This week admirers of Dietrich Bonhoeffer will mark his 116th birthday. His birth date of February 4, 1906 sounds like the distant past, but in the scope of history, it’s really not so long ago. While Dietrich’s earthly life came prematurely to an end, some 77 years ago, he remains among us in so many ways. His life story, ideas, and actions are conveyed to us by his considerable literary legacy, the institutions and organizations named for him, like our own, and countless films and books focused on his life and theological and philosophical insights.
Most students of Bonhoeffer agree the world is better because of his short time in it. Born the child of upper-class, highly educated, and socially privileged people, he voluntarily lived and ministered among the underclass as a seminarian in his native Germany and his first pastoral post in Spain. Yet it was his extended imprisonment and ultimate execution in a concentration camp that gave him what he called “the view from the underside” or “the perspective of the suffering.” He would write that no one could entirely understand Christ unless they had suffered as the Savior did.
If you only know Bonhoeffer as the adult activist pastor-theologian martyred for opposing Adolf Hitler, you only a tiny part of him. A rich groundwork was laid in his childhood, when his parents tutored him and his siblings in what it means to be a responsible, compassionate, and empathetic human being, which resulted in the Bonhoeffer we know and celebrate today.
One of the earliest photos of a toddler Dietrich (center right) and twin sister, Sabine (c.1911) with their older siblings.
To help celebrate Bonhoeffer’s 116th Birthday, I’m asking you to consider carrying on his legacy by helping us shape and encourage Bonhoeffers for our own time.
A gift of any size will go a long way in helping TDBI continue the work Bonhoeffer by forming Christian leaders and reforming the church!
Another way you can support The Dietrich Bonhoeffer Institute is to host a personal fundraiser on Facebook for Bonhoeffer’s Birthday, for your birthday, or anytime throughout the year!! Learn more about this fun and unique way to celebrate and support TDBI by reading this quick tutorial.
116 years ago, the world received a life who today still helps us find moral courage, spiritual commitment, and creative solutions to the most complex problems threatening human dignity, freedom, and justice. Thank you for your interest in and support of The Dietrich Bonhoeffer Institute. Your partnership helps us to wish Dietrich,
Yours in grateful memory of Dietrich Bonhoeffer,
Rev. Rob Schenck, D.Min.
Founder and President
Bonhoeffer’s Birthday is an excellent occasion to resolve to learn more about his younger self. Here are two books below that sum up his early life very nicely, and a third, which gives a good picture of the kind of person he would develop into, with whom we are most familiar. While these volumes are out of print, used copies can be obtained from libraries or used book suppliers (links included below).
By Sabine Leibholz-Bonhoeffer
St. Martin’s Press
Dietrich’s twin sister looks back on her family life, including on her and her twin’s childhood memories. Dietrich would become a symbol of Christian conviction, human decency, and moral courage, and his twin describes the extraordinary family that would shape her famous brother and sacrifice four of its members to the cause of human freedom: not only Dietrich, but Klaus Bonhoeffer and two brothers-in-law, Hans von Dohnanyi and Rudiger Schleicher.
Introduction by Dr. W.A. Visser ‘t Hooft
A rich collection of memories written by friends, students, colleagues, family members, and fellow conspirators in the plot against Hitler. It is a dynamic and varied picture of an individual in complete sympathy with the world of beauty and tradition, and yet at the same time touched deeply by the transcendent and eternal. All who have learned to admire, and respect Bonhoeffer’s ideas and courageous role model will find here a composite picture of the very complex person behind the famous legacy. This collection shows Bonhoeffer in all aspects of his life and leaves readers with an enduring impression of his integrity and charm.
Edited by Renate Bethge and Christian Gremmels
With more than 200 images—including many portraits of Bonhoeffer’s ancestors, family gatherings, press photos of contemporary events, maps, postcards, and newspaper accounts—this book gives the reader a real sense of Bonhoeffer’s family context and the decisive times in which he lived. The brief accompanying texts provide essential information allowing for the pictures to speak for themselves. For those who only know Bonhoeffer through his writings, A Life in Pictures provides an extra dimension to this great theologian and thinker and introduces you to his circle of family and friends who, with him, faced fateful choices.