Dietrich Bonhoeffer's Love Story Explored in New Book

My Dearest Dietrich introduces readers to Maria von Wedemeyer, the woman who captured the famed preacher’s heart.

Posted in , Jun 24, 2019

Photo credit: Emerson Kloostra

The German theologian and martyr Dietrich Bonhoeffer became a hero of faith after he was executed by the Nazis in 1945 for his vocal resistance. He is also known around the world for his theological model of “costly grace.”

Like many people, writer Amanda Barratt became fascinated by Bonhoeffer through reading about his remarkable life. But when she found out that Bonhoeffer had been engaged to Maria von Wedemeyer at the time of his death, she became obsessed with the woman who stood by him while he was imprisoned. My Dearest Dietrich, Barratt’s newest novel, is the result of her fascination. spoke to Barratt about answering God’s call, weaving history into fiction and how working on the book challenged her own faith. Many books have been written about Dietrich Bonhoeffer. How is My Dearest Dietrich different?

AB: It’s a love story between Dietrich Bonhoeffer and Maria von Wedemeyer. It tells their story in a narrative format. There's been many wonderful biographies, and books and documentaries about Dietrich Bonhoeffer, but this takes us deeper into his life through this fictional format, and also introduces us to the woman that was right at his side, during [the] most pivotal years of his life, when he was imprisoned. Why did this story appeal to you?

AB: I first discovered Dietrich Bonhoeffer through Eric Metaxas' book, Seven Men: And the Secret of Their Greatness. A few months later, I came across a quote from a book called Love Letters from Cell 92, which is the correspondence between Dietrich Bonhoeffer and Maria. Immediately [after discovering] that there was this woman in his life, I wanted to know what kind of a woman would capture the heart of a man like Dietrich Bonhoeffer.

The more I thought and prayed about it, the more inspired I became. So one day decided I’m going to tell this story. From then on, Dietrich, Maria and I were a team. What drew you to tell this particular story from Bonhoeffer’s life—of his relationship with Maria? 

AB: The thought of writing the story of a man that's so revered as Dietrich Bonhoeffer was very daunting to me, but eventually, I just felt that I needed to tell this story, that people needed to hear this story, and that Maria's story needed to be told. We don't know a lot about her.

Eberhard Bethge, Bonhoeffer's best friend, [published] the first biography that's ever been written about Dietrich Bonhoeffer. It's over 1,000 pages long. Maria is mentioned on four of them. I was like, "Why? We need to know about this woman." She was an incredible person, and Dietrich Bonhoeffer obviously thought so. The more I read about her, the more I [realized she was] a hero in her own right. Was there anything you came across in your research that you found particularly surprising?

AB: I was able to come across some unique resources, that I don't believe other people who have written about Bonhoeffer discovered. One of them was an interview that Maria did in 1974, from Malcolm Muggeridge's television documentary A Third Testament. I was actually able to listen to her talk about [the time] after Dietrich had been taken, and no one knew where [was]. She was traveling across Germany on foot, and she arrived at Flossenburg concentration camp, but she arrived there in February, and he didn't get there until April.

There was intense emotion in her voice, as she shared about what this meant had meant to her—and this was 30 years later after she became a successful businesswoman.

I also loved discovering Dietrich, not only as the author, pastor, theologian, and man of resistance, that many of us know him to be, but as a very human, and even flawed man. I think it's a temptation to consign [him] to a pedestal, but I feel like that makes him distant and unrelatable. He did live out costly discipleship, he did serve God with all his heart, but he was also very human. He struggled with raw emotions of fear during this imprisonment. He fell in love at the most unlikely time of his life, and he fought that falling in love. That's the Dietrich Bonhoeffer that I came to know, and I came to share in my book, not some cardboard cut-out, labeled brilliant theologian and martyr. How did working on this project affect your faith?

AB: This is the most transformative project I’ve written. The faith that these two people lived…totally changed me.

A Bonhoeffer quote I love is: “Who stands firm? Only the one…whose life will be nothing but an answer to God's question and call."

[I try] to let that be my prayer, to let my life be nothing but an answer to God's call.

This interview has been edited for clarity and length.

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