Dietrich Bonhoeffer

Dietrich Bonhoeffer n. 1 ( 4 of February of 1906 – 9 of April of 1945 ) was a religious leader German who participated in the resistance movement against Nazism . Bonhoeffer, a Protestant pastor and Lutheran theologian, was arrested and jailed. While prisoner was allegedly accused of having taken part in the plots planned by members of the Abwehr (Military Intelligence Office) to assassinate Adolf Hitler and for that reason it was finally hanged on 9 of April of 1945 .

Family and formation

Bonhoeffer was born in Breslau , Germany (today Wrocław , Poland ) into a family of the Prussian high bourgeoisie that was part of the Berlin cultural elite.

His father, Karl Ludwig Bonhoeffer (1868-1948), was professor of psychiatry and neurology, director of the psychiatric clinic of the University of Breslau ; And his mother, the pianist Paula von Hase, the granddaughter of the theologian Karl von Hase, preacher of the court of Kaiser Wilhelm II, and daughter of Klara von Hase who had been pupil of Clara Schumann and Franz Liszt , took part in the education of his Eight children (Karl-Friedrich, Walter, Klaus, Ursula, Christine, Dietrich, Sabine, Susanne).

The family moved to Berlin in 1906, where his father held the most important chair of psychiatry and neurology in Germany. Theologian Adolf von Harnack – who would later be his teacher at the University of Tübingen – was a resident of them, and Dietrich, at the age of 8, lives the horrors of World War I , in which one of his brothers and three cousins.

He studied at the Grunewald Gymnasium together with his brother Klaus and Hans von Dohnanyi , son of the composer Ernő Dohnányi , who will marry his sister Christine (parents of the conductor Christoph von Dohnányi and the social-democrat Klaus von Dohnanyi , mayor of Hamburg between 1981 -88).

At the age of 17 he began his studies in theology at the University of Tübingen and two years later he continued at the University of Berlin . In 1927, at the age of 21, he received a doctorate with distinction summa cum laude with the thesis Sanctorum communio , which the theologian Karl Barth considered as a theological miracle. 1

He moved to Barcelona to take over the vicariate of the Lutheran Church in Barcelona, ​​then returned to Berlin and presented in 1930 his habilitation thesis entitled Akt und Sein: Traszendentalphilosophie und Ontologie in der systematischen Theologie . Since he was still too young to be ordained, he took the opportunity to travel to New York that year to take some specialization courses at Union Theological Seminary . Finally, on November 11, 1931, at the age of 25, he is ordained as a Lutheran pastor .

Resistance against Nazism

At the University of Berlin he taught Theology and wrote several books. Strongly opposed to Nazism and the claudication of the German churches in front of Hitler, he participated alongside Karl Barth , Martin Niemöller and others in the founding of the Bekennende Kirche ( Confessing Church or Lutheran but unofficial theology). In April 1933, in a conference before the Berlin pastors, Bonhoeffer insisted that political resistance became essential. Between late 1933 and 1935 he served as pastor of two Protestant German- speaking churches in London .

He returned to Germany to head an illegal seminary for pastors of the Confessing Church in Finkenwalde, Pomerania – now Szczecin , Poland on the banks of the Oder – where he received the unconditional support of Countess Ruth von Kleist Retzow . There he met his granddaughter Maria von Wedemeyer , who would be his betrothed.

He returned to the United States briefly and returned to Germany in one of the last ships that made the crossing before the beginning of the hostilities.

The Gestapo closed the seminary in 1937 and forbade it to preach, teach and finally speak in public. The seminar then operated at the von Blumenthal stadium of Gross Schlönwitz, but was closed again at the outbreak of the war. The resistance, with which Bonhoeffer collaborated, was active since before the Second World War. During this period, Bonhoeffer maintained close contacts with Carl Friedrich Goerdeler and worked hand in hand with numerous opponents to Hitler.

During World War II , Bonhoeffer played a key leadership role in the Confession Church, which opposed Hitler’s anti-Semitic policies. He was among those who appealed to the open resistance of the Church to the treatment Hitler gave to the Jews . Although the Church of Confession was not large, it represented a considerable focus of Christian opposition to the Nazi regime in Germany.

