Bonhoeffer file photo [9474]

Dietrich Bonhoeffer

Given NameDietrich
Born4 Feb 1906
Died9 Apr 1945


ww2dbaseDietrich Bonhoeffer was born, with a twin sister Sabine, into an upper-class family in Breslau, Germany. His father, Karl Bonhoeffer, was a professor of neurology and psychiatry at the University of Berlin and also the director of the psychiatric clinic at Charit├ę Hospital, which was also in Berlin. His mother was Paula von Hase, daughter of Countess Klara von Hase. As a child, he was a gifted pianist, and it was thought that he would either become a musician or follow his father's footsteps and become a doctor. Surprising everyone in the family, at the age of 14, he chose to pursue a career in religion instead. He attended T├╝bingen University for a year, toured Rome, and then returned to Berlin in 1924 to enroll in the University of Berlin. He graduated from the University of Berlin in 1927 with a doctorate in theology. In 1927, he courted fellow theologian Elizabeth Zinn, but as both were more focused in religion than their personal lives, the relationship fizzled in 1935. Between 1928 and 1931, he worked and studied in Spain, United States, Mexico, Libya, Cuba, and his home country of Germany. He was ordained on 15 Nov 1931 at the St. Matthew's Church in Berlin.

ww2dbaseWhen the Nazi Party rose to power in 1933, Bonhoeffer became one of the first religious leaders to oppose Nazism. Two days after Adolf Hitler was made Chancellor, he delivered a radio address against Hitler, but the radio address was cut short; it was unclear whether it was a technical problem or it was sabotaged by a Hitler supporter, though in either case it required Bonhoeffer to publish and distribute the full text of his address, as his key reasons against the Nazi Party were at the end of his address and were not delivered over the air. Bonhoeffer was also a prominent leader against the Nazi prejudice against Jews. Between 1934 and 1935, he was the pastor of two German-speaking churches, St. Paul's and Sydenham, in London, England, United Kingdom. In 1934, he was among those who organized the Confessing Church in Germany. As the Nazi regime absorbed the mainstream Lutheran church, it began to suppress the Confessing Church; as a part of that effort, Bonhoeffer's authorization to teach at the University of Berlin was revoked in Aug 1936. Also in 1936, he received his doctoral degree in theology. In Aug 1937, Heinrich Himmler declared it was illegal to teach the theology of the Confessing Church, and the church's underground seminary was shut down by the Gestapo in the following month, with 27 pastors arrested. One of his sisters, Christine, married Hans von Dohnanyi, a German politician who was also dissatisfied with the Nazi Regime. It was Dohnanyi who introduced Bonhoeffer to members of the German military intelligence Abwehr, whose highest leaders conspired to overthrow Hitler. In Jun 1939, he traveled to the United States at the invitation of the Union Theological Seminary in New York. While in New York, he also led a congregation of German immigrants. Homesick, he returned to his family and colleagues in Germany.

ww2dbaseIn war-time Germany, Bonhoeffer was forbidden to speak in public by the Nazi German government, and by 1940 was required to regularly report his activities. In 1941, he was forbidden to publish. He joined the Abwehr, where he had already made contacts with like-minded anti-Nazi colleagues. He traveled abroad to German-occupied and neutral countries such as Norway, Sweden, and Switzerland, ostensibly to coordinate the efforts religious and social organizations that were politically aligned with Germany; in actuality, he met with those who plotted to undermine Germany. Some time in the early 1940s, he became involved in the planning of assassination attempts against Hitler. He believed that he had sinned for such murderous thoughts, but he believed that he was sacrificing himself for the greater good for Germany, and he would be able to answer to god for such a sin. In May 1942, he made contact with Anglican Bishop George Bell, a member of the British House of Lords; a report was submitted to British Foreign Minister Anthony Eden, but no further action was taken (Britain had similarly turned down many offers to help from various groups within Germany at this time).

ww2dbaseOn 6 Apr 1943, Bonhoeffer and Dohnanyi were arrested as the result of political struggles between the German SS and Abwehr organizations. Bonhoeffer was accused of corruption, evading military service, and using his position to circumvent orders to cease church activities. At this time, their anti-Nazi conspiracy had not yet been discovered. He was imprisoned at the Tegel military prison in Berlin. During his 18-month imprisonment at Tegel, a sympathetic guard named Knobloch offered to help him escape, but Bonhoeffer rejected him in fear of retribution against his family and his fiancee Maria von Wedemeyer. After the failed July Plot in 1944, which nearly succeeded in killing Hitler, a large effort to hunt down conspirators commenced, and connections were finally made between Bonhoeffer and other conspirators. He was transferred to the detention cellar of the Reich Security Head Office, then in Feb 1945 he was sent to the Buchenwald Concentration Camp. Some time later, he was moved to the Flossenb├╝rg Concentration Camp. On 4 Apr 1945, the diaries of Admiral Wilhelm Canaris, head of Abwehr, was discovered; as Hitler read them, he condemned all Abwehr conspirators to death. On 8 Apr, SS judge Otto Thorbeck sentenced him to death per Hitler's orders, and he was executed by hanging on the next day.

Eric Metaxas, Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy

Last Major Revision: Feb 2010

Dietrich Bonhoeffer Interactive Map


Dietrich Bonhoeffer with students, spring 1932Dietrich Bonhoeffer with confirmation candidates Ingrid and John Kruesemann, Sydenham, London, UK, 1934Dietrich Bonhoeffer, circa 1930sGerman theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer, date unknown

Dietrich Bonhoeffer Timeline

4 Feb 1906 Dietrich Bonhoeffer was born in Breslau, Province of Silesia, Prussia, Germany.
15 Nov 1931 Dietrich Bonhoeffer was ordained at the St. Matthew's Church in Berlin, Germany.
13 Jan 1943 Dietrich Bonhoeffer became engaged to Maria von Wedemeyer.
6 Apr 1943 Dietrich Bonhoeffer was arrested for being part of an attempt on Hitler's life.
8 Apr 1945 SS judge Otto Thorbeck sentenced Dietrich Bonhoeffer to death for conspiracy against the German state.
9 Apr 1945 Wilhelm Canaris was executed by hanging by piano wire at the Flossenb├╝rg concentration camp in Flossenb├╝rg, southern Germany.

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Visitor Submitted Comments

1. Gregg Heilman says:
12 Feb 2010 08:00:07 PM

I was able to rent this DVD about Dietrich Bonhoeffer. Don't put it off another day. It is an inspiring story of man who loved his God, his people and Served HIM and man with his life.

Bonhoeffer: Agent of Grace
(2000) UR

Dietrich Bonhoeffer (Ulrich Tukur) pays the ultimate price for speaking out against the Nazi party in this dramatization of the German Lutheran minister's life. The clergyman actively opposes Hitler's regime, heroically condemning its atrocities. On many occasions, he has the opportunity to keep his peace and save his own life, but he stands by his moral convictions and is eventually hanged by the Nazis one month before the end of the war.

This movie is:Suspenseful, Emotional
2. Anonymous says:
28 Dec 2020 01:03:35 PM

Great site!
Just know you would wish o know small typo above. accussed instead of accused
Thanks for all your good work
3. Commenter identity confirmed C. Peter Chen says:
30 Dec 2020 07:29:29 PM

Thank you, Anonymous of 28 Dec 2020, the misspelling has been corrected.

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