Wedemeyer, Maria von (c. 1924–1977)

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Wedemeyer, Maria von (c. 1924–1977)

German-born mathematician who was the fiancée of Dietrich Bonhoeffer. Name variations: Maria von Wedemeyer-Weller. Born in Germany around 1924; died of cancer on November 16, 1977, in Boston, Massachusetts; studied math at the University of Göttingen in Germany; Bryn Mawr, M.A., 1950; married Paul Schniewind, in 1949 (divorced c. 1955); married Barton Weller, in 1959 (divorced 1965); children: (first marriage) Christopher; Paul; (stepdaughter) Sue M. Ryan.

Born around 1924, the daughter of German aristocrats, Maria von Wedemeyer was in her early teens when she first met German pastor Dietrich Bonhoeffer, while attending confirmation classes he was giving. By the time they met again during World War II, Wedemeyer's father and brother had died fighting on the Russian front, and Bonhoeffer was a confirmed opponent of the Third Reich, forbidden by the Nazis from speaking in public and secretly using his job in German military intelligence to help the resistance. A struggle was being fought within the German Evangelical Church, and Bonhoeffer was a strong supporter of the "Confessing Church," the small faction that confessed to being led only by Jesus Christ, not by Adolf Hitler. By 1943, despite the difference in their ages—he was 17 years her senior—Wedemeyer and Bonhoeffer were engaged. That April, he was arrested for his role in a plot to assassinate Hitler. They never met alone again, although Wedemeyer was able to visit him under the supervision of guards during his almost two years in Berlin's Tegel Prison. They also corresponded regularly (despite prison censorship), in letters that vividly document both their love and Bonhoeffer's philosophies. Towards the end of the war, Bonhoeffer was transported to first one and then another concentration camp. He was hanged along with other prisoners at Flossenburg on April 9, 1945, less than a month before Germany's surrender.

Wedemeyer attended the University of Göttingen, studying math, and in 1948 immigrated to the United States, where she kept her correspondence with Bonhoeffer in a bank vault. The insight into Bonhoeffer's character that the letters might provide made them of key interest to scholars, but when Wedemeyer donated them to Harvard University in 1967, it was under orders that they were not to be published for another 25 years without her permission. She published limited portions of the letters in an article in the Union Theological Seminary's journal that year.

In the United States, Wedemeyer, whose two marriages and divorces left her the single mother of three children, built on her studies of mathematics to create a successful career at Honeywell, Inc., in Boston. Her work as an engineer in the field of minicomputers, particularly in her development of what was known as emulation capability, placed her firmly at the forefront of the computer age. She died of cancer in Boston in 1977, at age 53. In 1994, her correspondence with Bonhoeffer was published as Love Letters from Cell 92.


Bonhoeffer, Dietrich. Love Letters from Cell 92: The Correspondence between Dietrich Bonhoeffer and Maria von Wedemeyer, 1943–45. Trans. by John Brownjohn. Ed. by Ruth-Alice von Bismarck and Ulrich Kabitz. Nashville, TN: Abingdon Press, 1994.

Contemporary Authors, Vol. 148. Detroit, MI: Gale Research, 1996.

The New York Times Biographical Service. November 1977, p. 1574.

Publishers Weekly. February 13, 1995, p. 58.

suggested reading:

Clements, Keith W. A Patriotism for Today: Love of Country in Dialogue with the Witness of Dietrich Bonhoeffer. London: Collins Flame, 1986.

Ann M. Schwalboski , M.A., M.F.A., University of Wisconsin-Baraboo/Sauk County, Wisconsin