Dietrich Bonhoeffer was executed in a German prison camp in April 1945, aged only 39 and at a time when the war was almost over. He is generally considered to be a martyr, dying because of his tremendous Christian faith. His life however started out as the youngest son in a large, happy and wealthy family. Although his father was an agnostic Bonhoeffer entered the Lutheran ministry, unlike his brothers who preferred more well paid carers in law and research. With Hitler’s rise to power his church was not prepared to make any stand against him.The seminary, of which he was head, was forced to move underground. At this period he wrote ‘The Cost of Discipleship’ in which he asks the questions ‘How do I live a Christian life in the world? What does it mean to be a disciple of Jesus Christ? ’ From that time he became politically active against Hitler, even travelling to America in order to gain support. He soon returns because of his belief that if he is to take an active role in post-war Germany he must also share the difficulties with his people.
He moves from the pacifism of figures such as Mahatma Ghandi, whom he had hope to visit one day to direct action, even taking part in an assassination plot. In 1943, soon after his engagement he is imprisoned. His letters from prison are positive in their nature. Two years later he is moved, first to the concentration camp at Buchenwald, and then to Flossenburg. There he asks to conduct a service for the other prisoners – his texts are Isaiah 53 v 5 which speaks of being healed by Christ, and 1 Peter 1 v 3 which talks of the hope of resurrection. That same day he is taken to his death and to eternal life.
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