Institute and the surrounding Hull Museums asking for further information. One of the entries on the space entitled ‘Names On The Wall’ that people most often ask about is that of Dietrich Bonhoeffer, a German Lutheran pastor who died a month before the end of the Second World War. For Holocaust Memorial Day this year we highlight aspects of his life that justify his inclusion in our list of freedom fighters – he was executed because of his opposition to Nazism.

Bonhoeffer was born in Breslau, Poland, then part of Germany, in 1906. A German Lutheran theologian, he studied in both Europe and America, but was especially influenced by his time in the Abyssinian Baptist Church in Harlem, New York. Upon returning to Germany in 1931, his career as a scholar and cleric was dramatically affected by the coming to power of the Nazis in 1933. Two days after Hitler’s installation as Chancellor he spoke out against the Nazi leader, appealing to fellow Christians to oppose Nazism, and producing one of his most memorable quotes “We are not to simply bandage the wounds of victims beneath the wheels of injustice, we are to drive a spoke into the wheel itself”.

Alert to the dangers of Hitler’s rhetoric and Nazi influence on the German Evangelical Church, Bonhoeffer appealed for racial justice and founded his own seminary that was opposed to Nazi influence. When this was closed by the Gestapo, he found himself unable to officially speak or write out against the evils of the Holocaust.

Prevented from leaving Germany, he instead became part of the resistance movement fighting against Nazism within Germany, but was arrested in April 1943 for his involvement in Operation 7, a scheme that managed to smuggle fourteen Jews on deportation lists from Germany to Switzerland on visas; he was imprisoned awaiting trial. In February 1945, during the final days of Nazism, he was sent to the infamous Buchenwald concentration camp, before ultimately being stripped naked and executed at the Flossenbürg concentration camp on 9 April 1945, four weeks before Victory in Europe [VE] day. His influence continued beyond his death, however, with adherents including Dr Martin Luther King Jr. citing his writings and his attempts to bridge ecclesiastical divides to champion freedoms. Later declared a twentieth century martyr by many churches, a statue of him was added to the exterior of Westminster Abbey in 1998.

Holocaust Memorial Day has been marked on 27 January in the UK since 2001 as a day to remember all victims of genocide because it was the anniversary of the Russian liberation of the Auschwitz Concentration Camp. However I hope this blog is a timely reminder that death and slavery did not end on 27 January 1945. Like Bonhoeffer, countless innocent lives have been ended prematurely by both genocide and slavery around the world before, during and after the liberation of Auschwitz. This Holocaust Memorial Day, I argue, we need more people like Bonhoeffer to make a stand against those tyrants who seek to deprive us of our basic human rights. In very uncertain times, we should not take freedom for granted, but must speak out. Ordinary people can make a difference!

Programme of Public Lectures at the Wilberforce Institute, Spring 2023

As Spring Term beckons, Dr Judith Spicksley, co-ordinator of the public lecture programme for the Wilberforce Institute, lays out the exciting and varied schedule of talks that are on offer this year.

Thank you to everyone who attended our lectures in the autumn term, in person or online. As the new year begins, I write to draw your attention to the public lectures we have on offer this spring. All will take place at the Wilberforce Institute, Oriel Chambers, at 27 High Street, Hull, HU1 1NE, unless otherwise stated. Join us for refreshments from 4.15pm and stay afterwards for a glass of wine and a chance to talk with our speaker. If you can’t make it in person, you can join us online. Specific links for each of the talks are listed below. For more details of how to stream lectures, or directions to the Institute, please contact Sophie Blanchard at Sophie.Blanchard@hull.ac.uk The full programme of lectures is also available on the ‘Event Programme’ tab.

Our first talk is on Wednesday 25 January 2023, 4.30-6pm GMT. As it’s a joint venture with the Cultures of Incarceration Centre, it will not be in the Institute, but on campus, in the Wilberforce Building, WILB-LT12. You can also sign up to stream here.

Our speaker is Professor Steven Sarson of Université Jean Moulin in Lyon, who will talk on ‘A “Cruel War against Human Nature”: Conditional Proslavery in the US Declaration of Independence’. His interests are wide-ranging, from the history of the British Atlantic, to Great Britain in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, to the history of America, and Barack Obama.

