While researching Dietrich Bonhoeffer and women, I was tantalized by a line from Maria’s sister Ruth-Alice von Bismarck in Love Letters from Cell 92: The Correspondence between Dietrich Bonhoeffer and Maria von Wedemeyer: 1943-45: “In 1974 … She [Maria] also gave an interview about her relationship with Bonhoeffer for a television documentary.” (354)An interview? Why had I not heard of this? What could be more compelling than to see and hear a historical figure on whose letters I had spent so much time? I went searching for the interview, but came up empty-handed: 1974 and television were too vague as parameters. I even spoke on the phone to a kind person at Union Theological Seminary, who suggested I check with PBS.
I continued sleuthing and eventually discovered the interview in Malcolm Muggeridge’s series A Third Testament, which “explores the spiritual awakening of six renowned thinkers,” ending with Bonhoeffer. Suffice it to say that I immediately ordered the DVD.
What a find it was. The interview confirms reports of Maria as remarkably self-possessed, and at 50, still a beautiful woman, sporting a form fitting sweater dress. It was fascinating to see the woodsy contemporary home she bought in New England during her tenure as the highest ranking female manager at Honeywell. I wondered if the thick Oriental rug on the floor was the one from the Patzig estate used to cover the wagon in which she, some younger siblings and several old women escaped across the frozen Oder river as the Russians arrived.
The interview had its frustrations, however, as I watched the self-possessed Maria hesitate, pause and thoughtfully grope for the right word to describe her relationship with Dietrich, only to have Muggeridge, apparently unwilling to wait, supply a word for her. She acquiesces and repeats it—but what would she have said if left to speak her own thoughts? We’ll never know—and yet, the interview, short as it is, exists, and for that we can be grateful.
In an exchange of e-mails with me, Craig Slane said that mission of this Bonhoeffer site is “high quality resources for engagement with Bonhoeffer.” Because of that, I started thinking about quality resources hidden in plain sight, and the first that popped to mind was this interview. I include some analysis of it in my upcoming book, and I hope more of these “submerged” sources will rise to the surface in Bonhoeffer studies. For instance, while we know of only a few seconds of film of Bonhoeffer himself and have no recordings, I imagine the Gestapo must have taped telephone conversations of a man of such interest to them. Bonhoeffer did, after all, strongly suspect his phone was tapped. We know too that the regime played back recordings of Niemoller phone conversations with Confessing Church cohorts in order to embarrass him. If similar Bonhoeffer recordings were made and still exist, locked away in some archive, wouldn’t that be a find? But on we dream …
Next time: Mary Bosanquat, Bonhoeffer’s first biographer.