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Bonhoeffer’s Love Letters

The contemporary fame of Dietrich Bonhoeffer, the anti-Nazi German Protestant theologian who was executed in 1945 for taking part in the plots against Hitler, rests primarily on the Letters and Papers from Prison he wrote to friends and family. In these cryptic messages, most of them smuggled out of his cell in Berlin’s Tegel Prison, Bonhoeffer outlined a new kind of secular theology for a “world come of age” that has become the axiomatic premise for post-Christian thought.

Last week a new cache of Bonhoeffer letters came to light—revealed by the woman to whom he was once engaged. She is auburn-haired Maria von Wedemeyer-Weller, 43, who came to the U.S. in 1948 on a graduate fellowship in mathematics at Bryn Mawr, and now lives near Boston, where she works as a computer systems analyst. In all, she received more than 40 letters from Bonhoeffer while he was in prison; the 38 she was able to keep when she fled East Germany during the Russian invasion have been given to Harvard’s Houghton Library, with the stipulation that they not be published without her permission during her lifetime.

In an article about Bonhoeffer in the current issue of the Union Theological Seminary quarterly review, she quotes at length from several of the letters. What they reveal is not more of Bonhoeffer the theologian but of Bonhoeffer the man—who was, Mrs. von Wedemeyer-Weller notes, “deeply in love during this important period” of his intellectual ferment.

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