Newfound Letter from a young Dietrich Bonhoeffer to Mahatma Gandhi

The Burke Library staff recently received a warm and exciting message from our friend Prof. Clifford Green, the Bonhoeffer Chair Scholar at Union Theological Seminary. He wrote eagerly telling us of the recent discovery in New Delhi of a previously unknown letter mailed to the famous resistance leader Mohandas Gandhi, sent in earnest by none other than Dietrich Bonhoeffer, who would go on to become a leading ethicist and activist against the Nazi regime during World War II, when he was a young pastor in Germany in 1934 at the outset of his career.

What did young Bonhoeffer write to Gandhi? An image of the first page of the letter appears below. The letter is published in full, in the latest issue of the Journal of Ecclesiastical History (April 2020) in an article by Prof. Green. According to the article’s abstract:

 

“This first publication of the newly-found letter to Gandhi from Dietrich Bonhoeffer is a window into his thinking in the early 1930s, a time of personal formation and of resistance to National Socialism. Western Christianity needed ‘a Christian peace movement’, and Bonhoeffer wanted to learn from Gandhi’s movement ‘the meaning of Christian life, of real community life, of truth and love in reality’. The letter includes Bonhoeffer’s critique of Western culture and the Church in Europe and America, his hopes for a Church regenerated by the Sermon on the Mount, and his appreciation and critique of Karl Barth.”

 

While the original remains in the Nehru Memorial Museum & Library, in New Delhi, where it was recently discovered for the first time by the eminent Indian historian Ramachandra Guha while researching his biography on Gandhi, we were thrilled to hear first-hand about this exciting development.

When we return to our beloved library space (we have been working from home since the outset of the COVID-19 novel coronavirus outbreak in the U.S. in early March), we will look forward to discussing how to connect this newfound letter to the Dietrich Bonhoeffer archival materials — including the Dietrich Bonhoeffer Primary Sources, Secondary Source material, and Works in English Records — housed at the Burke Library. -CB

 

 

Image of the first page of a letter sent from Dietrich Bonhoeffer to Mahatma Gandhi in 1934, on typewriter paper, in English. It begins, "Revered Mahatmaji! It is on account of the most distressing situation in the European countries and in my own country, in Germany, that I dare to approach you personally and I hope you will forgive my doing so..." and goes on to stress the "great need of Europe and of Germany in particular" as "a deep spiritual need."
Image of the first page of a letter from Dietrich Bonhoeffer to Mahatma Gandhi, 1934. Housed at the Nehru Memorial Library & Museum, New Delhi, India. It begins, “Revered Mahatmaji! It is on account of the most distressing situation in the European countries and in my own country, in Germany, that I dare to approach you personally and I hope you will forgive my doing so…” and goes on to stress the “great need of Europe and of Germany in particular” as “a deep spiritual need.” The letter is re-printed in full, in “Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s Letter to Mahatma Gandhi,” by C. Green, in The Journal of Ecclesiastical History (April 2020), pp. 1-9. doi:10.1017/S0022046920000093

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