This play covers events over the course of 14 years in the space of two hours. Consequently, events are telescoped and combined for dramatic effect. Here is a brief, accurate timeline of events in Bonhoeffer’s life:
February 4, 1906: Dietrich Bonhoeffer and his twin sister, Sabine, are born, the sixth and seventh of eight children. At age 14, despite strong promise as a musician, he decides to become a theologian.
1927: Bonhoeffer receives his doctorate (at age 21!) and then pastors a congregation of German nationals in Spain for a year.
1930 – 1931: Looking for fresh perspective, he chooses to study for a year at Union Theological Seminary in New York City. He is disappointed in the American Church, but very impressed by the faith he sees among black Christians.
1931 – 1933: He returns to Berlin as a lecturer at Berlin University; also teaches confirmation classes in poorer neighborhoods and begins to attend ecumenical meetings in Geneva and elsewhere.
February 1, 1933: Just as Hitler’s National Socialist party comes to power, Bonhoeffer delivers a live radio address on the concept of Fuhrer; the address is mysteriously cut off in the middle.
September 1933: Bonhoeffer and Martin Neimöller, another theologian/pastor, establish the Pastors’ Emergency League.
October 1933 to March 1935: Deitrich pastors two German churches in England, and becomes friends with Bishop George Bell of Chichester.
April 1935: Back in Germany in , he established a preachers’ seminary at Finkenwaldes. His book Life Together is based on the experience of living out the spiritual disciplines there.
1936: Bonhoeffer is declared an enemy of the state; the Summer Olympics are held in Berlin.
Early in 1937: The gestapo closes the seminary at Finkenwaldes.
1938: Bonhoeffer is forbidden to live or work in Berlin; as anti-Jewish laws escalate, he helps Sabine and her husband Gerhard (a Christian of Jewish descent) emigrate.
1939: Dietrich travels to the US for a lecture tour and is urged to stay in America; after much wrestling in prayer he decides to return and suffer with his people; he becomes a civil agent of the Abwehr, working to overthrow Hitler’s government, along with his older brother, Klaus, and two brothers-in-law, Hans von Dohnanyi and Rüdiger Schleicher. Bonhoeffer is very active in this movement for the next several years. He also begins his most ambitious work, Ethics, although he is forbidden to publish.
January 1943: Bonhoeffer becomes engaged to Maria von Wedemeyer, the granddaughter of one of his friends and supporters.
April 5, 1943: Bonhoeffer is arrested and sent to Tegel prison. The following month, his dear friend Eberhard Bethge marries Dietrich’s niece, Renate Schleicher.
September 194: The Gestapo discover the incriminating files at Zossen; in October, Klaus is arrested, and Deitrich abandons his escape plan, so as not to make Klaus’ situation worse.
February 1945: Bonhoeffer is moved to Buchenwald.
April 8, 1945: He is taken to the death camp at Flossenberg where he is court-martialled.
April 9, 1945: Bonhoeffer is executed by hanging. Klaus, Hans and Rüdiger are also executed in April.
April 30, 1945: Hitler commits suicide.
May 7, 1945: Germany surrenders, marking the end of the war in Europe.
A sympathetic guard, Knobloch, smuggles Bonhoeffer’s letters and papers to his family. Eberhard Bethge spends the next seven years preparing them for publication, and the rest of his life writing a massive biography of his dear friend.