February 02, 2006

Letter to Dietrich Bonhoeffer's Parents

[Tegel] 14 April 1943

Dear parents,

I do want you to be quite sure that I'm all right. I'm sorry that I was not allowed to write to you sooner, but I was all right during the first ten days too.1 Strangely enough, the discomforts that one generally associates with prison life, the physical hardships, hardly bother me at all. One can even have enough to eat in the mornings with dry bread (I get a variety of extras too). The hard prison bed does not worry me a bit, and one can get plenty of sleep between 8 p.m. and 6 a.m. I have been particularly surprised that I have hardly felt any need at all for cigarettes since I came here; but I think that in all this the psychic factor has played the larger part. A violent mental upheaval such as is produced by a sudden arrest brings with it the need to take one's mental bearings and come to terms with an entirely new situation — all this means that physical things take a back seat and lose their importance, and it is something that I find to be a real enrichment of my experience. I am not so unused to being alone as other people are, and it is certainly a good spiritual Turkish bath. The only thing that bothers me or would bother me is the thought that you are being tormented by anxiety about me, and are not sleeping or eating properly. Forgive me for causing you so much worry, but I think a hostile fate is more to blame than I am. To set off against that, it is good to read Paul Gerhardt's hymns and learn them by heart, as I am doing now. Besides that, I have my Bible and some reading matter from the library here, and enough writing paper now.

You can imagine that I'm most particularly anxious about my fianée2 at the moment. It's a great deal for her to bear, especially when she has only recently lost her father and brother in the East. As the daughter of an officer, she will perhaps find my imprisonment especially hard to take. If only I could have a few words with her! Now you will have to do it. Perhaps she will come to you in Berlin. That would be fine.

The seventy-fifth birthday celebrations were a fortnight ago today. It was a splendid day. I can still hear the chorale that we sang in the morning and evening, with all the voices and instruments: "Praise to the Lord, the Almighty, the King of Creation. … Shelters thee under his wings, yea, and gently sustaineth." That is true, and it is what we must always rely on.

Spring is really coming now. You will have plenty to do in the garden; I hope that Renate's wedding preparations are going well. Here in the prison yard there is a thrush which sings beautifully in the morning, and now in the evening too. One is grateful for little things, and that is surely a gain. Good-bye for now.

I'm thinking of you and the rest of the family and my friends with gratitude and love,
your Dietrich

When you have the chance, could you leave here for me slippers, bootlaces (black, long), shoe polish, writing paper and envelopes, ink, smoker's card, shaving cream, sewing things and a suit I can change into? Many thanks for everything.

1. For several months the censor only allowed letters to his parents, at ten-day intervals.
2. Maria von Wedemeyer, from the Pätzig estate in Neumark.

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is the writer, director, and producer of the 2003 documentary Bonhoeffer, and is founder and president of Journey Films.