Søren Aabye Kierkegaard was born in Copenhagen, Denmark on May 5, 1813. He was the youngest of seven children born to his wealthy aristocratic parents. Kierkegaard’s life was marked with suffering and death from an early age. By the time he was 21, five of his six siblings had died. His father confessed that he believed he had been cursed by God for some sin of his youth to have all of his children die before him. His father was a stoic, often perceived as cold and unfeeling. The man was staunchly religious and made sure to raise his children to be the same. Watching his siblings die caused Kierkegaard to believe he too would die young. This informed much of the way he saw the world. It compelled him to produce a large body of work at a young age and to develop a system of philosophy which would lead to the birth of Existentialism.
Dietrich Bonhoeffer was born roughly 50 years after Kierkegaard’s death in November of 1855. A twin and one of eight children, Bonhoeffer grew up closely connected to his large family. The Bonhoeffers were a historically aristocratic family, descendants of German nobility and military leaders. Dietrich’s father was a strict and well-respected German academic who ran an orderly home. This experience of affluence, clout, and family was important in the formation of young Bonhoeffer, as was the loss of his oldest brother in the first World War, which visited pain, death, economic ruin, and shame upon all the households of the young nation of Germany.