Professor Sarson began his teaching career as a lecturer at the University of East Anglia, and has since held posts at John Hopkins University and Towson State University in Maryland, and Swansea University in Wales. He is now Professor of American Civilisation in the Department of English at Jean Moulin University, and it is in this capacity that he comes to talk. His abstract is as follows.

It is commonly believed that the Declaration of Independence promised a future of equality and liberty for ‘all men’, and consequently that the continued existence of slavery contradicted the founding principles of the United States. This paper, however, based on a larger project on history and historical consciousness in the Declaration, argues that some of the document’s logic was consistent with the continuation of slavery. If the ‘ends’ of government were the protection of the life, liberty, property, and ‘Safety and Happiness’ of its subjects, then it was necessary to suppress internal and external enemies. According to Grotius, Locke, and others, that allowed for the enslavement of prisoners of war. And according to the Declaration’s own American history, it allowed for the enslavement of Africans and African Americans. The Declaration’s ‘one people’ had been forged out of the common ‘circumstances of our emigration and settlement here’ that only applied to European Americans. By contrast, Africans and African Americans were a once ‘distant people’ who were ‘obtruded’ on America via the ‘warfare of the … king of Great Britain’ who then ‘excited’ them into ‘domestic insurrections amongst us’. Enslavement was therefore one of the ‘Guards for their future security’ that ‘one people’ needed against another, at least until that enemy could be expatriated (in line with the belief of Jefferson and others that integration was impossible). Slavery certainly violated ‘the most sacred rights of life & liberty’ and thus troubled Jefferson deeply, but the often-quoted doctrine of salus populi est suprema lex (‘the safety of the people is the highest law’) over-rode such concerns and was the basis of a conditional proslavery (the very real inverse of William Freehling’s ‘conditional antislavery’) embedded in the Declaration’s history and historical consciousness.

For directions to the lecture room or other enquiries about this talk please email Becky Day at R.Day@hull.ac.uk

In February we have what has now become an annual fixture when current and former PhD students come to talk about their research.  This year our ‘What’s going on at the Wilberforce Institute?’ event will take place on Wednesday February 15 2023, 4.30-6pm GMT, and will involve two of the students of our Falling Through the Net Cluster, James Baker and Jasmine Holding Brown.

Every year the University sets aside a sum of money to fund clusters of PhD projects on specific topics that align with its strategic plan. This money is distributed via a competition, in which departments and Institutes within the University bid for cluster projects, and are assessed by a panel for their originality, value and strategic importance. In 2018 the Institute was successful in gaining funding for this cluster, which ran from 2019-2022. Its aim was to examine the exploitation of children, and more specifically, how and why children trafficked across borders fall through the web of protections that we expect the family, the voluntary sector, and ultimately the state, to provide.

James’ work focuses on the apologies and memorials that followed from the experience of British children forced to migrate to Australia [‘Reconciling British Child Deportation to Australia, 1913-1970: Apologies, Memorials and Family Reunions’]. Jasmine has examined the treatment of British children forced to migrate to Canada alongside that of indigenous children [‘Exploiting the Poor, Erasing the Indigenous: The Child Subjects of British Settler Colonialism in Canada, c. 1867 – 1981’] I hope you will be able to come and hear what they have to say.

For directions to the Institute, or any other queries please contact Sophie Blanchard at Sophie.Blanchard@hull.ac.uk, or you can sign up to stream this lecture online here.

For our next public lecture on Wednesday March 15 2023, at 4.30-6pm GMT, we will be welcoming Dr Dean Clay, currently working in the Department of History at Hull. The title of his talk is “‘To Bunco a Yankee’ – The American Congo Reform Movement, 1903-1909”.

Dr Clay taught at Liverpool John Moores University, and the universities of Newcastle and Northumbria before he came to Hull. His research lies in the field of activism, particularly on movements and organisations whose activities transcend national boundaries, with a specific focus on how activists coordinate and the impact of their activism on government domestic and foreign policy.

Dr Clay was a Committee Member of the European research project ‘The Congo Free State Across Language, Culture, Media’ which ran from 2015-18, and is still Editor for the associated website, Congo Free State.  It is on this subject that he will be talking. His abstract is below.

