The renowned German theologian and anti-Nazi Dietrich Bonhoeffer was arrested by the Gestapo 75 years ago this month, on 5th April 1943, at the age of 37. He was executed in April 1945.  The date of his execution was 9th April.

Born to a distinguished family in Breslau, now part of Poland, Bonhoeffer was strongly influenced by time in the United States, where he was associated with a church in Harlem and formed a lifelong love for African-American spirituals. It was here that he began to see things from the perspective of those who suffer oppression.

Offered a parish post in Berlin in late 1933, he refused it in protest at the nationalist policy, and accepted a two-year appointment as a pastor of two German-speaking Protestant churches in London, aiming to obtain support for the Confessing Church in Germany, which resisted the Nazis and aimed to preserve traditional beliefs. His success was limited.


During the war Bonhoeffer was harassed by the Nazi authorities and forbidden to speak in public, to print or to publish. He joined the Abwehr, and under cover of this served as a courier for the German resistance movement, trying to gain support for it abroad. He was ignored by the UK government.

Bonhoffer’s famous quotations include:

“We are not to simply bandage the wounds of victims beneath the wheels of injustice, we are to drive a spoke into the wheel itself.” 

‘Being a Christian is less about cautiously avoiding sin than about courageously and actively doing God’s will.”

‘In a world where success is the measure and justification of all things the figure of Him who was sentenced and crucified remains a stranger and is at best the object of pity. . . . The figure of the Crucified invalidates all thought that takes success for its standard.’

‘Silence in the face of evil is evil itself.’

‘The Church is the Church only when it exists for others . . . not dominating, but helping and serving. It must tell men of every calling what it means to live for Christ, to exist for others.’ 

‘The ultimate test of a moral society is the kind of world that it leaves to its children.’  

His Letters and Papers from Prison and Cost of Discipleship have become landmark books, and his influence on theology in the latter part of the 20th century profound.   Bonhoeffer’s statute along with 9 other modern martyrs now stands above the great West Door of Westminster Abbey.