The Last Ship. Really?

A lot has been made of Bonhoeffer’s boarding the “last ship to sail from the USA to Europe before the outbreak of World War II”. This is interesting for two reasons. Firstly, he didn’t – board the LAST ship, that is. Secondly, what may be seen as a healthy predilection for final things somehow misses the point of Bonhoeffer’s decision to return to Germany at all. Whilst this is by far the more pertinent aspect in this regard, first the nitty-gritty.

Bonhoeffer left New York on July 7, 1939. The Second World War started on September 1. Were there really no sailings eastwards across the Atlantic during the remainder of July and the whole of August? Bonhoeffer returned to the European cauldron, just as it was getting ready to boil, aboard RMS Queen Mary. Having offloaded Bonhoeffer in the Old World, she - the ship - set out again for New York. Furthermore, since the political situation was heating up, she was escorted on her return voyage to Southampton by the battlecruiser HMS Hood. Finally, as on its Timeline puts it, “August 30, 1939: Departed Southampton on final peacetime voyage, carrying her largest number of passengers: 2,552, including Mr. & Mrs. Bob Hope and millions in gold bullion.”

Having put that one to bed, there remains the issue of Bonhoeffer’s decision to return to Germany. This was occasioned by a sense of integrity which is best expressed in his own words (written in English) – here, in the paraphrased version used in the show:

“I’m faced with a terrible alternative: on the one hand, the victory of my country and the destruction of civilization; on the other, the defeat of my country and the survival of that civilization. I know which of these alternatives I must choose, but I can’t make this choice in safety, here, in America. I can only make it in Germany, however perilous that may be. That’s the duty I owe, not only to my God and my country, but also to myself.”


The Queen Mary (2019). The Glamour Years. Retrieved from:


Photo by bradley on Unsplash