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Cut Off by War: The Norwegian Saints Report, 1944

By: Ardis E. Parshall - May 13, 2009

Although Norway did not suffer the battlefield or bombing damage of much of the rest of World War II Europe, Norway was occupied by Germany early in the war and cut off from trade and free communication with the world. For four long years, church leaders in Salt Lake City heard nothing from or about the Saints in Norway.

Then in September 1944, a small group of people smuggled themselves out of Norway, escorted by men armed with machine guns, over a route they were forbidden to describe. One of those men carried with him a letter written by an unnamed church leader in Norway, to be delivered to a church worker in Sweden (their names would probably be discoverable with access to church archives, but neither leader was named when this letter was released before the war ended). The Swedish leader, with greater access to communications, forwarded the letter to Thomas E. McKay, acting president of the European Mission.

What would you want to report about the Saints in your care under those circumstances?

Oslo, September 4, 1944

President Thomas E. McKay
Salt Lake City

Dear Brother:

It has been a long time since you heard anything from us here in the Norwegian Mission, but now I have an extraordinary chance to send you a greeting from the Saints in Norway.

The condition here in our mission is good taking the circumstances in consideration. We are living under the yoke of war, and that does interfere with our work to some extent. Thus it has been difficult to travel and visit the Saints in the branches, but I have been able to visit most of them since our spring conference.

Our conferences we have held twice a year and I am glad to tell you that they have been very well attended and a blessing to the Saints.

Up to this day we have been saved from destruction and the church property is still on our hands except the Stavanger meeting house which for the two last years has been used by the German “protectors.” In spite of this the meetings have been held all the time in this branch, but in hired halls.

The activity in the priesthood has been very good lately, especially in the larger branches, and many good brothers are willing to do their best in performing their duties. All our organization are active and holding their meetings regular. It has been some difficulty in providing lessons for all these classes, but the superintendency in the auxiliaries have done their best in providing lessons each year. We look forward to the time when we again can have connection with the General Boards in Zion and get the necessary instructions for our work.

The offerings are coming in better than ever, and thus the economical condition of the Norwegian Mission is very good.

We are sorry to say that we not (till yet) have been able to purchase a property for the Trondheim Branch, which was the desire of our presiding brethren in Zion. it has been almost impossible during the war to get anything as people do not sell their properties now. A lot of properties are also claimed by the Germans, but we hope to get something when the war is over. The meetings in Trondheim are now held in the old hall, in the former Church property, and this has been large enough for our use.

Our Star, “Lys over Norge” is published regular once a month, and is now printed in 700 copies. Several non-members are subscribers.

Our Church literature we have all the time got from Denmark, but now there are some of our standard works which we can’t get any longer, they are all sold out and can’t be printed again till the war is ended. (The Book of Mormon, Doctrine and Covenants, Pearl of Great Price.)

When I look back on the four years which are gone since we were left alone, I feel to say that in spite of the difficulties which often have been hard, there has always been a way out of it, and I must thank my Father in Heaven for his help and guidance which I have often been blessed with in many different ways. I don’t think the Norwegian Mission ever has been in such a condition before as we have had for the last three years, without connection with Zion. This has been difficult in many ways, one can’t get away from that fact. But we have many good and loyal brothers and sisters who each in their own place are doing their best, and I don’t think the Saints have agreed so well before as they have done these last years.

The presiding brethren in the branches have got as their main duty to work with the Saints, to make them more active, and it has been of good help to many. In some branches there also has been done much to bring order in the membership of some not so good members. It also has been necessary in some cases to excommunicate some unrepentant members for adultery.

We also have baptized some, and the membership is, in spite of many deaths, a little larger than it was four years ago. We also have had the privilege to send out seven missionaries who have worked from four to 13 months. At the present we have only one who has been out for 16 months. These missionaries have been provided for by the Saints who have donated sufficient means so there has been no difficulty in keeping them. But the conditions are now so hard that it is impossible for us to call upon more missionaries to go out. They have been of great help to some of the branches where there are few brothers to take charge of the work. It also has been a blessing to the missionaries to have had this opportunity.

I have now tried to give you a small report over the condition in our mission, and I hope that the time soon will come when we can send our reports over to Zion which will give you a more detailed view of the facts.

Will you please give our best regards to our presiding brethren and also send greetings to all the Saints in Zion from us here in Norway. We are all safe. None of the Norwegian Saints have been hurt or killed on account of the war. We are all looking forwards in hopes of getting out of bondage and being free again!

You can’t write me any answer to this letter, but I am glad for the chance to send you this greeting from all the Saints and myself.



6 Comments »

  1. This is quite interesting as I have done very little research on the Norwegian Saints during World War II.

    I am always amazed at how well the Church fared in Axis controlled Europe. In spite of being cut off from SLC for four years or more, the local members made the most of it and conducted the affairs of the Church in a wonderful manner with a few exceptions.

    I do recall an LDS German soldier stationed in Norway. Although most Norwegians hated the Germans, this soldier said that most Church members accepted him. He was integrated into the local branches (some of them mentioned in the above letter), developed close friendships with the Norwegian members, often ate with the members and helped some members get parts for their illegal radios (a few of these members were part of the Norwegian underground). Although this fellow could not hold callings in the local branches because he was a visitor, once he learned to speak Norwegian he gave talks in sacrament meetings. Pretty cool!

    Comment by Steve C. — May 13, 2009 @ 8:50 am

  2. Thanks for sharing this fascinating letter, Ardis. I’d be interested to learn the identities of those who escaped from Norway. FWIW, Carl-Erik Johansson’s thesis on the history of the Swedish mission mentions in passing that the Swedish mission president during the war years, Fritz Johansson, “was able to forward information, letters and reports from the presidents of the occupied Danish and Norwegian missions, which understandably had to be treated in a very delicate way” (70).

    Comment by Justin — May 13, 2009 @ 1:33 pm

  3. Very interesting. We take easy communication in the Restored church for granted.

    Comment by J. Stapley — May 13, 2009 @ 2:13 pm

  4. What a fascinating letter. While the group carrying it were making their way to Sweden (mid-September?), Montgomery and Eisenhower were building up allied forces for an assault on Holland and a Rhine crossing (which failed within a few weeks – Oper. Market-Garden), 1st Army was taking Luxembourg, Patton was pressing Metz, and Hitler was screaming at his generals for a counterattack which soon became the bulge. It would seem the German army would have been on high alert. The group was definitely not alone.

    Comment by Curt A. — May 13, 2009 @ 4:30 pm

  5. The considerable independence of the Norwegian Church in performing excommuniations, and calling missionaries, is very encouraging. I’m not sure every area of the church would have done so well at the time if placed in similar circumstances. How many members are we taking about? Less than a thousand?

    Comment by BruceCrow — May 13, 2009 @ 10:45 pm

  6. You’ve contributed some great information — thanks — and asked some good questions. I’m not where I can do any research (or even respond regularly to comments), but when I can I’ll see what I can find. We may not ever know who carried this letter out of Norway (they may not have been LDS, but only asked to carry the letter by an LDS relative or acquaintance). The leaders should be readily identified by church records, though, once the need for being “treated in a very delicate way” had passed.

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — May 14, 2009 @ 5:24 am

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