Sunday 16 November 2008

Dietrich Bonhoeffer

Bonhoeffer (1906-1945) was a theologian, author, vehement opponent of Nazism and martyr. He was also, for a short time, pastor of the German Church in Dacres Road.

The original German Church was consecrated in 1882, but was severely damaged during World War 2. It remained a burnt-out shell until the late 1950s when the present church was built on the site, and named after its most famous pastor.

Bonhoeffer was at the church for 18 months, from late 1933 to Spring 1935. During this time he lived at 2 Manor Mount, Forest Hill where there is a plaque, hidden by a large shrub. The Parsonage, as it was called, consisted of two rooms at the top of the house; the rest was occupied by a German girls' school. The house was described by one of Bonhoeffer's visitors as "uninviting and cold… damp air penetrated through the windows" and it was infested by mice. Things got worse. The same visitor wrote that the housekeeper had "all of a sudden gone mad and had to be taken to a home".

In 1935 Bonhoeffer returned to Germany to continue the struggle against Nazism. He was an active and outspoken critic, who offered one of the first clear voices of resistance to Adolf Hitler, and for this he paid the ultimate price. He was arrested by the Nazis in Spring 1943 for helping a group of Jews escape to Switzerland. He was held in various concentration camps, and finally hanged on 9 April 1945.

In 1998 Bonhoeffer was one of ten 20th century Protestant martyrs commemorated by statues on the west front of Westminster Abbey.

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