Elder Thomas E. McKay, formerly president of the Swiss-German Mission, was appointed to serve as president of the European Mission, with headquarters at Salt Lake City, during World War II, keeping in touch with our members in Europe and providing for their welfare as best he could at such a distance and under wartime conditions.
On April 5, 1940, he reported in General Conference on the state of the Church he had left when he and the last of the elders from the U.S. had had to leave Europe.
… People that I met on my first mission, forty years ago, have sons now in the mission field, or they have been. Babies that I blessed on that first mission are now leaders, one of them presiding over the West German Mission. Many of the parents, who were Sunday School children at that time, have had sons in the mission field. All of the missionaries in the Swiss Mission, except two, have been born since that mission twenty-eight years ago. The large majority of these missionaries are sons of either parents or grandparents born in Switzerland, and I want to tell you parents that they are a credit to you and a credit to the Church, and their strong testimonies, as well as those of their parents, are a practical demonstration of the promise, “if ye will do the work, ye shall know.”
The Swiss and German Mission twenty-eight years ago comprised all of Germany, Austria, Hungary, Switzerland and France. Today there are five Missions in these countries. They are doing well. Of course, they are handicapped because of the evacuation of all our missionaries and mission presidents, but I am pleased to report that the local people are carrying on. Quite a number of those people who are now in charge of the work have been born in the church; they understand the gospel and are well qualified to carry on; they have faith; they are not discouraged because, as they say, they have the Gospel.
Some of our branches have had to be closed, but in the main they are all functioning. Two branches which we have had to close – very fine branches, too, one of which I think had the best record in tithe-paying in the Church – were located in Strassbourg and Muehlhausen, France. These cities were evacuated when war was declared. The people, our members among them, had to leave over night, with only a bundle of clothing to take with them. For weeks we didn’t know just where they were. Finally we were able to get some letters through, and they were located. As soon as arrangements could be made with the French and Swiss authorities for permission to cross the border, one of our brethren was sent to visit them, taking a considerable sum of money with him to help make them as comfortable as possible.
We had learned, just for an example, that thirty-five thousand people were being taken care of in a city of thirty thousand population. You can imagine what that would mean, with the limited accommodations. Some members, we learned, were sleeping in bathrooms; others sleeping in the halls. So we sent considerable money with this good brother, a local brother, to buy bed springs, bedding, curtains, and other things. By sending some telegrams, and telephoning, he succeeded in getting most of them together. They held a testimony meeting.
When this brother came back he said: “President McKay, you sent me there to give them spiritual uplift and to encourage them, but I received much more help spiritually from them than I was able to give them.” Those people, although they didn’t know whether they would ever see an Elder again, an authority of the Church, had put away their tithing as usual. They had received work – some of them – and they had been blessed. This local brother brought back nearly as much money as we had sent to help them. They said: “You express our thankfulness to President McKay for the help that he has sent us, and tell him that we are all right, and are not discouraged, because we have the gospel.” That is the faith of those people over there, brothers and sisters. They are keeping the commandments of the Lord and are doing the will of the Father.
It is difficult to keep all the branches organized. We get them organized, then our brethren are taken into the army. About six hundred of our brethren are in the army in Germany. Seven of them have lost their lives – not in battle, however. They are praying that they will not have to fight. They are peace-loving, those members. They have no hate in their hearts, but a love for all mankind, the love of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. We have committees appointed, so that as soon as a vacancy occurs, another man is called to take his place. We have called sisters on missions, to take charge of the office work, and they are getting along very nicely. They are keeping busy and are trying to do the will of the Father.
They know, as I know, that God lives; that He is our Father; that we are all His children; that he loves us, and because He loves us He has given us the Gospel. … May He help us always to do His will, and thereby retain this testimony that we have, I humbly pray …