Christian History Timeline: Dietrich Bonhoeffer

Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s Life

1906: Feb 4: Dietrich and twin sister, Sabine, born in Breslau

1912: Bonhoeffers move to Berlin

1913: Dietrich enters grammar school after early years of home schooling

1918: Oldest brother, Walter, killed in World War I

1920: At 14, decides he will be a theologian

1921: Confirmed at Grunewald Church, Berlin

1923: Begins theological studies at Tübingen University

1924: Travels to Rome and North Africa with brother Klaus; Begins studies at Berlin University

1927: Receives licentiate in theology, summa cum laude; defends doctoral thesis, The Communion of Saints

1928: Assistant pastor of congregation in Barcelona, Spain

1929: Assistant in systematic theology department at Berlin University

1930: Second dissertation, Act and Being, qualifies him for teaching position; July 31: first public lecture; Sept. 5: begins year of study at Union Theological Seminary in New York

1931: July: meets theologian Karl Barth; Aug.: appointed lecturer in theology at Berlin University; Sept.: appointed youth secretary of the World Alliance for Promoting International Friendship through the Churches; Oct.: appointed chaplain at Technical College, Berlin (serves until 1933); Nov. 15: ordained; during this period, “becomes a Christian”

1932: Teaches confirmation class in poor section of Berlin (classes begin in late ’31); attends ecumenical meetings in Geneva and elsewhere

1933: Feb. 1: radio broadcast on “the leadership principle” cut off the air; April: article on “The Church and the Jewish Question”; Sept. 21: with Martin Niemöller, organizes Pastors’ Emergency League, which opposes the “Aryan Clause” excluding Jews from ministry; Oct. 17: pastors two congregations in London (until March 1935); develops friendship with Bishop George Bell

1934: May 29–31: the Confessing Church adopts Barmen Confession of Faith; Aug. 23–30: Bonhoeffer delivers speech on peace to ecumenical conference at Fan, Denmark

1935: April 26: preachers’ seminary opens at Zingsthof on the Baltic Sea; June 24: seminary relocates to Finkenwalde; Bonhoeffer publishes influential article on “The Confessing Church and the Ecumenical Movement”

1936: Declared a “pacifist and enemy of the State,” Bonhoeffer has his authorization to teach at Berlin University terminated; lectures at Confessing Church program near Olympic stadium

1937: Feb.: at ecumenical meeting in London, resigns as youth secretary in protest of the World Alliance’s failure to speak out for the Jews; Sept.: seminary at Finkenwalde closed by Gestapo;Nov.: “The Cost of Discipleship” published; Dec.: leads “collective pastorates” for clandestine training of clergy

1938: Jan. 11: forbidden to live or work in Berlin; Feb.: contacts leaders of the political resistance, including Gen. Wilhelm Canaris; Sept.: writes “Life Together;” helps twin sister and her husband escape Germany

1939: Mar.: in London, meets with Bishop Bell, Reinhold Niebuhr, and Dutch ecumenical leader Willem Visser’t Hooft; June 2: travels to U.S. for lecture tour; July 8: decides he must return to Germany and suffer with his people; Aug.: becomes civilian agent of the Abwehr, German military intelligence agency

1940: Mar.: collective pastorates closed by Gestapo; Sept. 9: prohibited from public speaking and ordered to report regularly to police; begins writing “Ethics”; Nov.: assigned to Abwehr staff in Munich; stays at Benedictine abbey nearby

1941: Meets Barth and Visser’t Hooft in Switzerland; Mar. 27: forbidden to publish because of his “subversive activities”

1942: Travels to Norway, Sweden, and Switzerland for the resistance; May 30–June 2: meets Bishop Bell in Sigtuna, Sweden, on behalf of the resistance; writes Christmas essay, “After Ten Years,” to remind co-conspirators of their ideals

1943: Jan. 17: engaged to Maria von Wedemeyer; Apr. 5: arrested and held in Tegel Prison, Berlin; Apr. 29: charged with “subversion of the armed forces”; May 15: Eberhard Bethge, his friend, marries Renate Schleicher, his niece; July: interrogated intensely; writes letters to Eberhard Bethge and others that later form “Letters and Papers from Prison

1944: Mar.: daylight bombing raids over Tegel Prison begin; Apr. 30: writes first “theological” letter; Sept. 22: Gestapo discovers incriminating Abwehr files; Oct. 5: Gestapo arrests brother Klaus, brother-in-law Rüdiger Schleicher, and others, causing Bonhoeffer to abandon escape plan; Oct. 8: moved to Gestapo prison at Prinz Albrecht Strasse, Berlin; Dec. 19: last letter to Maria

