A Time of Trials | Sojourners

A Time of Trials


Fifty years ago, April 9, 11 days before U.S. troops liberated the Flossenbürg Concentra-tion Camp where he was held, Dietrich Bonhoeffer was executed by his Nazi captors. He and perhaps 5,000 others were put to death in the months before the end of World War II because of their participation in a plot to assassinate Hitler. This extra-

ordinary Lutheran minister and theologian lived only 39 years, the last two years of which he spent in prison. Yet he left behind sufficient theological reflections to fill 16 volumes.

Still he is not a household name. Last summer at a retreat center with a religious identity only one of 25 college juniors and seniors could identify Dietrich Bonhoeffer. They had been asked if they would like to participate in a Bonhoeffer seminar led by Eberhard Bethge, Bonhoeffer's student, close friend, and key biographer, and Renate Bethge, Bonhoeffer's niece and co-trustee of the Bonhoeffer legacy. (Several did in fact attend.)

It's not something we do well, remembering our "heroes of conscience." But Dietrich Bonhoeffer deserves to be remembered and studied as a 20th-century martyr in the same breath with Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., Archbishop Oscar Romero, and others of notable achievement who could have honorably stayed above the battle but chose to risk their lives for what they believed.

His story-unknown to most of the world for several years after World War II-caught its imagination as more and more of his writings became available. He grew up in an upper-middle-class family-his father headed the leading psychiatric institute in Berlin-and, to the surprise of his family, studied theology, garnering a Ph.D. by the age of 21. After writing a second doctoral dissertation, he became a lecturer in theology at the University of Berlin at the age of 24, a year before he was old enough to be ordained. But almost immediately his life as an intellectual, his theology,

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Sojourners Magazine May-June 1995
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