Dietrich Bonhoffer, along with Martin Niemoller, was one of the leading Protestant ministers during the era of Nazi Germany. Bonhoffer faced great danger on a daily basis while he had his freedom as he failed to bow down to all that the Nazi church stood for.
Dietrich Bonhoffer was born in Breslau on February 4th 1906. His father was Karl Bonhoffer, a well-known psychiatrist and university professor. Bonhoffer decided on a theological career and after post-school studies at Tübingen and Berlin he passed his first theological exam in 1928. In 1930 Bonhoffer went to New York to study at the Union Theological Seminary and in 1931 he became a lecturer in the theological department of Berlin University.
When Hitler came to power in January 1933, Bonhoffer quickly realised that Hitler was using the church for his own purposes. Bonhoffer therefore gave his support to the Confessional Church. He visited many Anglican communities and became a driving force behind the Confessional Church. It was a dangerous thing to do as Hitler’s Third Reich expected and required total obedience to the Führer – even through the Reich Church. Gleichshaltung did not have what was effectively an opponent to the Reich Church as part of its brief.
Bonhoffer worked for the Abwehr’s counterespionage service and became a courier to Switzerland and Sweden – both neutral nations in World War Two. In 1942 he carried with him to Sweden proposals for a ceasefire in the war from disaffected Germans. He also helped Jews escape abroad.
Dietrich Bonhoffer was arrested on April 5th 1943 and charged with “subversion of the armed forces”. He was held at Tegel Prison. After the 1944 July Bomb Plot, Bonhoffer was moved to the Gestapo’s headquarters in Berlin. On February 7th 1945 he was sent to Buchenwald concentration camp and then to Flossenbürg concentration camp. Bonhoffer was tried by a court martial and no witnesses were allowed to support him and no written accounts remain of the proceedings. He was found guilty and sentenced to death.
Dietrich Bonhoffer was hanged at Flossenbürg on April 9th 1945.