Careless Talk Costs…

In June, 1939, Bonhoeffer sailed to America. As he himself put it in a letter to Dr. Henry Smith Leiper, Executive Secretary of the Federal Council of Churches (Schulz, 1998, pp. 187-190), his reasons for going were twofold: to establish “contacts with American theologians and churchmen through lectures or meetings”, and, “as a second consideration”, to deal with his “personal question and difficulty with regard to military service, etc.” In order to facilitate his stay in the States, Paul Lehmann, a former fellow student of Bonhoeffer’s at Union Theological Seminary and the then professor of Christian ethics, wrote a letter of recommendation to fifty colleges and seminaries in America (Schulz, 1998, pp. 201-202). In this letter, he spoke in glowing terms of Bonhoeffer’s qualifications, publications, and pastoral work. However, he went too far in his praise. He not only mentioned that Bonhoeffer’s “little seminary was closed by the government”, but also stated that he (Bonhoeffer) “has been continuing his work since in a private capacity in the parsonages of Pommern [Pomerania].”

Bonhoeffer wrote back by return of post (Schulz, 1998, pp. 208-210). “In your kind letter to the colleges, you mentioned my work in Pomerania. If such a communication should come into the hands of a German authority, the work […] would be over.” As a result, Bonhoeffer made an “urgent plea” to Lehmann to write to the colleges “immediately” to explain that there had been a misunderstanding. Moreover, Bonhoeffer even went so far as to dictate the frank wording of the letter that Lehmann should write for the simple reason that “to say more could stir unnecessary interest”.

This brief exchange of letters gives the reader some idea of the immense strategic “game” which Bonhoeffer was required to play with the Nazi regime. Furthermore, it shows the very danger of his many undertakings.


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


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