Wonder Woman of the Week: Paula Bonhoeffer

Can you tell yet that I’m going off the beaten path to gather my Wonder Women? Well, I am. I could go through the time-honored women, and they would be as great of role models and as inspiring of figures as ever, but I would seem pretty normal. My vanity dictates that I admire the hay bales in the field instead of the wildflowers.

via brianasrundown.blogspot.com

Equally as important. Not always as glamorous. But I admire off-the-beaten-path ladies, and this blog is all about me. (Despite the fact that I often address you and the fact that I do have strong feelings for you, reader… this party is all about me.) That said in probably more words than necessary, this week’s wonder woman is Paula Bonhoeffer.

You have probably never heard of her, but her name may sound strangely familiar. That’s because 1) she was never and is still not famous or even well known and 2) she’s the mother dearest of Dietrich Bonhoeffer.

In order to understand who Paula is, you have to know a little bit about Dietrich. A recent biography (which, you guessed it, I’m currently reading and will be taking most of this info from) titles him “Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy.” Now I don’t know about you, but I’m a bit fan of subtitles that reference other titles. Dietrich Bonhoeffer was a highly education, culturally savvy, incredibly socially perceptive German theologian and pastor. He was one of the few members of the German church who saw Hilter and the Nazis exactly for what they  in the early years when they were still professing a shade of Christianity that clouded the terrible intentions and beliefs of their leader and his followers.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer (Art Resource, NY)

Dietrich Bonhoeffer spoke out boldly against The Aryan Paragraph and the creeping strong-arm of the Third Reich into the very core of Christianity. He was instrumental in the ecumenical resistance, The Confessing Church, and in the end gave up the chance to stay safely out of the way in America and was hanged on April 9, 1945. Even though the movie entirely neglected to mention his significant role in the plot, Dietrich was a part of the Valkyrie plot to assassinate Hitler (the movie also left out the faith of other members and the fact that none of them sounded like Englishmen or Americans, but that’s a whole ‘nother blog post). Since this post is actually about Paula, it should be noted that, while Dietrich is the most well known of her children, Paula also lost two other sons and two sons-in-law to the Protestant resistance movement against the Nazis.

As I was reading about Dietrich’s childhood and his adult life, I couldn’t help but admire the kind of woman who could raise such courageous and intelligent sons. According to Eric Metaxas , Paula and Karl Bonhoeffer had a clear vision of the type of home they wanted for their family and visiting friends. She nurtured the mind and spirit that would become a pastor, martyr, prophet, and spy. That’s impressive.

Speaking later in life about meeting his wife, Karl Bonhoeffer wrote, “I met a young, fair, blue-eyed girl whose bearing was so free and natural, and whose expression was so open and confident, that as soon as she entered the room she took me captive. The moment when I first laid eyes upon my future wife remains in my memory with an almost mystical force.” (Uh, hello, I want someone to see me that way!)

Paula came from a background full of impressive figures. Her grandfather was a famous theologian called to his post by the world famous Goethe (he has his own statue where he taught), her mother took piano lessons from Franz Liszt and the wife of Schumann, her father was a well known painter and a Count.

Paula with her children (http://staatsbibliothek-berlin.de)

Having trained and been certified as a teacher, Paula took her eight children’s education into her own hands, keeping them at their large home where she could teach her children to think critically and speak deliberately. Not only was Paula an intellectual, she was a woman of strong and unwavering faith:

“The faith that Paula Bonhoeffer evinced spoke for itself; it lived in action and was evident in the way she put others before herself and taught her children to do the same. ‘There was no place for false piety or any kind of bogus religiosity in our home,’ Sabine [Bonhoeffer’s twin sister] remembered, ‘Mama expected us to show great resolution.'” (-Eric Metaxas)

Paula with her children (http://staatsbibliothek-berlin.de)

A great example of her immovable belief and trust in God is the hymn she chose to have sung at the funeral of her son, Walter, when he was killed during WWI. Paula was devastated, spent weeks unable to get out of bed, and it was years before she could return to her normal duties and activities. Despite this enormous loss, she chose these words to commemorate her son:

What God has done, it is well done.
His will is always just.
Whatever He will do to me,
In Him I’ll ever place my trust.

Reading and writing about Paula Bonhoeffer’s life reminded me of this poem from Proverbs, the collection of wise sayings in the Old Testament (click here for the full poem):


 She sets about her work vigorously; 
   her arms are strong for her tasks. 
She sees that her trading is profitable,
and her lamp does not go out at night…
She opens her arms to the poor
and extends her hands to the needy…
 She is clothed with strength and dignity; 
 she can laugh at the days to come. 

She speaks with wisdom,
and faithful instruction is on her tongue.
She watches over the affairs of her household
and does not eat the bread of idleness.
Her children arise and call her blessed;
her husband also, and he praises her:
“Many women do noble things,
but you surpass them all.”
Charm is deceptive, and beauty is fleeting;
but a woman who fears the LORD is to be praised.
Honor her for all that her hands have done,
and let her works bring her praise at the city gate.

Readers, I’m drawing a blank on who to feature as next week’s wonder woman! Help! Leave a comment with a suggestion. I’m looking for strong women who we can look up to as role models for the modern woman. Who should I write about?

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2 thoughts on “Wonder Woman of the Week: Paula Bonhoeffer

  1. Pingback: Paula Bonhoeffer, Homeschool & Dietrich’s Path Towards Theology « Gratia Veritas Lumen

  2. Pingback: No Room For People Without Pages « Ezra Won't Shut Up

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