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The Way We Were: July 1942 (German edition)

By: Steve C - November 25, 2008

I was quite interested in a recent Keepa post about events going on in the Church in July, 1942. World War II was raging. The United States had entered the war seven months earlier and, although it had suffered a number of setbacks in the Pacific theater, had recently won a major victory at Midway. In July, 1942, my own father turned eight years of age and a few weeks later was baptized in the Ford County Lake in Kansas—his mother had converted two years earlier and his father joined the Church the next February.

While reading the post of Church events in July, 1942, I could not help but notice that there were no reports from Church members in Germany. That really should come as no surprise since the German Saints were cut-off from the mother Church in the USA. Nevertheless, the Latter-day Saints in the Third Reich had their share of war-related experiences. Although records are scant specifically for July, 1942, I will relate some of the major experiences of the German Saints for the year 1942. (These accounts are available in the East German Mission Manuscript History and the West German Mission Manuscript History at the LDS archives, Salt Lake City, Utah).

MISSION PRESIDENCIES:

In the West German Mission, Anton Huch became acting mission president. Many believed he was sympathetic to regime. Huch served until after the end of World War II. He was preceeded as acting mission president by Friedrich Biel and Christian Heck, both of whom were drafted into the military and lost their lives on the Russian Front.

In the East German Mission, Herbert Klopfer served as acting mission president from 1939 to 1943. At the beginning of the war, he had been called up for military duty but was stationed in Berlin and was able to continue presiding over the mission. Finally, in 1943 he was transferred to France and later on to Denmark. In 1944 he was reassigned to the Russian Front where he lost his life in the spring of 1945. In his absence from Berlin, his wife, Erna, and his two counselors, Richard Ranglack and Paul Langheinrich, ran the affairs of the mission.

RELIEF SOCIETY:

In both the East and West German missions, the Relief Society celebrated its centennial. For this celebration the mission Relief Societies jointly distributed jubilee brochures with the story of this great organization.

On 22 March, the Hamburg district presented a play, The ABC of the Relief Society, written by Sister Inge Baum of the Kassel branch.

YM/YWMIA:

On Sunday, July 19, 1942, the West German Mission Manuscript notes the following:

In the officers’ meeting of the Altona branch, Elder Friedrich Thymian, superintendent of the YMMIA, said: “The work with the youth of the Church is greatly hindered by ‘higher powers.’ The only work the MIA can do is to provide entertainment for the branch.”

It is obvious that Brother Thymian, also the branch clerk, referred to the party in power. The young people were forced to participate in the activities of the Hitler Jugend and this made the work of the MIA with the youth almost impossible. It is also interesting to note how careful Brother Thymian is choosing his words describing the difficulty. The books of the branches were checked frequently by the Gestapo and it could have been fatal if they contained any remarks against the NSDAP.

CONDITIONS IN BRANCHES/DISTRICTS:

Both mission histories note the constant perils of air raids. In November, the Wilhelmshaven branch conference was interrupted twice by air raids. Several meeting halls had by 1942 either been damaged or destroyed by bombs. The Bremen branch meeting hall had been confiscated by governmental authorities and other meeting halls were designated air-raid shelters.

Many in leadership positions in the branches and districts had been called up for military duty.

On 1 January 1943, reflecting on conditions, district president Willi Deters of the Bremen district wrote:

The fourth year of the war has started. What has the new year in store for us? The conditions in the branches are becoming increasingly more difficult. The lack of food is more and more noticeable. The constant air-raids make the people nervous and irritable. There are only the real faithful Saints coming to the meetings now. However, these are in sufficient numbers to carry on the work.

LDS PRISONERS OF WAR:

The following information was related to Justus Ernst by J. Paul Jongkees, President of the Holland Stake, on his visit to Salt Lake City on April 7, 1960:

At the time of the invasion of the Netherlands by German troops, I was an officer in the Dutch army. In 1942, I was arrested by the occupation forces and placed as a former officer in the subsequent years in Prisoner of War camps in Nuremberg; Stanisflau (?), Poland; and Neu Brandenburg.

During this time I was with Elder Pieter Blam, the only member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in these several camps. Elder Blam invited us to attend meetings he conducted with the permission of the German commandant in these several camps. I attended along with a dozen or so other men and received at this time a strong testimony of the gospel of Jesus Christ. In these years of despair the gospel brought joy to us and the strength we needed to endure all difficulties.

Besides regular services, we also held MIA meetings and had a small choir.

In 1945 we were liberated by the Russian troops and returned to Holland where six of this group were baptized members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints including myself.

THE HELMUTH HÜBENER GROUP:

In 1941, three young Latter-day Saints in Hamburg organized a resistance group. Led by Helmuth Hübener, Karl-Heinz Schnibbe and Rudi Wobbe listened to BBC broadcasts and published anti-Nazi handbills which they covertly distributed throughout Hamburg. In February 1942, the trio was arrested and incarcerated in Glasmor prison in Hamburg where they endured the wrath of the Gestapo.

In July 1942, the Hübener Group prepared to be transported from Hamburg to Berlin Moabit prison where they were to stand trial before the Volksgerichthof (People’s Court—a.k.a. “Blood Tribunal”). They were found guilty in August, 1942. Hübener was executed on 27 October in the infamous Plötzensee prison. Schnibbe was sentenced to five years in prison and Wobbe to ten years. Both survived the war and migrated to Salt Lake City. Helmuth Hübener was excommunicated at the time by his branch president for his activities. However, after World War II his membership was posthumously reinstated.



