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Dietrich Bonhoeffer

A summary of his life

This is the end; for me, the beginning of life.”

These were the last words of Dietrich Bonhoeffer when, at the age of 39, he was executed by the Nazis.

Bonhoeffer (1906-1945) was a German pastor and theologian, who lectured at the University of Berlin. He was very outspoken in his opposition to Hitler's policies of prejudice and discrimination, which led to violence against many sectors of Nazi Germany's society, particularly the Jewish population.

In March 1933, days after Hitler became Chancellor, Bonhoeffer addressed the nation on the radio, telling them that Hitler was bad news for Germany. He warned the nation about worshipping Hitler; the only figure to be worshipped was Christ. He also preached regularly, teaching people to follow the Bible not the ways of Hitler, which he strongly condemned.


Upon being elected to power, the Nazis began to increase their influence in the Church throughout Germany. Within the Church, a group called the 'German Christians' had formed in 1932. It had strong connections with the Nazis, and fully supported their policies. In July 1933, many of the people from this group were placed in important positions within the Church, across the country. The Nazis were trying to take control of every aspect of German society, including religion.

From this point, things went downhill. By September 1933, the national Church agreed to add the 'Aryan Paragraph' to its policies. This meant that anyone who wasn't of Aryan race - German or related blood - was not permitted to go to church in Germany. It also meant that any pastors who were of Jewish descent had to leave their jobs.  

Bonhoeffer and other leading Christians fought against this takeover of the Church, seeking to put Christ at the centre of the Church; using the Bible to show how people should be treated. Pastor Martin Niemöller founded the 'Pastors' Emergency League' in September 1933, which was formed in protest against the Nazi's interference in the German Church. This eventually became known as the 'Confessing Church'. Many pastors joined, including Bonhoeffer, who became a leading spokesman.


In 1933, Bonhoeffer was offered the post of pastor at a church in Berlin. He refused it because of the way in which the Nazis were interfering with the German Church. He couldn't accept the Nazi's claim that they were the ultimate sovereign over all people; this position belonged to God. They also disagreed with their treatment of the Jews.

Instead, he moved to London for two years to take up a position as pastor of a German-speaking church. However, whilst there, he continued to work for the Confessing Church, contacting many people in an attempt to get their support in opposing the Nazis.


In 1935, Bonhoeffer returned to Germany, where he set up a secret theological college to train pastors for the Confessing Church resistance movement. This was shut down in 1937. He was banned from teaching at any seminary and the University of Berlin, furthermore, in 1938 he was banned from Berlin. However, Bonhoeffer bravely continued the work, travelling around East Germany, supervising his students at a number of different village locations.

In 1939, he had the opportunity to live and work in America, having been invited to teach at a theological seminary in New York. He left to do just that but returned within two weeks. He struggled to settle, knowing how his fellow Germans were suffering under Hitler's Nazi government. He wanted to help mend Germany after the war, however, he felt that he had no right to do so if he didn't stay with the people during their hardship.

Bonhoeffer went to work for the German Military Intelligence Department - the Abwehr - where he was able to continue secretly working against the Nazis. Official visits to foreign countries saw him reach out to other national Church leaders, to tell them about the resistance in Nazi Germany, along with gaining support for the recovery of the German Church. He was also involved in smuggling Jews across the border into Switzerland.


Eventually, Bonhoeffer's secret resistance activities were discovered, leading to his arrest in April 1943. He was in big trouble for rescuing Jews and misusing his position on foreign trips.

Whilst in prison, there was an attempt to kill Hitler in July 1944. It failed, and during the ensuing investigation, the Nazis found documents that linked Bonhoeffer to the assassination plot. He was interrogated further, before being moved to Buchenwald concentration camp in February 1945, then Flossenbürg camp two months later.

On April 9, he was hanged, along with the other men who had been involved in the assassination plot.


He is remembered for his pacifism and incredible bravery, standing up for what he believed, in the face of unbelievable evil.

Also, throughout his career, he wrote extensively about theological matters. Possibly his most famous book is The Cost of Discipleship, which details his deep-seated beliefs in Christ and what it means to live a Christian life. The book explains his ethical beliefs, and why he responded the way he did to the Nazis.



  1. Create an obituary about Dietrich Bonhoeffer's life.
  2. This is the end; for me, the beginning of life.” What did Bonhoeffer mean when he said these words, just as he was about to be executed?