Theodor Burckhardt (1885 - 1982)

Theodor Burckhardt studied Protestant theology and in 1911 he took on his first position as a pastor in Sollstedt, a village in the southern Harz Mountains. The same year he married Bolette Michelet, who came from a Norwegian theologian family. Burckhardt transferred to the Bethel institution in 1914. During the First World War he was called up a number of times to work as a volunteer military chaplain. In 1925 he started at a new position in Wuppertal-Unterbarmen. From there he was transferred in 1931 to the Zum Heilsbronnen parish in Berlin-Schöneberg, where he remained until 1945.

Although the church council was dominated as of 1933 by German Christians who were loyal to the regime, no open conflict emerged in the congregation. Along with pastors Eitel-Friedrich von Rabenau and Adolf Kurtz, Burckhardt was considered a “pillar” of the Confessing Church in Schöneberg. He was a staunch opponent of anti-Semitic ideology. Presumably denounced by a congregation elder, Burckhardt was arrested for his intercessory prayers for imprisoned pastors. He was detained for three weeks and placed under house arrest several times.

In 1974 Theodor Burckhardt recalled that his and his wife’s assistance “in the early days of National Socialism consisted of offering … temporary accommodations in our large residence to non-Aryans, hiring women of Jewish ancestry to work in our home, trying to find them helpers, arranging to get food ration cards, etc.” “My wife sometimes passed her postal ID card on to Jewish women” and then she would report it lost. The third time she did this the pastor was summoned to the Gestapo, but he managed to talk his way out of it. Any time it was at all possible, the pastor and his wife collected food and food ration cards to help out people in hiding. Bolette Burckhardt sent the two youngest of her nine children through the city to deliver these donations to those who needed them.

The names of two Jewish couples who were hidden in the Zum Heilsbronnen parsonage are known: Max and Ines Krakauer stayed there August 1–7, 1943. Pastor Burckhardt then passed them on to Kurt Müller, a colleague of his in Stuttgart who also helped Jews in hiding. Ernst and Helene Helft were also given lodgings in the parsonage, in November 1943 for about four weeks and again in March 1944 for an unknown length of time. Pastor Burckhardt also referred Else Fleischmann, another Jew in hiding, to the doctor Anna Brüggemann. Anna Brüggemann mentioned after the war that together with Burckhardt, she issued medical certificates to help people avoid deportation.

On April 14, 1945, Theodor Burckhardt left Berlin with his wife, who was seriously ill, on one of the last trains leaving the city. Bolette Burckhardt died on May 24, 1945 in Bad Oldesloe. Because he had left his parish without permission from the church authorities, he was suspended and was able to make ends meet only through his connections to a brotherhood. Burckhardt died in 1982 at the age of 96.

In 2010 a memorial plaque was mounted on the Zum Heilsbronnen Church in Berlin-Schöneberg, commemorating the courageous work of Theodor and Bolette Burckhardt.
Theodor Burckhardt
Photo: privately owned

Rescue Attempts


  • Confessing Church

    Confessing Church

    This church opposition to the Protestant Church’s forced conformity with the Nazi regime was founded in 1934. It rejected having Christians of Jewish descent excluded from the church. In all state churches except in Württemberg, Bavaria, and Hanover, there was a schism between “German Christians” who were loyal to the regime and supporters of the Confessing Church. Many Confessing Church pastors were imprisoned.