Dietrich Bonhoeffer was born in Breslau on February 4, 1906. He studied at Tubingen and Berlin Universities. In 1930 he attended Union Theological Seminary in New York for a year. He pastored churches in London before returning to Germany in 1935. On May 29-31, 1934, the Confessional Evangelical Church met in Barmen with members of the Lutheran, Reformed and United Churches present. The Confession reaffirmed their desires to stand together in their Confession of Jesus Christ as “the way, the truth and the life.” They reaffirmed that Jesus Christ was the head of the church, rejected State rule: Hitler and the Nazi Party.
Bonhoeffer lectured in the U.S. in 1939. His friends urged that he not return to Germany, but he was committed to the confessing church and the Resistance Movement.
Although a pacifist, he eventually joined the conspiracy against Hitler. After multiple attempts on Hitler’s life, on April 5, 1943, Bonhoeffer was arrested, along with his sister Christel and her husband Hans von Dohnanyi.
In it’s seven years of existence, Flossenburg imprisoned 96,000 people, executing 30,000. By 1943 there were over 4,000 prisoners in the main camp of Flossenbürg. More than half were political prisoners. Almost 800 were German criminals. More than 100 were homosexuals. By 1945 there were 40,000 inmates, 11,000 of which were women.
Prisoners were daily executed at the firing range, and later large gallows were erected. Prisoners were often stripped naked, abused and humiliated just before execution.
On Sunday, April 8, 1945, Pastor Bonhoeffer conducted a service of worship. As he ended his last prayer, two men came for him. He spoke to an English officer, “This is the end, but for me it is the beginning of life.” The next day, April 9, 1945, he was hanged in Flossenburg along with others from the Resistance.His brother was also executed at Sachsenhausen the same day.
As the Allies approached, orders were given to execute all prisoners at Flossenburg. The prisoners were ordered to remove their clothing and were led down the steps under the trees to the secluded place of execution. Naked under the scaffold, Bonhoeffer knelt for the last time to pray.
As Allied troops approached, guards forced a march to Dachau, leaving behind 1600 or so too sick to travel. The camp was liberated on April 23, 14 days after Bonhoeffer’s execution. Bonhoeffer’s body was either cremated or buried in a mass grave. We will probably never know.
Being a Christian leader is more than organizing religious societies. It’s about serving. It’s about peacemaking and justicemaking per the Beatitudes. It’s about feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, welcoming the stranger, healing the sick, being a voice for the voiceless, loving the unlovable, touching the untouchable, and teaching our young people to so the same. Following Jesus isn’t for sissies. It cost Jesus his life. It cost Paul his life. It cost Peter his life. It cost Stephen his life. It cost Bonhoeffer his life.
A parish pastor took a stand for justice, against oppression, hatred, intolerance. Many other religious leaders did not. God grant me the grace to stand firm when my hour of trial comes.