"Victim of the Holocaust"

Dietrich Bonhoeffer

by Alexis Silva-Doyle

". . . the one German theologian who will lead us into the third millennium." - Dorothee Soelle

        Dietrich Bonhoeffer was a martyr of the Protestant Resistance Movement who fought against the intolerance of the Nazis in Germany. He was born on February 4, 1906, to Karl and Paula Bonhoeffer. Dietrich had seven brothers and sisters, growing up in Breslau, Eastern Germany (which is now part of Poland). Dietrich’s father, Karl Bonhoeffer, was a professor of Psychiatry and Neurology at the University of Berlin. His mother Paula was also a university graduate, which was unusual at the time for a woman. He had three brothers: Karl-Friedrick, Walter, Klaus, and four sisters: Ursela, Christine, Suzanne, and his twin sister Sabine.
         As a child he was educated at home. Later, he studied at Tubingen and the University of Berlin. By 1927, he had graduated with honors. At the young age of twenty-one, Bonhoeffer finished his doctoral thesis called: "Sanctorum Communio: A Dogmatic Enquiry into a Sociology of the Church." Not too long afterward, he served as a vicar in a German parish in Barcelona, Spain.
        In 1930, Dietrich studied in New York at the Union Theological Seminary.

Union Theological Seminary in New York

         "At the very first session I was struck by Dietrich Bonhoeffer, not only because he outdid practically all of us in theological knowledge and ability . . . [but] because here was someone who thought for himself and already knew what he wanted, and wanted what he knew. I actually had the experience…of seeing [this] blond young student contradicting the revered" - A Fellow student

Dietrich Bonhoeffer with Book

        During the year that he was in the United States he traveled to Cuba and Mexico and worked as a guest speaker at the Abyssinian Baptist Church in Harlem. He returned to Germany in August of 1931, and was offered a teaching job at the University of Berlin, which he took.
        By the time he was twenty-seven years old he was offered a parish post in Berlin, but rejected it because many "non-Aryan" colleagues were denied consideration. He was unhappy with the conditions developing in Germany.
        Dietrich was offered a posting in London. There he became a founding member of the Confessing Church, which was a haven for Jewish and Christian refugees fleeing persecution. After a branch of the Confessing Church was organized in May of 1934, at Barmen, Germany, Bonhoeffer returned from England in 1935 to lead the Confessing Church Seminary at Zingst. His continuing dangerous work for what became known as the "Protestant Resistance Movement" and in preparing pastors for the Confessing Church continued all the way up to 1939 when Hitler invaded Poland.
        His efforts to help Jews escape to Switzerland were what led to his imprisonment in 1943.


         He was hanged in the concentration camp at Flossenbürg on April 9, 1945. Three other members of his family died at the hands of the Nazis for their participation in the Protestant resistance movement.

         "Today there are once more saints and villains. Instead of the uniform gayness of the rainy day, we have the black storm cloud and brilliant lightning flash. Outlines stand out with exaggerated sharpness. Shakespeare’s characters walk among us. The villain and the saint emerge from primeval depths and by their appearance they tear open the infernal or the divine abyss from which they come and enable us to see for a moment into mysteries of which we had never dreamed."


"Dietrich Bonhoeffer Home Page" at, 5/11/00

Giardina, Denise. Saints and Villains. New York: Ballantine Publishing Group, 1999

Green, Clifford J. (ed) Sanctorum Communio. A Theological Study of the Sociology of the Church. Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1998.

Robertson, Edwin (ed). The Prison Poems of Dietrich Bonhoeffer. Guildford, Surrey: Eagle, 1998.

Picture Credit:

Picture #1- "Dietrich Bonhoeffer" from:, 5/11/00

Picture #2 - "Union Theological Seminary in New York" from:, 5/11/00

Picture #3 - "Dietrich Bonhoeffer with Book" from:, 5/11/00

Picture #4 - "Flossenburg" from:, 5/11/00

Picture #5 - "Dietrich’s Signature" from: http://www., 5/11/00