Christmas in a Cold Prison

Dietrich Bonhoeffer awoke December 25, 1943 on a hard wooden bed. It was the first of two Christmases he would spend sequestered in a Nazi prison. This first Christmas would be celebrated in a lonely prison cell in a place called Tegel. He had been there for nine months, and he would be there for nine more until he was transferred to his final home, a Nazi concentration camp.

Bonhoeffer had hoped to be released for the holiday, but that was contingent on his personal lawyer who proved unreliable. His hope of spending Christmas with his family quickly evaporated into the cold silence, and his only connection with his parents would come through letters.

Inside Tegel

In the Tegel prison, Bonhoeffer and his 700 fellow inmates were treated as criminals irrespective of trials and verdicts. The men were underfed and verbally harassed, and frequently the warden refused to turn the lights on, adding to the dark and depressive spirit of the place. Bonhoeffer was assigned to a cell surrounded by prisoners awaiting execution. He writes about often being kept awake at night by the clanking chains of the cots as the unsettled, condemned men tossed and turned.

But it was within this suffocating suffering that Christmas seemed to take a deeper meaning for the 37-year-old pastor-scholar. "A prison cell like this is a good analogy for Advent," he wrote to a friend. "One waits, hopes, does this or that -- ultimately negligible things -- the door is locked and can only be opened from the outside."

[Read the rest of the article at Desiring God.]