The atrocities committed in the Congo Free State (CFS) under the rule of King Leopold II during the age of imperialism in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries eventually became one of the greatest international scandals in recorded history. Of all the participants in the scramble for Africa, engaged by most European colonial powers in the nineteenth century, Leopold II, King of the Belgians, left arguably the biggest and most damaging legacy of all. In April 1884, the United States became the first nation to formally recognise the International Association of the Congo’s claim to the territory that would become the CFS. Leopold successfully lobbied President Chester A. Arthur to support his claim, emphasising free trade, humanitarianism, his plan to end the Arab slave trade, and the involvement of Welsh-American Henry Morton Stanley in the project. It was this initial recognition of the flag of the CFS by the United States that later provided the foundations for the American Congo reform movement in the early twentieth century.

The purpose of this paper is to examine the underexplored dimensions of American humanitarian activism on the Congo issue by analysing the reform activities of the American Congo Reform Association (ACRA). The paper will examine the methods that the ACRA deployed in its reform campaign, the transnational dimensions to the campaign through its relationship with the Congo Reform Association (CRA) in Britain, and the impact of its campaign for reform on the foreign policy of the United States government. In doing so, it challenges the dominant historiographical narrative of the reform movement that attributes its success largely to the CRA, instead highlighting the significant role that the ACRA played, and demonstrates the agency of non-state humanitarian actors in directing foreign policy regarding humanitarian issues during the Progressive Era in the United States.

For directions to the Institute, or any other queries please contact Sophie Blanchard at Sophie.Blanchard@hull.ac.uk, or you can sign up to stream this lecture online here.

In April we move away from history towards contemporary concerns. On Wednesday 19 April 2023, at 4.30-6pm BST we welcome Dr Rosemary Broad, Senior Lecturer in Criminology at the University of Manchester.  She will talk about ‘Women in modern slavery offending’. PLEASE NOTE: This talk will also be held on campus, in the Wilberforce Building, WILB-LT12.

Dr Broad’s research includes human trafficking, modern slavery, responses to violence, organised crime, the management of offenders and prison education. She has published in the British Journal of Criminology, the Howard Journal of Criminal Justice, the European Journal of Criminal Policy and Research, and the European Review of Organised Crime.

Dr Broad, who has acted as a consultant for the Home Office in a review of their modern slavery research, also has extensive work experience in criminal justice institutions and remains involved with working with perpetrators of domestic violence in the community. Her talk, outlined in the abstract below, will focus on the women who perpetrate human trafficking and modern slavery offences.

At a global scale, women are represented in human trafficking and modern slavery crimes at proportionately higher levels than almost any other type of offending (UNODC, 2020) and this trend is represented in similar ways at national and local levels. But contrary to the stereotypical narratives surrounding perpetrators of such crimes as foreign national organised criminals, many of the women that become implicated have more complex journeys into offending that require a more diverse understanding. These female perpetrators often have backgrounds of complex vulnerability, marginalisation and responsibility to care for dependent relatives which contribute to their offending as well as framing prior victimisation which also provides the foundation for later criminal involvement. This presentation will draw on over a decade of empirical research to consider the question of how the over-representation of women convicted for these offences can be explained, drawing on theoretical frameworks on women’s offending more generally as well as a more specific focus on how policy and practice responses to human trafficking, modern slavery and migration may contribute to these pathways.

For directions to the University, or any other queries please contact Sophie Blanchard at Sophie.Blanchard@hull.ac.uk To sign up to stream this lecture online please click here.

We bring our spring season to a close on Wednesday 17 May 2023, at 4.30-6PM BST with a talk by Dr Nicholas Evans, the longest standing member of the Wilberforce Institute, and Senior Lecturer in Diaspora History at the University of Hull. The title of his talk is ‘Memorialising antislavery in South Africa: unearthing black agency’.

Dr Evans researches migration to, through and from Britain, and has an interest in Jewish history, diasporas and slavery. His latest publication, edited with Professor Angela McCarthy, is Death in the Diaspora: British and Irish Gravestones (Edinburgh University Press, 2020). This pioneering comparative study of migrant death markers (gravestones and epitaphs) across the British and Irish worlds reflects his more recent interests in death studies and memorialisation.

