Monday, April 7, 2008

Dietrich and Maria

Maria von Wedemeyer met Dietrich Bonhoeffer at the home of her grandmother. She was twelve and Bonhoeffer was thirty. Wedemeyer's grandmother was a supporter of the Finkenwalde seminary for Confessing Church pastors that Bonhoeffer headed. His experience of Christian community at Finkenwalde was the inspiration for what is still my favorite Bonhoeffer work: Life Together. Maria graduated from high school in 1942 and it's then that their initial meeting years earlier turned into an unlikely romance. Wedemeyer describes their unusual courtship in an Appendix to Letters and Papers from Prison:

I saw him again after I graduated from high school and the rapport was immediate. Dietrich had the great gift of putting a person utterly at ease by accepting the level of the other with sincerity and commitment. We talked about mathematics. Neither of us knew much about the subject, but we managed to fill an evening with animated discussion of it. During the next fall I was in Berlin taking care of my grandmother, and Dietrich had ample opportunity to visit and talk. It amused him to take me to lunch at a small restaurant close to the hospital which was owned by Hitler's brother. He claimed there was no safer place to talk.

Things moved quickly and the two were engaged, but in April 1943 Bonhoeffer was arrested. Maria was able to visit Tegel Prison regularly (although under supervision) and the two continued to plan their future together. Wedemeyer writes: "Dietrich encouraged me to plan the practical aspects of our future together. It helped him to envision a specific piece of furniture in our future apartment, a particular walk through the fields, a familiar spot on the beach...he enjoyed talking about details of our wedding; he had chosen the 103rd psalm as a text and claimed that he was working on the menu."

Dietrich and Maria were able to see each other and correspond until October 1944 when Bonhoeffer was moved to the Gestapo prison on Prinze-Albrecht-Strasse. Bonhoeffer's contact with the outside world slowed and then ceased as he was moved from there to a series of concentration camps: Dachau, Buchenwald, and finally Flossenbürg where he was executed on 9 April. Maria continued to look for him though. Here is an excerpt from a letter Maria wrote to her mother on 19 February 1945:
Unfortunately my whole journey to Bundorf and Flossenbürg has been completely unsuccessful. Dietrich just isn't there. Who knows where he is? In Berlin they wouldn't tell me anything, and in Flossenbürg they don't know. Quite a hopeless business. But what am I to do now? If I remain in Berlin, our Pätzig friends (Soviet troops) will come and that's no help to Dietrich! If I arrive too early, I shall be called up into the anti-aircraft force or who knows what? If I stay in Bundorf, I'm so awfully far from you all and I don't know how I shall be able to get back to you. I really think that there's relatively little sense in going back to Berlin now. If I can't even do anything for Dietrich any more.

Maria wouldn't find out her fiancé's fate until June (his parents didn't find out until July). While Letters and Papers sheds light on their relationship, the actual letters from Bonhoeffer to Wedemeyer are not included at her request. However, she includes some excerpts in the Appendix. This is from the last letter she received from Bonhoeffer dated 19 December 1944. What a bleak Christmas it must have been, yet a spirit of love and gratitude remains!
These will be quiet days in our homes. But I have had the experience over and over again that the quieter it is around me, the clearer do I feel the connection to you. It is as though in solitude the soul develops senses which we hardly know in everyday life. Therefore I have not felt lonely or abandoned for one moment. You, the parents, all of you, the friends and students of mine at the front, all are constantly present to me. Your prayers and good thoughts, words from the Bible, discussions long past, pieces of music, and books, - [all these] gain life and reality as never before. It is a great invisible sphere in which one lives and in whose reality there is no doubt. If it says in the old children's song about the angels: 'Two, to cover me, two, to wake me,' so is this guardianship, by good invisible powers in the morning and at night, something which grown ups need today no less than children. Therefore you must not think that I am unhappy. What is happiness and unhappiness? It depends so little on the circumstances; it depends really only on that which happens inside a person. I am grateful every day that I have you, and that makes me happy.

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