I have returned to posting excerpts from Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s letters on my Theological German blog, so I will share a few translations of the selections. The first is from a Christmas letter to his parents, written December 17, 1943.
Dietrich had been held for several months with no formal charges being made. He assumed he was being held on suspicion of a relatively minor charge and would be released soon. In several earlier letters he had expressed the hope of being free by Christmas to celebrate the holiday with his family and close friends.
By the time he writes this letter, he has given up on the hope of being free for Christmas.
Above all, you must not think that I will let myself sink into depression during this lonely Christmas. It will take its own special place in a series of very different Christmases that I have celebrated in Spain, in America, in England, and I want in later years to be able to think back on these days not with shame but with a special pride. That is the only thing that no one can take from me.
I don’t need to tell you how great my longing for freedom and for all of you is. But you have for so many decades provided us with Christmases so incomparably beautiful, that the grateful memories of them are strong enough to outshine even a dark Christmas.
From a Christian point of view, a Christmas in a prison cell is no special problem. It will probably be celebrated here in this house more sincerely and with more meaning than outside where the holiday is observed in name only. Misery, poverty, loneliness, helplessness, and guilt mean something entirely different in the eyes of God than in the judgment of men.
That God turns directly toward the place where men are careful to turn away; that Christ was born in a stable because he found no room in the Inn—a prisoner grasps that better than someone else. For him it really is a joyous message, and because he believes it, he knows that he has been placed in the Christian fellowship that breaks all the bounds of time and space; and the months in prison lose their importance.
On Holy Evening (Christmas Eve) I will be thinking of all of you very much, and I would very much like for you to believe that I will have a few beautiful hours and my troubles will certainly not overcome me.
If one thinks of the terrors that have recently come to so many people [with the heavy allied fire bombings] in Berlin, then one first becomes conscious of how much we still have for which to be thankful. Overall, it will surely be a very silent Christmas, and the children will still be thinking back on it for a long time to come. And maybe in this way it becomes clear to many what Christmas really is. . .