Meet Dietrich Bonhoeffer

Dietrich Bonhoeffer was born on February 4, 1906 to Karl and Paula Bonhoeffer in Breslau in eastern Germany (modern-day Poland). Homeschooled by his parents along with his seven siblings, Dietrich went on to study at the University of Berlin and graduated with honors in 1927. He later earned a masters degree at Union Theological Seminary in New York.

In 1931 Bonhoeffer joined the theological faculty at the University of Berlin, where his father had taught. His move to Berlin came at a time when Germany was being transformed by the influence of Adolf Hitler and his increasingly powerful Nazi Party. Bonhoeffer, disgusted by the anti-Semitism of Hitler's leadership, first directly opposed the Nazi regime in 1933 by rejecting a high-profile parish post in Berlin, stating that he would not take a position for which his "non-Aryan" colleagues were denied consideration.

In 1934, upset by what he called the complacency of the German church, Bonhoeffer founded the "Confessing Church," a church dedicated to remaining free from the influence of Nazism at a time when Nazi ideals had all but usurped control of the mainstream German church. During the following years, the Nazi regime placed increased pressure on the "Confessing Church" until, in 1937, Bonhoeffer was forbidden to teach. In 1938, Bonhoeffer was banned from the city of Berlin.

Left with very few options, Bonhoeffer was forced to put his preaching into practice. He joined the resistance movement in 1939 and shortly thereafter the Gestapo issued an order that forbade him from ever preaching, printing, or publishing. His involvement in the resistance movement deepened until he, a proclaimed pacifist, ultimately had a hand in organizing the failed assassination attempt on Hitler in July of 1944. He was arrested in 1943 for unrelated charges. Tragically the arrest came just shortly after his engagement to Maria von Wedemeyer. He was imprisoned in three Nazi death camps where he passed his time by writing voluminously. He was hanged for treason along with his co-conspirators on April 9, 1945 in the Flossenberg camp. The hanging took place only a few days before the liberation of the camp and just 21 days before Hitler's suicide.

In August of 1996, more than 50 years after Bonhoeffer's death, the Ecumenical News International reported, "A Berlin court has ruled that Dietrich Bonhoeffer, the German Protestant theologian executed in 1945 for his resistance to Adolf Hitler, was innocent of high treason, the charge on which he was hanged." The ruling brought with it closure and renewed public honor to a pastor, teacher, theologian, writer, and political activist that heroically used the strength of his Christian faith to oppose the evils of Nazism.

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