Prison and Death: Stations on the Road to Freedom

  • 1st Picture for document
  • 2st Picture for document

Bonhoeffer and Dohnanyi were arrested at the same time on April 5, 1943 and remained imprisoned separately until their deaths on April 9, 1945. Bonhoeffer’s active involvement in the resistance against Hitler went undiscovered at first; interrogations were primarily aimed at proving that he and others wanted to avoid active military service under the guise of espionage. Using coded secret messages, Bonhoeffer’s sister Christine von Dohnanyi enabled him to coordinate his statements with those of her husband.

He remained a prisoner in Tegel military prison until the summer of 1944. Sympathetic wardens there made sure he had reading material, conversations, opportunities to write and extensive illegal correspondence with his student and Freund Eberhard Bethge (“Letters and Papers from Prison”, published in 1951) as well as his fiancée Maria von Wedemeyer (“Love Letters from Cell 92”, published in 1992). Fellow prisoners, wardens and visitors were impressed by the strength of his faith, which he radiated.

The terms of his imprisonment changed radically however after the attempt to assassinate Hitler on July 20. 1944. Bonhoeffer learned of the failed assassination attempt from the radio and had a presentiment that it would have grave consequences for him, too. The news was a clear signal to Bonhoeffer to prepare for death. He reacted in July or August with his poem “Stations on the Road to Freedom”, which he enclosed in a birthday letter to Bethge.

This manuscript is pictured here for the very first time. It documents Bonhoeffer’s firm conviction that his resistance was Christian in spirit. For him, the sequence of “Discipline – Action – Suffering – Death” was so ineluctable that it imperatively led to God: Freedom, we have long sought thee in discipline and in action and in suffering. Dying, we ourselves now recognize you in God’s countenance.

Revealed by investigations to be a coconspirator of July 20, Bonhoeffer was transferred to the basement prison of the Reich Main Security Office and later constantly transferred to new prisons as the Americans advanced. He was executed together with six other conspirators on April 9, 1945 in Flossenbürg concentration camp, a few days before its liberation.

Source / title

  • © bpk/Staatsbibliothek Preußischer Kulturbesitz Berlin, Handschriftenabt., Nachlass 299/Bonhoeffer, A 67,6

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