Bonhoeffer in New York

Bonhoeffer made two trips to New York.

In 1930-31, he attended Union Theological Seminary, at 3041 Broadway and 121st Street, where his diligence earned him a graduate degree. His learning wasn’t confined to the walls of the Seminary, however. A fellow student Franklin Fisher introduced him to Abyssinian Baptist Church, and it was here that Bonhoeffer was helped to “capture a Christian social perspective that he would otherwise not have known as a German Lutheran.” (Williams, 2014, p. 1741/4051)

Bonhoeffer’s second trip to New York was made under wholly different circumstances. By 1939, Hitler had been in power for six years and had already started his expansionist policies – annexing Austria (March 13, 1938), invading Czechoslovakia (March 15, 1939), and setting his sights on Poland – that would lead to the Second World War.

Bonhoeffer was 33 at the time and, as such, eligible for military service. To the confirmed pacifist, however, to aim a gun at another human being would have been to aim it at the Prince of Peace Himself. The Nazis didn't take kindly to conscientious objectors, though. Thus, when Bonhoeffer's draft papers did indeed arrive, it was deemed wise to sidestep the issue of conscription rather than face a confrontation which would probably have resulted in his being sent to a concentration camp.

Arrangements were hastily made for a second trip to New York, and Bonhoeffer arrived in the city on June 12, 1939. He intended to stay at least a year, giving lectures and holding meetings to establish contacts with American theologians. However, the ever worsen political situation in Europe made his presence in the United States untenable for him. As a result, he left New York bound for home a mere four weeks later on July 7. The diary he kept during this time makes for heartrending reading (Schulz, 1998, pp. 217-240). It shows a person at conflict with himself – a conflict which was not without a successful conclusion, though. As he wrote in his journal on the last day: “I’m happy I was over there [i.e., in America] and happy that I’m on my way home. I’ve perhaps learned more in this month than in the entire year nine years ago [i.e., on his first trip to New York]; at least I’ve understood something important for all future personal decisions. Going forward, this trip will probably affect me very much.” (Schulz, 1998, p. 240)

It would. It would ultimately lead to his execution.


Schulz, D. (1998). DBW 15 – Illegale Theologen-Ausbildung: Sammelvikariate 1937-1940 (blog author's translation)

Williams, R.L. (2014). Bonhoeffer’s Black Jesus


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