In 1939 he joined a clandestine resistance group, which included senior military personnel based in Abwehr , the Office of Military Intelligence, who, led by Admiral Wilhelm Canaris , wanted to overthrow Hitler’s National Socialist regime .

He was arrested in April 1943 after he drove into him money Project 7 , used to help Jews escape to Switzerland . He was accused of conspiracy and locked up in the Tegel prison in Berlin for a year and a half.

After the unsuccessful attempt of July 20, 1944 , Bonhoeffer was accused of complicity by his connections with the conspirators, some of whom were his family, such as his uncle, the commander of the city of Berlin, Paul von Hase , executed on 8 Of August of 1944.

On 8 October he was transferred to the Gestapo prison on Prinz-Albrecht for questioning and on 7 February 1945 to the Buchenwald concentration camp . In April 1945 he was taken to the Flossenbürg concentration camp .


On April 8, 1945, on orders from Ernst Kaltenbrunner (who since 1942 had been occupying the posts of head of the Gestapo and head of the Reich Main Security Office ) in court martial sentenced to the gallows Dietrich Bonhoeffer and His brother-in-law Hans von Dohnanyi – the latter was executed the next day in Sachsenhausen – General Hans Oster , General Friedrich von Rabenau, Theodor Strünck, Judge Dr. Karl Sack, Captain Ludwig Gehre and Admiral Wilhelm Canaris .

At dawn on April 9, Bonhoeffer, who had run a religious service the previous day-quasimodo Sunday-at the request of the other prisoners, was executed with the gallows. He had to undress to climb the scaffold . His last words were “This is the end, for me the beginning of life . 2 The doctor of the field, a witness to the execution, wrote, “He knelt before praying to the steps of the scaffold, brave and serene, and in the fifty years I have worked as a doctor, I have never seen a man so devoted to the will of God “ . 3 His body was cremated.

His brother Klaus Bonhoeffer , also convicted of participating in the conspiracy, was executed in Berlin along with twelve other conspirators, including Rüdiger Schleicher and Friedrich Justus Perels .


Bonhoeffer is considered a martyr for his faith. He was acquitted of any crime by the German government in the mid-1990s. The calendar of the Episcopal Church in the United States reminds him of the April 9 date of his martyrdom.

The first Lutheran temple under its invocation was built in Hamburg – Dulsberg by the architect Gerhart Laage , with the large stained glass The Redemption made by the artist Sergio de Castro .

A well-quoted phrase from one of his most widely read books, “Follow-Up” ( “The Cost of Being a Disciple” or “The Price of Grace” , 1937) foreshadowed his death. “When Christ calls a man, he offers him to come and die .”

There has been a debate about a certain relationship between their theological and political reasons. Many authors, notably Larry Rasmussen, argue that in the mid-1930s he abandoned pacifism and this led to his alleged participation in Hitler’s plan of assassination, according to the accusation of his executioners. In fact, it had been more than a year since Bonhoeffer’s imprisonment, when some of the Resistance attacked the Führer, and Bonhoeffer could not be proven in any way to have participated in the violent plan of the military. For this last reason, authors like Mark Thiessen Nation, Anthony G Siegrist and Daniel P. Umbel have defended the thesis that Dietrich did not look for the tyranicide and its defense of the Jews and opposition to Nazism was in terms of a Christian pacifism . 4

During his captivity in Tegel prison, Bonhoeffer corresponded with his friend Eberhard Bethge and his parents, which was published posthumously under the title “Resistance and Submission” . These have impacted the theological world, since in them develops a critical vision of the Christian ecclesiastical institutions, indicating what they must be to the world today. From that period the correspondence with his girlfriend Maria von Wedemeyer has also been preserved , which can only be published after his death in 1977. His translation to Spanish appeared in 1998, under the title “Letters of love from the Imprisonment ‘ . In the prison of Tegel, Bonhoeffer continued writing on the subject of the ethics, that would be its great work. From it have been preserved valuable fragments that Bethge has collected and published posthumously under the title “Ethics” .

