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Paperback Letters and Papers from Prison Book

ISBN: 0020839200

ISBN13: 9780020839200

Letters and Papers from Prison

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A Tragic Historical Record

I bought this book not knowing what to expect. What I found was an odd mixture of thoughts of a man in a horrible position. The letters, poems, notes, and short stories run the gamut of emotions. In one letter Bonhoeffer is examining some theological principle and in another he is keeping up on family relations. If you read this book, you will get an idea of what it must have been like to be a Nazi prisoner and depend on others for your care. You will also learn how much Bonhoeffer cared for his fiancee and best friend. Three words of advice: 1) know a bit about Bonhoeffer's life before you pick up this book, 2) look into the new translation of this book that will be coming out soon from Ausburg Fortress Press and 3) be prepared for an emotional and moving look behind the closed doors of a Nazi prison.

The cost of discipleship

From April 1943 to April 1945, Dietrich Bonhoeffer was a prisoner of the Gestapo. Suspected of participating in a plot against Hitler, he was eventually executed in the closing days of World War II. This book is a collection of letters he wrote from prison to his family, his fiancee Maria, and his dearest friend Eberhard. Bonhoeffer was in his late 30s when he was arrested. He was a Lutheran theologian, who had publicly questioned the rise of fascism and anti-Semitism in Germany and was systematically silenced by Hitler's government, unable finally to publish any of his writings or to preach in any pulpit. Along with other members of his family, Bonhoeffer secretly participated in an effort led by officers of Army Intelligence to undermine the war effort. Attempting to build a case against him, the Gestapo kept him a prisoner, awaiting trial. Incriminating evidence did not emerge until after the July 1944 attempt on Hitler's life. And at this point the letters stop, as Bonhoeffer was transported to another prison and eventually to a series of concentration camps. The letters in this volume describe in detail the routines of prison life. And they offer a glimpse of life lived by ordinary civilians during months of aerial bombardments, as the fabric of daily life slowly crumbles. They also reveal the thoughts and emotions of a man whose faith in God and trust in survival are put to the severest test. While he is remembered by those who knew him in his last months as a fiercely brave, courageous, and selfless man, we see in the letters his inner turmoil, his fear, loneliness, and sense of isolation in a world his theology never imagined. Included in the collection are polite and cheerful love letters to the young Maria von Wedemeyer, to whom he has proposed marriage. And more deeply moving still are his heart-felt letters to Eberhard Bethge, a fellow clergyman and dearly loved friend. It was Bethge, many years later, who collected these letters and published them; he has also written an extensive biography of Bonhoeffer. (The letters to Maria von Wedemeyer have been published separately as "Love Letters from Cell 92"). A collection of Bethge's essays on Dietrich Bonhoeffer was publisehd in 1995 under the title "Friendship and Resistance." They portray Bonhoeffer's friendship with Bethge and describe how the prison letters between them survived. Bonhoeffer's life should have been that of a theologian much respected in his own time who, in a large body of work, advanced an understanding of God for a modern, secular world. His years cut short, we can only guess what his final contribution would have been. But the letters are an inspiring testament to a life lived without compromise or despair, in the face of overwhelmingly destructive forces.

What a friend Dietrich Bonhoeffer had...

