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 Adolf Hitler’s 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.

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.

Bonhoeffer Biographer Eric Metaxas on Bonhoeffer’s Role as Anti-Nazi Resister