Life, career, resistance
Gerstenmaier was born in Kirchheim unter Teck.
After training as a salesman, Gerstenmaier did his Abitur and then studied philosophy, German language and literature, and Evangelical theology in Tübingen, Rostock and Zurich. In 1934, he was detained for a short time for being a member of the Confessing Church. In 1935, he became
Theodor Heckel's assistant in the German Evangelical Church's office for outside affairs. After the Munich Conference in 1938, Gerstenmaier joined the resistance group about the Kreisau Circle.
On 20 July 1944, the day of Claus Schenk von Stauffenberg's attempt on Adolf Hitler's life at the Wolf's Lair in East Prussia, Gerstenmaier was at his assigned place at the Bendlerblock in Berlin to support the attempted assassination and coup d'état against the Nazi régime. Along with many others, he was arrested after the plot failed, and on 11 January 1945, Gerstenmaier was sentenced by the Volksgerichtshof to seven years in labour prison (Zuchthaus). This by the standards of "hanging judge" Roland Freisler unusually lenient sentence (the prosecution had demanded death by hanging) may partially be explained by Gerstenmaier's playing the "unworldly theologian" role to the hilt, partially by intercession on his behalf with Freisler by acting national press chief Sündermann . Of course, he spent only a few months there, and was freed by US troops at the end of the war. Along with Hermann Ehlers, a German politician, he was active in the Evangelical Aid organization (Evangelisches Hilfswerk). From 1945 to 1951, he was its leader.