1945: Feb. 7: moved to Buchenwald concentration camp; Apr. 3: moved to Regensburg; Apr. 5: in Hitler’s midday conference, order given to annihilate the Canaris resistance group, which includes Bonhoeffer; Apr. 6: moved to Schönberg; Apr. 8: moved to Flossenbürg concentration camp and court-martialed; Apr. 9: hanged with six other resisters; brother-in-law Hans von Dohnanyi executed at Sachsenhausen concentration camp; Apr. 23: brother Klaus and brother-in-law Rüdiger Schleicher killed for their role in conspiracy; July 27: Bonhoeffer’s parents learn of his death via London broadcast of memorial service

German & World Events

1914: World War I begins

1918: “November Revolution”; Kaiser William II abdicates

1919: Treaty of Versailles

1920: League of Nations begins

1928–29: The Great Depression

1932: Apr. 23: Ludwig Müller appointed Hitler’s personal representative for the Protestant churches

1933: Jan. 30: Adolf Hitler [Adolf Hitler ] made chancellor of Germany; Feb.27: burning of Reichstag building in Berlin gives Hitler chance to increase state control; Mar. 20: first concentration camp (Dachau) opened; Apr. 1: boycott of Jewish-owned businesses; Apr. 7: Jews banned from holding public office; Dec. 20: Protestant youth organizations incorporated into Hitler Youth; Einstein moves to U.S. to escape Nazi persecution

1934: June 30: Hitler purges SA leaders; Aug. 2: President Hindenburg dies; Hitler becomes both chancellor and president; Dec. 15: Karl Barth dismissed from Bonn University

1935: Sept. 15: citizenship for German Jews cancelled; marriage between Jews and Aryans prohibited; Dec. 1: Confessing Church training centers declared invalid; radar invented

1936: Jessie Owens wins four gold medals at Berlin Olympics; Edward VIII abdicates British throne

1937: Mar. 4: papal encyclical warns Hitler’s government; July 1: Martin Niemöller arrested; Nov. 27: twenty-seven Finkenwalde graduates arrested; Amelia Earhart lost over Pacific Ocean; first jet engine

1938: Mar. 13: Germany annexes Austria; Apr. 20: German pastors ordered to take oath of allegiance to Hitler; Sept.: Hitler and Neville Chamberlain sign Munich Agreement; Nov. 9: Crystal Night triggers destruction of synagogues and mass arrests of Jews

1939: Jan. 1: Jewish businesses liquidated; Mar.: Germany invades Czechoslovakia; Sept. 1: Germany invades Poland; Britain and France declare war on Germany; Hitler calls for extinction of the Jews

1940: Germany invades Denmark, Norway, Holland, Belgium, Luxembourg, France; Aug. 24: Luftwaffe begins to bomb London; Churchill becomes prime minister

1941: Germany invades Yugoslavia, Greece, and Soviet Union; Sept. 19: German Jews required to wear yellow star [German Jews required to wear yellow star ] ; first gas chambers installed at Auschwitz, Poland; Dec. 7: Japan attacks Pearl Harbor; Dec. 11: Germany declares war on U.S.; “Manhattan Project” atomic research begins

1942: Jan. 20: Nazi leaders plan the “Final Solution”—extermination of all European Jews; first automatic computer

1943: Jan.: German army surrenders at Stalingrad; Jan. 14: Roosevelt, Churchill, and Stalin meet in Casablanca (and in Teheran in Nov.); May 13: German-Italian forces surrender in North Africa; May 19: Goebbels declares that Germany is free of Jews; polio epidemic in U.S.

1944: Jan. 22: Allies land at Anzio, Italy; 437,000 Hungarian Jews shipped to Auschwitz; June 6: Allies land at Normandy; July 20: Count Stauffenberg attempts to assassinate Hitler

1945: Feb. 4–11: Allied conference at Yalta; Mar. 7: Allies cross Rhine River; Apr. 12: Roosevelt dies; Truman becomes president; Apr. 23: Red Army reaches Berlin; Apr. 30: Hitler commits suicide; May 7: Germany surrenders; July 6–Aug. 7: Potsdam conference; Aug. 6–9: U.S. drops A-bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki; Aug. 15: war ends in Far East

By the Editors

[Christian History originally published this article in Christian History Issue #32 in 1991]

Information based upon timelines in Dietrich Bonhoeffer: Man of Vision, Man of Courage, by Eberhard Bethge (New York: Harper & Row, 1970) and A Testament to Freedom: The Essential Writings of Dietrich Bonhoeffer edited by Geffrey Kelly and F. Burton Nelson (San Francisco: HarperCollins, 1990).
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Bonhoeffer took an early and active stand against the Nazis.

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Three colleagues from Union Theological Seminary who deeply influenced Bonhoeffer.

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