Berlin, Germany · April 5, 1943

On this date in 1943 in Berlin, Lutheran pastor Dietrich Bon­hoeffer was arrested at his parents’ home by two Gestapo agents. Bon­hoeffer was a deeply con­victed theo­logian and a founding pastor of the Con­fessing Church (Be­kennen­de Kirche), which re­jected the Third Reich’s efforts to Nazify the Ger­man Luther­an Church. Best known for his widely in­flu­ential 1937 (in Ger­many) expo­si­tion of the differ­ence between “cheap grace” and “costly grace,” Bon­hoeffer’s The Cost of Disciple­ship ex­plored what it meant to live a gen­u­inely Chris­tian life in a dan­ger­ous and evil world (think Nazi Ger­many). Apart from his theo­log­ical writings, Bon­hoeffer was a fierce cri­tic of the Nazis’ eutha­na­sia pro­gram and the geno­ci­dal per­se­cu­tion of Jews. (His twin sister married a de­scen­dent of Ger­man Jews.) Not sur­prisingly, the Nazis for­bade Bon­hoeffer to speak in public in 1940 and the next year with­drew his abil­ity to pub­lish. Urged by his con­science to work against the Nazi regime, he joined the Ab­wehr (Ger­man Mili­tary Intel­li­gence), an emerging cen­ter of anti-Hitler resis­tance. It was an act that shocked his Chris­tian friends and col­leagues. But his new occu­pation allowed him to spy for the Allies under the pro­tec­tion of Abwehr chief and double-agent Adm. Wil­helm Cana­ris, who would share Bon­hoeffer’s fate. Bon­hoeffer there­fore had cru­cial know­ledge of, and roles in, sev­eral attempts on Hitler’s life, including the July 20, 1944, Val­kyrie plot by the anti-Hitler cote­rie of Col. Claus von Stauffen­berg, in which Cana­ris was in­volved. Charged ini­ti­ally with re­la­tively innoc­uous of­fenses when he was picked up in April 1943, Bon­hoeffer spent 18 months in Berlin’s mili­tary pri­son in Tegel before being locked up in a deten­tion cell at the Gestapo’s high-security pri­son on Prinz-Al­brecht-Strasse. By then his con­nec­tion with the “of­ficers’ plot” to kill Hitler had come to light. In February 1945 he was se­cretly trans­ferred to the Buchen­wald con­cen­tra­tion camp. He was sum­marily tried by an SS drum­head court-mar­tial late on April 8, then hanged with Adm. Cana­ris and several other July 20th plotters at Bava­ria’s Flossen­buerg con­cen­tra­tion camp in the early morning hours of April 9, 1945, two weeks before that camp’s lib­er­ation by the Amer­i­cans and one month before the war in Europe ended.

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Dietrich Bonhoeffer (1906–1945), Lutheran Theologian, Pastor, German Resistance Martyr

German theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer, 1930sFlossenbuerg concentration camp memorial

Left: Dietrich Bonhoeffer, late 1930s. Picture was taken some time after the Con­fessing Church (Be­kennen­de Kirche) had split off from the Ger­man Evan­geli­cal Church (Reichs­kirche), which had be­come a state organ. The Con­fessing Church, in which Bon­hoeffer was a leading voice, repre­sented a major source of Chris­tian oppo­si­tion to the Nazi regime and its eccle­si­astical policies.

Right: Flossenbuerg concentration camp, Arrest­block Court­yard: Memo­rial to mem­bers of the Ger­man resis­tance exe­cuted on April 9, 1945. Names on the gra­nite block are Gen. Hans Oster, deputy head of the Ab­wehr under Wil­helm Cana­ris; Adm. Wil­helm Cana­ris; Dr. Dietrich Bon­hoeffer; Dr. Karl Sack, Ger­man jurist slated for the role of Jus­tice Minis­ter in a planned post-coup civil­ian govern­ment; Dr. Theodor Struenck, who worked under Gen. Oster; and Gen. Friedrich von Rabe­nau, a member of the Ger­man resis­tance who was shot on spe­cific orders of Reichs­fuehrer-SS Heinrich Himmler on April 15, 1945.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer Tribute (English Subtitles)