Dr Evans, whose range of interests sees him regularly invited to give talks at local, national and international level, is well-known to many of you. For this talk, he will draw together his work on slavery and gravestones. His abstract is below.

Following the passing of the British Slave Trade Act in 1807, the Royal Navy assumed the role of ending slave trading by British vessels, and those of other nations, around the Atlantic and Indian Oceans. One of the key centres for this antislavery endeavour was the Cape Station located at Simon’s Town, South Africa. Despite the perception that the crews involved in this liberating endeavour were exclusively white, evidence from the oldest surviving naval cemetery in Simon’s Town challenges this view. This presentation thereby reveals how people freed from slavery during the nineteenth century played an active role in helping other Africans to maintain their freedom.

For directions to the Institute, or any other queries please contact Sophie Blanchard at Sophie.Blanchard@hull.ac.uk, or you can sign up to stream this lecture online here.

I hope there is something here to draw your interest. If there is anything else you would like to know please get in touch with me at Judith.Spicksley@hull.ac.uk or Sophie at the email address above. We look forward to welcoming you in person or online.  

REF 2021: WE GOT A 4*!

After a longer than usual wait, the results of the Research Exercise Framework 2021, otherwise known as REF 2021, have finally been made public, and we at the Wilberforce Institute are very proud of our success. We got a 4* rating, the highest level possible, for our impact case study, ‘The Wilberforce Legacy: Using historical and contemporary research to meet the challenge of Modern Slavery’.

For those of you who don’t know, the purposes of REF 2021 were threefold:

  • To provide accountability for public investment in research and produce evidence of the benefits of this investment.
  • To provide benchmarking information and establish reputational yardsticks, for use within the HE sector and for public information.
  • To inform the selective allocation of funding for research. 

In short, the government uses the REF exercise to determine how much research funding each higher education institution will receive each year: the four UK higher education funding bodies use it to inform the allocation of circa £2 billion in public funding invested in research annually. The key facts about the REF are available here.

As a format the REF was last used to assess the quality of research in higher education institutions in 2014, so it’s been seven years since any assessment of this kind has been undertaken.  The Research Assessment Exercise (RAE), a similar exercise which the REF replaced, had from its inception in 1986, taken place approximately once every five years. It had been introduced that year by Margaret Thatcher’s government to determine the amount of funding that was to be allocated to individual UK Universities at a time of tight budgetary restrictions.  A number of changes to the way in which research is assessed have been made over the years. This included the introduction in 2008 of a four-point quality rating scale, rising from 1* for ‘Quality that is recognised nationally in terms of originality, significance and rigour’, to the much sought after 4*: ‘Quality that is world-leading in terms of originality, significance and rigour’.

The REF involved a process of expert review, carried out by expert panels for 34 subject-based units of assessment (UOAs), under the guidance of four main panels. These expert panels consisted of senior academics, international members, and research users

Assessors had to review research from three distinct perspectives:

  • the quality of the outputs (e.g. publications, performances, and exhibitions)
  • their impact beyond academia, and
  • the quality of the environment that is provided to support research. 

Significantly, the REF was the first exercise to assess the impact of research outside the higher education sector itself. Impact was defined as ‘an effect on, change or benefit to the economy, society, culture, public policy or services, health, the environment or quality of life, beyond academia’. This idea has rightly continued to gain traction: following on from a review of the effectiveness of REF 2014, more emphasis was placed in the 2021 round on the importance of impact. There was also a call for interdisciplinary collaborations to be more widely rewarded.

Both of these metrics play to the strengths of the Wilberforce Institute. First we are by design an interdisciplinary research institute, bringing together history, social science, heritage and law, as we seek to use an understanding of the past to inform our approach to the present. We also employ practitioners who work on issues around social auditing, on raising awareness of modern slavery, and on taking action to prevent it. This means that our interdisciplinary research can have a direct impact.

Despite our small team of people, the 4* rating of our impact case study revealed just how successful our efforts had been in the period covered by the REF exercise, 2014-2020. The study focused on two particular areas of success. The first concerned the quantification of slavery. The Institute had taken a key role in developing the metrics for the Global Slavery Index (GSI), which provided the first comprehensive and accessible measure of the extent of modern slavery in 167 countries around the world.