Bonhoeffer’s letters and papers from prison included vague sentences that have intrigued many theologians, including a reference to “Christianity without religion .” It said, “Jesus called us, not to a new religion, but to a new life.” These ideas have stimulated a Christian theological movement labeled “Secular Theology” popularized by Harvey Cox’s book, “The Secular City .” Christian theologians since Bonhoeffer have emphasized how to construct a theology for what Bonhoeffer called “an adult world,” a world that since the Renaissance era has been leaving its adolescence.

Anglican bishop JAT Robinson, referring to his letters from prison, said that Bonhoeffer was well ahead of his time, and that what he wrote may not be properly understood within a hundred years. Several books have helped to shorten this stretch, including Robinson himself titled “Sinceros para con Dios” .

Bonhoeffer is one of the few theologians claimed by both liberal and conservative Christians. He was also an ecumenical personality . The Spanish Jesuit theologian and priest José Joaquín Alemany (1937-2001), who in his time was the greatest Spanish-American connoisseur of the life and work of this Lutheran theologian, says that Bonhoeffer has been a figure of great importance. Have enriched their Christian action and work beyond all confessional frontiers. 5 Pope Paul VI also referred to Bonhoeffer as a deeply Christian personality whose definition “Jesus, man for others” is valid for our time.

It is universally accepted that, with his death, the world lost one of the deepest theological minds. His name is on the Calendar of Saints Lutheran .

Works translated into Spanish

  • Ethics . Barcelona: Editorial Estela, 1968. Madrid: Editorial Trotta, 2000. ISBN 84-8164-263-0
  • The price of Grace. The Follow-up . Salamanca: Editions Follow me, 1968, sixth edition 1995. ISBN 84-301-0075-X
  • I have loved this people . Buenos Aires: Editorial La Aurora, 1969.
  • Life in Community . Salamanca: Ediciones Sígueme, ninth edition 1999. ISBN 84-301-0893-9
  • Who is and who was Jesus Christ? Barcelona: Ediciones Ariel, 1971.
  • Believe and Live . Salamanca: Ediciones Sígueme, 1974.
  • Resistance and submission . Salamanca: Editions Follow me, fourth edition, 1983. ISBN 84-301-0908-0
  • Redeemed for the human . Salamanca: Ediciones Sígueme, 1979.
  • Sociology of the Church . Salamanca: Editions Follow me, 1980.
  • Letters of love from prison . Madrid: Editorial Trotta, 1997. ISBN 84-8164-203-7
  • Essential Writings Santander : Editorial Sal Terrae, 2001. ISBN 84-293-1388-5


  • A saint who conspired: Remembering Dietrich Bonhoeffer , Director: Hans-Joachim Curth, 1989, 44 minutes (Documentary in German, French and Spanish).
  • Bonhoeffer: Grace Agent , Director: Eric Till, 2000, 90 minutes. ISBN 1-56364-638-2 . (Film in English, German and Spanish) 6
  • Bonhoeffer , Director: Martin Doblmeier, 2003, 93 minutes (Documentary in English language). 7


  1. Back to top↑ Robertson, EH Dietrich Bonhoeffer. Introduction to his theological thought , Editorial Mundo Hispano, El Paso (Texas), 1975, p. 17
  2. Back to top↑ Eberhard Bethge : Dietrich Bonhoeffer. Theologian – Christian – Current Man , Bilbao: Editorial Desclée De Brouwer, 1970. (BI 2.757-1970), p. 1245
  3. Back to top↑ Eberhard Bethge, Dietrich Bonhoeffer: A Biography, p. 927
  4. Back to top↑ García, Carlos Martínez (2014). Bonhoeffer did not participate in an attempt to assassinate Hitler: Colofon . Protestant Digital. August 23rd.
  5. Back to top↑ José Joaquín Alemany: Resistance or submission. The testimony of Dietrich Bonhoeffer , Ediciones Documentas, Santiago 1988, p. Referring to Fig.
  6. Back to top↑ Internet Movie Database (IMDb)
  7. Back to top↑ Public Broadcasting Service (PBS)