Reprisals, Exile and Return

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Bonhoeffer was increasingly affected by state reprisals: In 1938, a meeting of the Confessing Church in Niemöller’s parsonage in Dahlem resulted in him being banned from residing in Berlin. Since he was registered in Schlawe, Pomerania in order to be close to his vicars, he had to limit his stays in the capital to visits to family, which he was still allowed. He immediately protested against this with a petition to the Gestapo (pictured).

An unauthorized trip to Sweden with his vicars from Finkenwald in 1936 had already gotten him banned from working in academia, against which he also lodged a protest. Since he continued publishing and had appeared semi-publicly on several visitation trips through East Prussia, he was also banned from writing and speaking publicly as well as a required to register with the police, which hampered his desire for freedom considerably.

He was additionally on the Confessing Church’s intercessory prayer lists from 1938 to 1940. The entry of his name in the military registration record during the preparations for war distressed him particularly because conscription was inconsistent with his Christian pacifism.

Given the increasing reprisals, Bonhoeffer traveled to England in March of 1939 primarily in order to get advice from George Bell, Bishop of Chichester. A second trip took him to New York in the summer of that same year. Friends there had arranged for a teaching position for him at Union Theological Seminary in order to take him out of the line of fire for a longer period.

Yet, suffering from homesickness and overwhelmed by his sense of responsibility to his fellow clergy in his church, he decided to return after just a brief period. Whoever believes does not flee, he commented on his decision. Relieved, he returned to Berlin already in July and proceeded immediately to in the communal vicarages again. This sealed his path. From detention, he wrote his friend Eberhard Bethge in 1943, I have not yet regretted my return in 1939 a single moment or any of the things that followed after.

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  • © by Gütersloher Verlagshaus, Gütersloh, in der Verlagsgruppe Random House GmbH, München

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