Aimed at informing practitioners and policymakers, the GSI was disseminated around the world, and has been used by governments, researchers, NGOs and charities to support the liberation of slaves and their reintegration into society. In addition, Professor Kevin Bales, lead author of the 2014 GSI, built on its success to develop (in collaboration with the Chief Scientific Officer at the Home Office) a new methodology for calculating modern slavery in the Britain. The Multiple Systems Estimation (MSE) framework resulted in a radical reassessment by the UK Government of the number of people enslaved in Britain. That number – of between 10,000 and 13,000 men, women and children – was roughly four times the figure produced by the National Crime Agency’s Human Trafficking Centre in 2013. Taken together, the GSI and the MSE transformed our understanding of the prevalence of modern slavery in the UK. In doing so, it provided the impetus for a new British Government Modern Slavery Strategy and Bill, and paved the way for the introduction of the Modern Slavery Act in 2015.

The second area of success concerned anti-slavery opinion building. Professor John Oldfield,  now Associate and Emeritus Professor of the Wilberforce Institute, was instrumental in developing the concept of an antislavery ‘usable past’ that demonstrated a continuous link between the past and the present, through what can be described as an active ‘protest memory’. He used these ideas to develop two Arts and Humanities Research Council funded projects, the web resource Stolen Lives and The Antislavery Usable Past. Together, the Institute’s interdisciplinary team developed new methods of presenting and disseminating information by juxtaposing the experiences of enslaved people from the eighteenth to twenty-first centuries in an easy to access format.  Between 2015 and 2021, the Stolen Lives website had 34,000 pageviews and 8,185 views of the ‘Repairing Broken Lives’ video resources.

Alongside Stolen Lives (2015) and the Antislavery Usable Past project (2019), the Institute designed and delivered a number of public campaigns to raise awareness of historical and modern slavery, using music, film, teaching aids, exhibitions and web resources.  These included the #HiddenInPlainSight campaign (launched in November 2016, which placed ‘human packaging’ at high-footfall locations), and the #BreakTheChain campaign (launched in London in 2018, using a ‘human vending machine’), which drew attention to the 25 million people trapped in forced labour around the world.

These opinion-building initiatives have been adopted by many key stakeholders and have directly informed national public broadcasting campaigns. Stolen Lives, for example, has raised awareness of slavery at over 60 different public events and its educational materials have been used in schools across the UK. This resource has also had international impact, most notably in Sierra Leone, West Africa, where it proved the inspiration for an exhibition on modern slavery at the National Museum of Sierra Leone in 2017, the first of its kind. Subsequently, the British Council in Sierra Leone, working in collaboration with the Institute, arranged for the translation of songs from Stolen Lives into local languages and used them as resources in its ‘Connecting Classrooms’ programme. To date this has reached over 30,000 students and helped to raise awareness of modern slavery in Sierra Leone. Finally, and importantly, the work of the Institute was shared with local schools and communities in the Humber region. Performances from Stolen Lives have also been held at Hull’s Freedom Festival which attracts audiences of over 130,000.

Academic research is always of its time, and the numbers estimated in the GSI and MSE were very soon out of date. Some of these numbers were included in the Stolen Lives project, so that here too, there is information that is no longer current. But other elements of Stolen Lives continue to have relevance. Reflecting recently on the impact of Stolen Lives seven years on, Professor Oldfield noted that although he would do some things differently now, much of the content in the collection remains as impactful as it did at its creation. You can of course judge for yourselves by visiting the website.

Professor Oldfield reflecting on the impact of Stolen Lives during the recent workshop, ‘Strategies for encouraging children and young people to engage with human rights’, held at the Wilberforce Institute on Thursday May 12, 2022.

Receiving a 4* rating for our impact case study ‘The Wilberforce Legacy: Using historical and contemporary research to meet the challenge of Modern Slavery’, is hugely satisfying, not least because it reveals to us that we can make a difference. But it also reminds us that there is always more to understand about the nature of slavery and exploitation, in the past and the present. Our success in REF 2021 will help us to continue that research.