Born FEBRUARY 4, 1906

Dietrich Bonhoeffer understood taking up your cross to follow Jesus (Matthew 10:38). In his book The Cost of Discipleship, he stated, “When Christ calls a man, He bids him come and die.” The Lutheran pastor and author understood and lived that surrendered life. He died at age 39 for living it in Nazi Germany.

Picture by Peter Frick


When Adolf Hitler became Chancellor of Germany in 1933, he began taking charge of all institutions, including the church. He believed pastors, like the rest of Germany, wanted strong leadership that would restore their country’s fortunes. Hitler expected pastors to rally as his political allies. He didn’t expect a back-lash.

The problem: Hitler wanted his ideas, not God’s, to guide the church. Some Lutheran pastors who were true to church doctrine formed The Confessing Church, pledging reliance on historic confessions of faith. The dissenting pastors, including Dietrich Bonhoeffer, drew up their statement of purpose —The Barman Declaration— in May of 1934.


Hitler grew increasingly venomous toward Germany’s Jewish population. He ordered their businesses boycotted, made it illegal for Jews to hold public office and cancelled their citizenship. In 1938, he bore his fangs by unleashing his fury on numerous businesses and synagogues. That destructive night gained the name “Crystal Night” because of all the broken glass littering the streets. Hitler’s next step— deporting Jews to concentration camps.

The Confessing Church continued loving God and their fellow humans of all races. They found ways to oppose Hitler’s tyranny. Bonhoeffer taught religious classes not approved by the government to young, German pastors. He often quoted Proverbs 31:8— “who will speak up for those who are voiceless?” Hitler became wise to their resistance.

Image from Bundesarchiv, Bild 101I-808-1238-05 / Unknown / CC-BY-SA


The Nazi regime declared Dietrich an “enemy of the state.” In 1940, Hitler censored him from speaking in public while demanding that he report to the Gestapo on a regular basis. By 1941, Dietrich had written three books that were published since Hitler’s rise to power. That year, he was ordered to stop publishing “subversive” writings.

Dietrich had joined the resistance arm of Germany’s military intelligence. They’d hatched a plot against Hitler. Assuming the conspirators removed Hitler from power, Dietrich was to learn what terms of surrender the Allies would expect from Germany.

In April 1943, the Gestapo came for Dietrich. They charged him with, among other activities, helping Jews escape Germany. He had. They sent him to a military prison in Berlin. The following year, he was indicted in a plot to wipe out Hitler. In early 1945, they moved him to Buchenwald. In April, Dietrich and others were transported to an extermination camp in Flossenburg, Germany.

His final act of taking up his cross to follow Jesus came the morning of April 9, 1945. That morning, Dietrich said one final prayer, ascended the steps to the gallows and was hanged for his resistance against Hitler’s madness.


LET ME KNOW:  How has Dietrich’s story informed, encouraged, or otherwise helped  you? I welcome your comments.


  • Galli, Mark. 131 Christians Everyone Should Know. Nashville, TN: B & H Group, 2000.
  • “Dietrich Bonhoeffer.” Christian History. Vol. 10. No. 4, 1991.
  • Colson, Charles. “Roots of War (Part II)”. Chapter 11 in  Kingdom’s in Conflict. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Books, 1989.

Learn more about Dietrich Bonhoeffer from these resources, among others————-


  • Dietrich Bonhoeffer: Memories and Perspectives. Directed  by Gregory Cummins.  Vision Video. 2006.  DVD.
  • Bonhoeffer, Agent of Grace. Directed by Eric Till. Vision Video. 2000. DVD.
  • Hanged on a Twisted Cross. Directed by T. N. Mohan. Vision Video. 1996. DVD.

Books about Dietrich-

  • Metaxes, Eric. Dietrich Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy. Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, 2011.
  • I Want to Live These Days with You: A Year of Daily Devotions. Westminster: John Knox Press, 2007.

Books by Dietrich include-

  • Ethics
  • The Cost of Discipleship
  • Letter and Papers from Prison
  • Plus, various anthologies of his writings. 



About William E. Richardson

I'm married to a wonderful woman named Deb. We're the parents of a son and daughter who bring great joy to our lives. I currently pastor the Assembly of God church in Afton, Iowa.
This entry was posted in Author, Martyr. Bookmark the permalink.


  1. This was a great oveerview of his life. I wonder when we in America may find ourselves in the same situation as Bonhoeffer.

  2. cspindler says:

    I am reminded of the poem by another Confessing Church pastor, Martin Niemöller:
    First they came for the communists,
    and I didn’t speak out because I wasn’t a communist.
    Then they came for the trade unionists,
    and I didn’t speak out because I wasn’t a trade unionist.
    Then they came for the Jews,
    and I didn’t speak out because I wasn’t a Jew.
    Then they came for the Catholics,
    and I didn’t speak out because I was Protestant.
    Then they came for me
    and there was no one left to speak out for me.
    May we have the courage to follow scripture’s admonition and Bonhoeffer’s example of speaking up for those who have no voice today!

  3. What a great inspiration. All believers need to be aware of stories such as this! Who knows the future? Even as Americans in 2012, it is not outside the realm of possibility that we may find ourselves with a choice to take a radical stand for our faith, perhaps even requiring us to make the ultimate sacrifice. God is in control and I am confident he is coming soon. However, we should have already made up our minds how we will respond should we find ourselves under this kind of persecution.

    William, your picture added to the site is a nice personal touch!

  4. William Otley says:

    I have been reading the daily devotional “A Year with Dietrich Bonhoeffer.” This is timely for me as I read his writings. Thanks William!

  5. Pingback: Dietrich Bonhoeffer | pickandprintgallery

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