17 Comments »

  1. Thank you for this, Steve, which helps to fill in a very obvious gap in the earlier post.

    Herbert Klopfer, Jr., the son of the acting mission president you name, is a member of my ward. He was a very small boy in 1942; I’ve heard him talk about his father, and about how after his death the family traced some of his movements with the army because he contacted church members whenever he could, whether in Germany or any of the occupied countries, and the memories and diary entries of those church members gradually filtered back to his family.

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — November 25, 2008 @ 8:47 am

  2. Great post.

    I have acopy of Gilbert Scharffs book, Mormonism in Germany (Deseret Book, 1970), which is one of a very few regional histories published to date. But it didn’t have any additional information about the status of the Church in German in 1942.

    But, I do think the accounts of how the missionaries managed to flee Germany in the week before the invasion of Poland is quite engrossing.

    Comment by Kent Larsen — November 25, 2008 @ 9:25 am

  3. Great post, Steve.

    Comment by Mark B. — November 25, 2008 @ 9:32 am

  4. Very interesting post, Steve C. Being in Germany approximately 50 years after this, I was always struck by how present the war still was to so many people.

    As far as those POW camps, they are listed in the following resource:

    POW Camp List.

    The first, Nuremberg is Nürnberg in Bavaria (Bayern). The second one is a probably a typo for Stanislau or Stanislaw, now in Ukraine, and the third is Neubrandenburg in Mecklenburg-Vorpommern.

    Comment by Amy T — November 25, 2008 @ 10:22 am

  5. Kent: Mormonism in Germany is one of the better secondary sources on LDS history outside the intermountain west. There have also been several published accounts of the evacuation of the missionaries from the West German Mission in 1939. Interestingly, most of the EGM missionaries left with little incident (although a couple were jailed just prior to the evacuation).

    There is someone who has written quite a bit on the LDS in Germany who needs to get in gear and publish his work. :-)

    Amy T: Thanks for your list. I got the POW camps from the mission histories knowing there were typos and just didn’t clean it up. BTW: I kept trying to find out if there were any LDS at Stalag 13. :-)

    Comment by Steve C. — November 25, 2008 @ 11:12 am

  6. Steve, what would you recommend as suitable encouragement to “someone who has written” but “needs to get in gear”?

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — November 25, 2008 @ 11:29 am

  7. Thank you for this interesting post. Please take whatever steps are necessary, up to and including corporal punishment, to provide sufficient motivation for the slacker you mentioned to get it in gear.

    As I read the comments here, It sounds like you, Amy T, and I have a few things in common. It’s interesting to read a blog post and see the names of places I served. I was in both the Altona and Bremen wards, and Wilhelmshaven had the reputation of being the dreariest, raniest, most distant place from HQ in the mission. I think I would have loved it there. The elders who served there had a song about the place. The just used the tune and lyrics from Anatevka, from Fiddler on the Roof. They would substitute Wil-helms-hav-en for A-na-tev-ka.

    Comment by Mark Brown — November 25, 2008 @ 11:58 am

  8. Great post. Thanks.

    Comment by Edje — November 25, 2008 @ 12:14 pm

  9. Thank you for posting this. For any of you who with further interests in this field, I attended a lecture last week of Raymond Kuehne, a man who served a temple mission in Freiberg several years ago and had his curiosity piqued about the history of the Church in the GDR. He couldn’t believe that no history had been written and began researching and asking questions. President Burkhardt (the temple president) encouraged him to keep doing his research, though many leaders were uncomfortable with his work, especially because they didn’t think an American could write their story. For now, the book has already been published by a press in Leipzig (where I live), with the title Mormonen und Staatsbürger.

    I’ve secured a copy and can’t wait to finish reading it. It’s a killer of a book with a good 550 pages. Friends who have read it already say that it’s very honest and well-written. The English version will be published some time in the summer by the University of Utah press. Kuehne lives in Salt Lake City now and gave two copies of his book to President Marlin K. Jensen: one for him and one for President Uchtdorf. A few weeks later, President Jensen called him and said that they “would be interested in seeing a biography of President Burkhardt,” of course not officially endorsing it. Kuehne is working on the biography right now. Very interesting stuff.

    Comment by Michelle Glauser — November 25, 2008 @ 12:18 pm

  10. Michelle, that’s wonderful news — I hadn’t heard about it at all, even that such a thing was on the UofU’s radar. You should think about reviewing it … I happen to know a blog that would be interested in posting your review.

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — November 25, 2008 @ 12:24 pm

  11. Pres. Burkhardt is the man who sent the telegram described in this post. His son was the missionary who boarded in the basement of my parent’s house.

    Comment by Mark Brown — November 25, 2008 @ 12:42 pm

  12. Ardis:

    Sounds like you’re wanting to outsource some of Keepa’s posts. :-)

    Comment by Steve C — November 25, 2008 @ 12:51 pm

  13. Only when they are the best, coming from the best.

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — November 25, 2008 @ 12:52 pm

  14. Mark, that was a remarkable post/telegram. Thanks for reminding us, and for identifying the family.

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — November 25, 2008 @ 12:57 pm

  15. Aw shucks, Ardis. You’re too kind.

    Comment by Steve C — November 25, 2008 @ 1:36 pm

  16. Steve, it’s great to read your post. It is interesting how the person recording the YM/YW minutes had to tell Part of the story, but not the whole story.

    I also jumped on the link to Mark’s post on BCC and read his telegram story. Thanks to you also.

    Comment by Maurine — November 25, 2008 @ 4:32 pm

  17. This was a great source to find, I am about to begin a dissertation on Mormonism in GDR and found many comments and info on here excellent help!! thank you

    Comment by Julia Taylor — October 15, 2010 @ 6:32 am

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