Dietrich Bonhoeffer

Feast day April 9

Saints Stories for All Ages

Dietrich Bonhoeffer is not officially a saint of the Catholic Church, but he is remembered by the Church for his courage in the face of Nazi Germany. Bonhoeffer was a clergyman who lived in Germany during World War II. Adolf Hitler came to power of the Nazi Party, and soon after a group of Protestants formed an anti-Hitler group called the Confessing Church. Bonhoeffer was a member of this group and began training its members to become teachers and preachers. When the Nazis found out, they closed the church down. Bonhoeffer was forbidden to teach and was banned from the city of Berlin.

Then came “Kristallnacht” or the “Night of the Broken Glass.” German troops led an attack on Jewish property; more than 7,000 shops were burned down and hundreds of synagogues were burned down. Bonhoeffer thought Christians would be next. He began to speak out more and more against the Nazis; and his friends in the United States became worried about his safety, so they arranged him to visit to give a series of speaker-talks. When it became clear that war would break out soon, Bonhoeffer left the safety of the United States to “share the difficulty of this time with my people.”

Fearing what would happen to the world with a man like Hitler leading it, Bonhoeffer became a double agent by taking a job in the Nazi Military Intelligence Department. His job allowed him to travel all over Europe to visit churches with the expectation that he would bring back information to help the Nazis—but he wasn’t really working with the Nazis, he was working against them and was secretly helping Jews escape Germany to less-hostile countries in Europe.

In the end, the Nazis discovered he was a double agent, and he was put in a Berlin military prison. They also discovered he was involved in a plot to kill Hitler. He was then sentenced to death shortly after. Before he died, he said to another prisoner, “This is the end—but for me it is also the beginning of new life.” He was hanged a few days before the end of the war. Bonhoeffer knelt for the last time to pray; and within five minutes, his life was over.

from The Loyola Treasury of Saints

Image credit: Public Domain via Wikimedia.