01 January, 2013

Helmut Gollwitzer

Helmut Gollwitzer was a Lutheran theologian and author. 

Born in Pappenheim, Bavaria, Gollwitzer studied Protestant theology in Munich, Erlangen, Jena and Bonn (1928–1932); he later completed a doctorate under Karl Barth in Basel (1937), writing on the understanding of the eucharist in Martin Luther and John Calvin.

During the period of the Nazi regime in Germany, Gollwitzer was a well-known member of the Confessing Church movement, which resisted the regime's attempt to control the churches. He took over as the pastor of the congregation at Berlin-Dahlem after the arrest of Martin Niemöller.

During World War II, Gollwitzer served as a medic at the Eastern Front, and was a Prisoner of War in the Soviet Union from 1945-1949. He wrote a book about his experience of being a POW which became a bestseller in Germany in 1950 (Unwilling Journey: A Diary from Russia); the then President of West Germany, Theodor Heuss, called it "a great historical document".

Gollwitzer was appointed professor of systematic theology at the University of Bonn (1950–1957), and then as professor of Protestant theology at the Free University of Berlin; he retired in 1975. He had been Karl Barth's first choice as his successor in Basel, but the University authorities turned him down due to what they called 'his unclear attitude to the Soviet Union'.

Known as a close friend of Rudi Dutschke, whose wife studied with Gollwitzer, and a pastor to Ulrike Meinhof, he was prominently involved in the political debates ensuing in the late 1960s and 1970s. Gollwitzer was a pacifist and well-known opponent of nuclear weapons, the US engagement in Vietnam and the arms race, as well as a staunch critic of capitalism.

Gollwitzer died in Berlin on October 17, 1993.

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