Much of the attention of the Relief Society Conference of October, 1945, was devoted to efforts to assist surviving members of the Church in the former war zones of Europe. Contact had been reestablished with some of the European branches, and reports of their experiences and especially of their needs were read to the sisters assembled in Salt Lake City:
“One of the most touching incidents to come to us from Europe is the story of Sister Zippro, the Netherlands Relief Society president. She was willing to face alone the dangers of an invading army in order that members of the Church might receive assistance from the Relief Society. … Her bravery and devotion to the ideals of Relief Society under such trying and perilous circumstances are worthy of our highest praise,” reported the conference.
Geertruida Zippro and her husband Willem had been introduced to the Church in 1929 by Geertruida’s brother, Peter Lodder. The Zippros’ five-year-old son had died the year before, and the couple responded to a spiritual witness that their child would one day be restored to them. They were baptized on March 9, 1929; on the following day, they were confirmed and their infant son was blessed in the branch meeting in Rotterdam. A daughter joined the family in 1933.
The family remained active in the Church. Geertruida was called as District (stake) Relief Society president, with responsibility for sisters throughout the Netherlands. That she took her calling seriously is demonstrated by her actions through the war years:
On May 10, 1940, the government of the Netherlands surrendered to the invading German army. With an armistice signed, there was no cause for what happened on the night of May 13-14, when the German air force bombed Rotterdam. In the half-hour raid, 30,000 Dutch citizens died, and an 800-acre area of Rotterdam was obliterated (in Salt Lake terms, equivalent to the total destruction of an area from North Temple to 800 South, from 500 East to 500 West).
Sister Zippro, living in Amsterdam at the time, needed to get to Rotterdam to check on the welfare of Church members living there. But the conditions of war had disrupted train travel and all other means of public transport. Her solution to this problem awed the Relief Society board in 1945 when it was reported during the Relief Society Conference:
Sister Zippro rode her bicycle, alone, the sixty miles from Amsterdam to Rotterdam, through the chaos and destruction of war. She found that the LDS chapel in Rotterdam had been destroyed, along with the homes of members. She helped to coordinate efforts in Rotterdam for displaced Saints to find shelter, many of them in the homes of other members. As donations of bedding, food and clothing were received at the mission home, contributed by generous Dutch saints, the articles were turned over to Sister Zippro and the Relief Society for distribution.
This emergency trip to Rotterdam was only the first of many such rides made by Sister Zippro during the war years. She fulfilled her responsibilities as Relief Society president by riding throughout the Netherlands, checking on the welfare of members, arranging for food distributions, and helping to keep the branches and isolated members in contact with each other.
Eventually her bicycle tires wore out and could be patched no longer. Replacement tires were impossible to find. But this didn’t end her travel – Brother Zippro cut strips from an old rubber garden hose and wired them onto the rims of her wheels. Sister Zippro resumed her work.
Food was scarce, and sometimes the Zippros, with other Dutch Saints, were on the verge of starvation. At least once they felt that their needs were supplied by heavenly aid. Brother Zippro was at work near a canal, and saw an unmanned barge, loaded with potatoes, floating down the canal. Suddenly the barge veered out of the channel and headed straight for Brother Zippro. He was able to unload two sacks of potatoes before the barge floated free.
On another memorable occasion, two armed German soldiers entered a branch meeting attended by the Zippros. Fears turned to brotherhood when the two soldiers identified themselves as Church members who asked the privilege of partaking of the sacrament.
Sister Zippro’s travels didn’t stop with the end of the war and her release as Relief Society president. The family emigrated to the United States following the war and settled in the Ensign Stake. Sister Zippro worked as a nurse’s aide at the Salt Lake General Hospital, before her death in 1962.
This appeared on Times and Seasons in October 2006.