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Of the Bonhoeffer brothers, Dietrich, the youngest, was the one most drawn to try the Youth movement. His episode in the Boy Scouts was a first attempt advance to move beyond the sphere of family and school, and to discover his own areas of experience not shared by his brothers and sisters. Many of his classmates did the same thing, and he did not want to be different from them in everything. 

Eberhard BethgeDietrich Bonhoeffer: A Biography (Revised Edition); Chapter 1: Childhood and Youth: 1906-1923, 33.

In 1917 Karl-Friedrich and Walter were called up. Because of their numerous contacts, the Bonhoeffers could have influenced the course of their sons’ military career to some extent, but the boys insisted on enlisting in the infantry, where the need was greatest. They joined the Fifth Regiment of Guards at Spandau, with no intention of becoming officers. With a heavy heart their parents let them do so; they did not want “to try to play Providence.”

After a short time of training, they were sent to the front.

…Walter was wounded in the advance on 23 April 1918. (He died from injuries on April 28)

…His death seemed to break his mother’s spirit. She spent weeks in bed at time…

…Karl-Friedrich was wounded in the October battles of 1918, but his injuries proved to be slight.

Seventeen-year-old Klaus was also called up and, after a brief period of training, served as an orderly at General Headquarters in Spa.

Eberhard BethgeDietrich Bonhoeffer: A Biography (Revised Edition); Chapter 1: Childhood and Youth: 1906-1923, 27-28.

Gradually, however, the war began to have a grim impact on the Bonhoeffer family. In 1914 their uncle Otto Bonhoeffer in Dussedorf and their mother’s sister, Aunt Hanna Countess von der Goltz, received bad news, and the children heard of cousins killed or severely wounded in action. As the war dragged on, the older brothers, who were still in school, approached military age.

At the end of 1916 faint hopes clung to the possibility of peace. 

Eberhard BethgeDietrich Bonhoeffer: A Biography (Revised Edition); Chapter 1: Childhood and Youth: 1906-1923, 26.

Dietrich was eight and a half when the First World War broke out…For the younger (Bonhoeffer) children the outbreak of was was a time of great excitement. At the end of July (1914) they were hurriedly brought home after a month’s holiday in glorious weather in Friedrichsbrunn. When one of the girl’s dashed into the house shouting: “Hurrah, there’s a war,” her face was slapped. The first German successes filled Dietrich with boyish enthusiasm. When he was nine he wrote his parents from Friedrichsbrunn asking them to send him all the newspaper cuttings with news from the front; he had learned from his big brothers and at school how to stick colored pins into a map showing the advance of the front line. 

Eberhard BethgeDietrich Bonhoeffer: A Biography (Revised Edition); Chapter 1: Childhood and Youth: 1906-1923, 25-26.

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From his earliest childhood Dietrich Bonhoeffer was accustomed to being privileged, not the underdog. Admittedly, this was true only up to a point in terms of his position among his siblings. This position had some significance for his development, and probably for his choice of career as well. As the three “little ones,” he and his sisters had all the advantages and disadvantages of youngest children. It was natural that the sturdy and gifted boy should sometimes try to rival or even surpass his big brothers and, indeed, in the field of music, he did surpass them. This secret rivalry helped to make theology attractive, since it offered something special of his own. The distance between the two groups of children was increased by the war, which confronted the older children with its terrible realities early, while the younger children remained at home. 

Eberhard BethgeDietrich Bonhoeffer: A Biography (Revised Edition); Chapter 1: Childhood and Youth: 1906-1923, 20.

 by Ed Stetzer
Monday May 27, 2013   

If you’ve been following along with me on Twitter this weekend, you’re well aware that I am in the midst of an extended family reunion in Florida with my (very loud, Irish extended family). And while my family is still proud of our Irish heritage (some of them maybe a little too much), we are also deeply thankful to share in the freedoms the United States offers.

For those of you reading this outside of the US, today is Memorial Day– a holiday celebrating those who died fighting for our country and her freedoms. These freedoms that my family enjoy came at a great cost. And that cost was not just monetary, but blood-bought in wars and conflicts, some name and some now.

For example:

  • American Revolutionary War – 25,000 deaths
  • War of 1812 – 20,000 deaths
  • Mexican-American War – 13,283 deaths
  • US Civil War – 625,000 deaths
  • Spanish-America War – 2,446 deaths
  • Philippine-American War – 4,196 deaths
  • World War 1 – 116,516 deaths
  • World War 2 – 405,399 deaths
  • Korean War – 36,516 deaths
  • Vietnam War – 58,209 deaths
  • Persian Gulf War – 258 deaths
  • Iraq – 4,486 deaths
  • Afghanistan – 2,145 deaths

These brave men and women gave all they had so that we could enjoy certain freedoms not available to all. For that, my fellow Americans and I are very thankful.That’s a lot to remember. That’s a lot of people who gave their lives for others.

I get that this is a picnic and barbecue day. Nothing wrong with that. But, in the midst of the summer kickoff, be sure to take some time to pray for the families of those who lost their loved ones– parents, children, siblings, and more.

And, contrary some of the comments you may see on social media, it’s OK to be thankful for those who are serving now (or have served) as well, as President Bush modeled in his 2007 Memorial Day speech, honoring the fallen and being thankful for those who serve today. He explained:

Good morning. This Memorial Day weekend, Americans honor those who have given their lives in service to our Nation. As we pay tribute to the brave men and women who died for our freedom, we also honor those who are defending our liberties around the world today.

Yet, the main focus should be on the “memorial,” remembering those who have fallen– who gave their lives for something greater than themselves, or just to serve along side a comrade.

At times like this, I’m always struck by the teaching of Jesus where he said, “Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends” (John 15:13).

For the rest of the post…

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