Dietrich Bonhoeffer

1906 (Breslau) - 1945 (KZ Flossenbürg)


"The system of terror of the Hitler state can only be understood if one recognizes that it wanted above all to turn the freedom of the individual and spontaneous action into willing servility."

Dietrich Bonhoeffer was born in Breslau on 4 February 1906, the son of a professor of psychiatry. From 1923 to 1927, he studied theology in Tübingen and Berlin. In 1928, he was a curate in Barcelona, and in 1930 he spent a year studying in New York. Beginning in 1931, he was a lecturer at the Berlin University and became the student pastor at the Technical University of Berlin. In 1933, Bonhoeffer went to London as a foreign pastor. In 1935, he became the director of the preachers’ seminary of the Confessing Church in Finkenwalde, Pomerania.

In 1936, Bonhoeffer was forbidden to teach, in 1940, to speak in public and was required to report his activities regularly to the police. In 1941, he was forbidden to print or to publish. Beginning in 1938, he had knowledge of resistance activities. In 1940, he was enlisted in the military intelligence service (Abwehr), working for the resistance group of General Ludwig Beck, General Hans Oster and their collaborator Hans von Dohnanyi. Bonhoeffer’s task was to communicate the continuation of the German resistance to the Allies while he was travelling abroad, and to spread information about plans for a coup.

On 5 April 1943, Bonhoeffer was arrested along with his sister Christine and her husband, Hans von Dohnanyi, and they were brought to the prison in Berlin-Tegel. Because his close ties to the resistance could not be proven initially, it appeared that Bonhoeffer was not in any real danger. But the assassination attempt on Hitler on 20 July 1944 failed and documents implicating Bonhoeffer surfaced in the investigation. In October 1944, he was transferred to the Gestapo cellar in Prinz-Albert-Strasse, then on 7 February 1945 to Buchenwald, where he was held in the SS detention cell building, and from there, on 3 March, via Regensburg and Schönberg in the Bavarian Forest, he was brought to Flossenbürg Concentration Camp.

On the night after his arrival on 8 April 1945, Dietrich Bonhoeffer was sentenced to death at a drumhead court-martial and hanged.