What Bonhoeffer Prayed for

After the Second World War, Oskar Schindler– yes, he of “Schindler’s List” fame – lived partly in Frankfurt, Germany. Here, he was often rebuked on the street for being a traitor to his “race”. Bonhoeffer might also have suffered a similar fate if he hadn’t been executed a few weeks before the end of the war.

Bonhoeffer had been summarily tried and sentenced to death in a drumhead court martial at Flossenbürg Concentration Camp on April 8, 1945. He was hanged the next morning as a traitor and enemy of the state. And that was how the verdict stayed in German law until 1996, when Bonhoeffer was formally exonerated by a Berlin court (For more information, see “After 50 Years, German Court Exonerates Anti-Hitler Pastor” by Cowell (1996) in the New York Times.)

Actually, the Nazis had a point. Bonhoeffer WAS an enemy of the state. Needless to say, the fact that the state wasn’t anything which anyone in their right mind could support was lost on Hitler’s helpers. Bonhoeffer’s position in this regard was perhaps most poignantly expressed in a conversation with Wilhelm Visser’t Hooft, General Secretary of the formative World Council of Churches. This took place in Zurich on Bonhoeffer’s second mission to Switzerland in August-September 1941. Asked what he prayed for “in the current situation”, Bonhoeffer answered as follows:

“If you really want to know, I pray for the defeat of my country, since I believe that’s the only possibility to pay for all the suffering which my country has caused in the world.”

Praying for the defeat of Germany? As Bonhoeffer’s friend and biographer Eberhard Bethge put it, “That was a statement which one didn’t like to hear repeated in post-war Germany.”  (Bethge, 1994, p. 835) If Oskar Schindler’s experience was anything to go by, Bethge was right.


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

Cowell, A. (1996). After 50 Years, German Court Exonerates Anti-Hitler Pastor. Retrieved from:



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