Bonhoeffer on the Radio

Hitler came to power on January 30, 1933. A mere two days later, on February 1, Bonhoeffer gave a radio address. It was the one and only time he ever spoke over this medium. The subject of his address wasn’t chosen at random. Instead, it had a direct reference to current events, namely, “Changes of the Concept of Leader [Führer] in the Younger Generation”.

Although the manuscript shows that “the syllables were counted and measured” (Bethge, 1994, p. 308), Bonhoeffer was nevertheless cut off in mid-sentence, shortly before the end of the talk. This has given rise to a whole host of conspiracy theories. Notions range from a vast network of Nazi counterintelligence officers having not only the power, but also the inclination to silence Bonhoeffer in this way, to Propaganda Minister Dr. Goebbels himself hitting the Mute button.

Unfortunately for those who don’t like to let the truth stand in the way of a good story, the fact of the matter seems to be a lot more mundane. No less a person than Bonhoeffer himself indicates what really happened. In a letter circulated to colleagues and friends the following day, February 2, he stated the following: “The transmission of the talk was interrupted because of a slight exceeding of the time limit.” Consequently, “the talk will now be published in a newspaper.” (Nicolaisen & Scharffenorth, 1997, p. 47)

Bonhoeffer’s thoughts on the younger generation’s understanding of the concept of leader were actually published in two newspapers: the Cross Newspaper and the Daily Review on February 25 and 26 respectively. If either the Nazis in general or Goebbels in particular had been so disturbed by the incendiary nature of Bonhoeffer’s radio address as to cut him off in mid-flow, they would hardly have allowed him to publish the contents of the address over three weeks later.

This is not to make light of the fact that Bonhoeffer was indeed banned from publishing. This injunction, however, came over eight years later, on March 19, 1941. By this time, both “The Cost of Discipleship” (1937) and “Life Together” (1939) had appeared in print. However, the ban on publishing and Bonhoeffer’s subsequent imprisonment would mean that his “Ethics” would never be completed, never mind go to press.


Bethge, E. (1994). Dietrich Bonhoeffer, eine Biographie (blog author's translation)

Nicolaisen, C. and Scharffenorth, E-A. (1997). DBW 12 – Berlin 1932-1933 (blog author's translation)


Photo by Jana Sabeth Schultz on Unsplash