Closing this book and setting it down on my desk, I feel that it should be one of the most depressing books I've ever read, and to many it may be. Happily, it's one of the most encouraging. Wow, how great this book is!Bonhoeffer's letters begin shortly after the time of his arrest in Berlin in the Spring of 1943. The letters in this collection are mainly those written to his parents and his associate (and husband to his niece) in the German Confessing Church where he was pastor, Eberhard Bethge. At first these letters are fairly basic and simple reassurances of his well-being and encouragements to his friends and family. There is not simply a hope that he will be released from the Tegel Interrogation Prison where he was being held, but an almost naive expectation that his release will be soon. Gradually, with time, Bonhoeffer clearly begins to see the truth of his imprisonment and the reality that he'll probably only be freed upon the defeat of Germany and liberation by the Allied Forces. But it is with this realization that Bonhoeffer's letters become stronger, more passionate, more philosophical, and simply more powerful.Anyone could forgive Bonhoeffer for having become depressed, bitter, and hopeless during his horrendous, Kafkaesque, imprisonment. But amazingly, his spirit is lifted in the opposite direction as his detention carries on. People can debate what the cause of this irrational hope and joy was due to (although Bonhoeffer never appears delusional; rather, very grounded), but Bonhoeffer himself makes it clear throughout that his hope and strength is due entirely, in his belief, to Jesus Christ and His Holy Spirit.Eventually, after many letters and papers filled with short stories, poems, pastoral sermons, and theological debates, Bonhoeffer's letters become shorter, less frequent, and more direct, due to the closing of the war and his implication (among hundreds) in the assassination attempt on Hitler on July 20, 1944. But even in these final letters, he is positive and encouraging to his family. Finally, Bonhoeffer's letters stop, and we know from other sources that he died one of the most miserable deaths imaginable, via executionary hanging in the Flossenburg concentration camp, as the Nazis, sensing their downfall, began to eradicate every witness to their crimes. But from his letters we can know what Bonhoeffer would have told us upon learning this: "Death is the supreme festival on the road to freedom." Someone who can write that and truly mean it (i.e. not in some hypothetical sense), is either a complete fool, or knows something that many others do not. I believe with Bonhoeffer, the latter applies.

Bonhoeffer's last great writing

If nothing else, you just have to admire Dietrich Bonhoeffer for the stand he made for the truth. Whether or not you agree with his role in the murder plot of Hitler, you have to salute the German theologian for his honesty in this book, which is comprised of letters sent mainly to Eberhard Bethge and his parents. An appendix includes letters that he penned to his fiance Maria. If you want to read this book for pure theology sake, then I would probably turn to The Cost of Discipleship first (which, he mentions in one letter, he wrote partly out a false hope to acquire faith by trying to live a holy life, a very honest admission). But if you want to better understand the man and what he was truly made of in the time of his last two years of life, then this book is very insightful. I don't think anyone can do better to get into the head of this great theologian than to read Letters and Papers From Prison.

Poignant, connected, universal

Dietrich Bonhoeffer's Letters and Papers from Prison show the reader the thoughts of a man who wrote with immense insight under circumstances fraught with the deepest despair. Prior to the war, Bonhoeffer had established himself as a visionary, if somewhat moderate, young Christian theologian. His imprisonment by the Nazis in the wake of the failure of the conspiracy to assasinate Hitler gave rise to this series of letters, ranging from the trivial to the most profound, reflecting the thoughts and ideas of a man whose ideas continued to evolve, even as hope dwindled. It is tempting to see Bonhoeffer as a sort of modern Christian saint "set-piece" of a man, or a Spielberg movie waiting to be made. Such an interpretation of the man would trivialize the flesh and blood reality of his life, as these letters demonstrate. Collections of letters typically suffer from one of two defects--either they are inanely trivial and gossippy, or they spend far too much time on being "literary" for posterity, and not enough time giving real insight into the writer. Bonhoeffer's letters avoid both of these traps. Although the letters collection is not overly burdened by the confessional, letters to his parents and fiance help us understand in very human terms the horror of imprisonment by the Nazis, notwithstanding their careful phrasing to avoid the censor's pen. The letters do contain some of the intentionally "literary"--Bonhoeffer writes poetry which is reasonably spare and connective and sometimes writes for the hypothetical future reader. But the real tour de force is Bonhoeffer's analysis of the evolution of his theological thought in light of the changes wrought by modernity and made apparent to him through his experiences. In several reasonably succinct but incredibly sweeping letters, he outlines a new vision of Christianity, a form of post-Christian Christianity if you will, which has generated a half century of debate and provided inspiration to Christian and non-Christian alike. In this age in which "liberal" religion has been sadly equated by some with "flaccid" religion, we see through these letters a deeply disciplined thinker outlining the way for Christianity to remain relevant in a world all too ready to try to "outgrow" the faith. Although his thinking is complex, and in some instances he assumes a base of knowledge of late 19th C and early 20th C. Christian theology the 21st C. casual reader may not have, the letters are quite accessible and profoundly human. This is not a man building a neat construct out of his dissertation. This is a condemned man hinting at the blueprint for the transformation of a faith. Although it is tempting to suggest that this is a "Christian masterpiece" of 20th C. faith, the suggestion is a disservice. This is a masterpiece of literature which transcends genre or faith. In the interminable list of intellectual heroes of the 20th C., we rarely see Pastor Bonhoeffer
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