He was born in 1906 in Germany into a comfortable professional family, and surprised his family by deciding at the age of fourteen to train for the clergy.
As Hitler and the Nazi party rose to power it was Bonhoeffer’s view that the Church had a duty to stand against the injustice of anti-semitism. The day after Hitler assumed office in 1933, Bonhoeffer gave a radio broadcast directly challenging him. His Church failed to support him. He argued that that the Church had responsibilities to the state but in the case of gross misrule, as with the Third Reich, the Church had a duty to act – to ‘jam a spoke in the wheel’.
Support amongst fellow churchmen was weak or absent and he ended up having to work alone. He had excellent prospects in the Church but not only risked all such prospects but also censure from his profession, friends and society. His actions put him in personal danger.
He was not a zealot. He didn’t have the comfort of single minded conviction, but questioned how he alone could be right when highly esteemed clergy did not support him.
He believed that action was needed and finding no support within the Church, he joined the Abwehr, a military intelligence unit, acting as a double agent trying to get allied support for a coup to bring down Hitler.
In 1943 Bonhoeffer was arrested and spent the rest of the war in prison. He was hanged just a few days before the end of the war. One of his parishioners, Ernest Cromwell wrote of Bonhoeffer
“Life was not a question of safety first and making ourselves comfortable. It was a question of adventure and risk for things that are worthwhile, because his whole philosophy of life, religion and belief was that life was a period of development, it wasn’t static; it was something that you had to create, in your context, with other people.”