Hello! Today I’m going to tell you about the life of Dietrich Bonhoeffer, a pastor who lived during both World War I and World War II. He had one of the most interesting and tragic lives that I have ever heard about. I can’t believe that I had never heard of him before the past school year! After studying (and getting depressed about) WWII for a few months, it felt so great to learn about someone who stood up to all that was happening during that time and who even died for his God. Here’s his story-
Dietrich Bonhoeffer was born on February 4, 1906, in Wroclaw, Poland. His family moved to Germany soon afterwards. He was the sixth child of eight. Every child in his family was extremely intelligent, but their father taught them that having a high IQ was pointless if they didn’t know how to use it for good purposes. All of his siblings took their father’s advice, and all his brothers went on to have very prestigious jobs. One of his siblings, Karl-Friedrich, went on to work on splitting the atom with Max Planck and Albert Einstein.
At the age of thirteen Dietrich decided that he would become a pastor. This decision was ridiculed by most of his older siblings, but Dietrich remained firm. Though his mother was a devout Protestant, Dietrich’s father, Karl Ludwig Bonhoeffer, was an atheist, and because of that did not approve of his youngest son’s decision. But because Dietrich felt that becoming a pastor was the path that God had chosen for him, his family could not dissuade him.
Go back to 1914 for a second. In July of that year, World War I broke out and Dietrich’s once-happy life ended. Everyone’s food was rationed, and most people in Germany starved. WWI was one of the bloodiest wars in all of history, and one of Dietrich’s own brothers, Walter, died. Walter’s death sent Dietrich’s mother almost into shock, and she was never the same afterwards. Dietrich was so affected by his brother’s death that he seemed to grow up overnight.
After Dietrich graduated, he went first to the United States, where he became an assistant pastor for a time. Then after going back to Europe and traveling for a while there, he settled back down with his parents. Around this time Adolf Hitler, the leader of the Nazi party, and his views, were becoming more and more prevalent in Germany. Dietrich preached against them constantly, but most Germans were blind to the evil which Hitler intended.
After Hitler became chancellor of Germany, most of the Jewish people in Germany began disappearing. Hitler blamed the Jews in Germany for all the problems, like losing WWI and going completely bankrupt, on the Jewish. Nobody knew what exactly happened to them after they disappeared, but most of them were either taken to concentration camps or killed almost immediately.
One of Dietrich’s sisters was married to a Jewish man, so after helping them, Dietrich several times helped Jewish families escape to the border. This was at a huge risk to himself, as I’ll explain later, but Dietrich believed that “Silence in the face of evil is itself evil: God will not hold us guiltless. Not to speak is to speak. Not to act is to act.”
So Dietrich joined the Confessing Church, a group of Christians who spoke out against the Nazis and the Nazis’ beliefs. Hitler was attempting at this time to twist the beliefs of Christians, and the Gestapo immediately targeted anybody who disagreed with him.
During WWII, Dietrich, after several months of fruitless speeches against the Nazis, was finally talked into joining a plot with one of his brothers-in-law to assassinate Hitler. He wasn’t extremely involved in the plot because he was too busy with the Confessing Church, but his name was in all of their records.
Around this time Dietrich became engaged to Maria von Wedemeyer. They were never married, though, because the Gestapo soon took Dietrich off to prison for helping Jews to the border. He spent several months in prison, writing his “Letters and Papers from Prison” which are now sold as a book. After the assassination plot failed, the Gestapo found all of the records for the group of people Dietrich was working with and discovered his name in them. Dietrich was murdered by the Gestapo on April 9, 1945, just three weeks before the end of World War II. He was only 39.
The fact that Dietrich, a man who had worked against Hitler for so many years and was so close to seeing the end of the Nazis, died for helping Jews and an assassination plot seems so tragic, but Dietrich himself couldn’t think of a higher honor than to die for what he believed in.
Cheap grace is the grace we bestow on ourselves. Cheap grace is the preaching of forgiveness without requiring repentance, baptism without church discipline, Communion without confession…Cheap grace is grace without discipleship, grace without the cross, grace without Jesus Christ, living and incarnate.
Dietrich understood what true faith was, and he knew that even if he was martyred for his faith it could not change who he was in Christ.