When the Saints in continental Europe were isolated from Church headquarters by the events of World War II, even the Saints in neutral Switzerland were unable to correspond with Salt Lake – letters written to acting mission president Max Zimmer in Basle were returned to the senders; letters written by Bro. Zimmer and others to Church members in the U.S were likewise undeliverable.
Then in June, 1944, a letter from Bro. Zimmer miraculously made it through – the first word received directly from the Swiss Saints for more than two years. This long letter reported the trials and triumphs and plans of the church in Switzerland during those dark days:
Dear President [Thomas
Gunn Evans] McKay,
Yesterday [March 26, 1944] there arrived in this office copies of the Church News of Oct. 16, 23, 30, Nov. 6, 13, and 27, 1943, coming through the British Mission Headquarters – the first thing we received from Utah since more than two years. You can hardly imagine how we felt and how happy we are, not only because of these most welcome News but on account of the prospect of coming again in contact with you, even if it be only indirectly. We hope and pray that this letter will reach you and not come back as those in the past did.
We felt rather lonesome at times but our work kept us so busy that we didn’t have much time to worry about it. To justify the sacred trust you put on us we tried to do our best in keeping the mission going on and helping the Saints and friends to the utmost of our ability. Those were eventful years which brought us many faith-promoting experiences and taught us many a valuable lesson. The Lord has been with us and has been kind to us, in spite of our weaknesses and shortcomings. We have seen his power manifested in behalf of his children and feel that we have come nearer to him.
We are happy to report that we are all safe and well and that the mission is in good condition. In the German-speaking part of Switzerland we still have our 18 branches going on with their priesthood and auxiliary work as before the war. The branches in Mulhausen and Strassburg are also functioning although they are taken care of by elders not belonging to our mission, but we change letters once in a while and keep posted on how they are getting along.
We continued to hold our regular meetings and also our spring and fall conferences as usual. We just had a most successful spring conference in Zurich last Sunday with a total attendance of over 600 in four meetings. And now we are preparing for another big event – spring conference of the Basle District to be held on Easter in the Basle Chapel in connection with a mission-wide elders’ convention. About two years ago we organized our 120 elders into a quorum, as fully organized as possible.
We have the four standing committees which are now in full operation, and the quorum activities and projects have done much to foster the brotherhood spirit among the elders. A number of inactive elders have been brought back into activity, unity and harmony prevail and the good influence of the quorum is felt throughout the mission.
We translated these chapters in priesthood and Church government and in the “Guide” as also quite a number of articles from the Melchizedek Priesthood Department in the Era, letters of instruction by the First Presidency and by President Rudger Clawson, etc., mimeographed them and sent them out to the elders in order to give them as clear and as complete an understanding what a quorum is and how it should work as possible. All this of course was done after considering this experiment in several meetings of the Mission board – the Board meets regularly as instructed by you – and in full cooperation with the three district presidents.
The fine influence of the Elders Quorum worked as a powerful stimulus on the Aaronic Priesthood and as a counterpoise against the many evil influences of the adversary. And the devil is surely trying to make mischief! During the more than thirty years of membership and activity in the Church I never have witnessed troubles and difficulties like those we had to fight within the last four years. Were it not for the help and the blessings of our Heavenly Father I’m sure we could not have overcome them.
The satisfying spiritual condition is reflected in the good financial situation of the mission. Tithes and fast offerings increased and so we have always been able to meet our obligations.
The welfare committee of the Elders Quorum has been a considerable help in this direction so far as families of elders are concerned.
In 1941 and 1942 we took over a number of those poor suffering Belgian children, for six months. The expenses were mostly paid by our saints and friends. As this has been stopped we sent 500 Swiss francs to Brother Devignez (through the Red Cross) for our needy Belgian Saints, in 1943. For the current year we decided to send another 1000 francs, that is in foodstuffs, shoes and clothing, 500 to be paid by the mission and 500 raised by our three biggest branches, Basle, Bern and Zurich.
The good work of the auxiliaries is also going on. It is of course not easy to keep it on the same level as in normal times but we try to do our best. We have at present 10 Relief Societies, 18 Sunday Schools, 15 Mutuals and in 12 branches we have a genealogical committee which is helping the Saints in research work and in filling out temple sheets. Basle, Zurich and Bern have still their choirs and Basle and Zurich their fine orchestras, in spite of the many handicaps they have to overcome.
For the fall conference this year we plan to sing “The Martyrs” by Evan Stephens as a part of a special program in commemoration of the martyred prophet and patriarch. We would have preferred to hold it at the spring conference but could not do it because there are so many brethren in military service.
The proselyting work must of course be done on a smaller scale than in prewar time when we had about 80 missionaries. Nevertheless we have tried to make the best of our limited opportunities and forces. We have called four brethren on short term missions.
Two years ago we made an appeal to our Saints to devote at least two hours a week to special work in spreading the message of the Church and winning friends, out of thankfulness to our Heavenly Father for His protecting care. The saints responded in a wonderful way. During the last four years we had an average of 30 to 40 baptisms a year.
At the same time we have been rather conservative in accepting people for baptism. The greatest opportunities for reaching thousands with the message of the restored Gospel however gave us the Brigham Young film, which reached Switzerland in the fall of 1941 and has since been shown in about 40 Swiss cities. The movies were crowded and the reviews as a rule favorable and friendly. This film was a very effective help to remove the prejudice against Mormonism. Of course many came out of curiosity. The Fox Film Agency gave it the German title “Das Geheimnis der Mormonen,” “The Secret of the Mormons,” and this made much for sensation. A few may have left the movie somewhat disappointed but nevertheless it taught them a good lesson. A day or two after this film we gave a public illustrated lecture on the Mormons and Mormonism, using that splendid slide film, “In the Tops of the Mountains”: which arrived here just in time and delivered the message of our Church to thousands of people. Up to now we have given this lecture in 26 places, bearing testimony before about 10,000 people, distributing tracts and pamphlets and selling and loaning books.
In regard to our literature we are almost sold out of the Standard Works. We should print a new edition of Doctrine and Covenants and Book of Mormon. We have used up our stock and now comes Handelstrasse (Headquarters of the German Mission in Berlin) with urgent requests for books, manuals, report blanks, etc. because their office has been destroyed entirely. Unfortunately they had moved in 1940 all their stocks from the different printers to Berlin, so that nothing is left. We will do our best to help them out.
The year 1944 we will make a Joseph Smith year. We will try to emphasize the necessity for a personal testimony of the divine calling of the Prophet Joseph Smith. A considerable part of our lesson work, our programs, our preaching throughout the year will be devoted to the mission of Joseph Smith and the restoration of the Gospel and related subjects.
The last Eras, Relief Society Magazines, Instructors, Children’s Friends we received were those of January 1942; we also lack the Church News Sections before oct. 16, 1943 back to January, 1942.
I can’t close this without telling you that we have now four elders from the Western states as internees in Switzerland, American flyers who were forced to land in Switzerland: 1st Lt. Keith W. Rich from Montpelier, Idaho; Fl. O. Barlow D. Brown from Seattle, Washington (his father is stake president there), a Brother Harper from Brigham City and an elder whose name we were not yet told. The last two came down a few days ago when 12 American bombers landed on Swiss soil on the same day.
Most of these men are still in quarantine; in a few weeks we will know if there are more Mormon boys among them. I have visited Rich and Brown in Adelboden where they are interned since last fall. They are all right and feeling fine. It was rather strange how we learned about them. Last summer the Swiss-American Society for Cultural Relations (an organization founded in 1940, of which the Swiss Mission is a member) started a collection of English books and magazines. Of course the mission-stamp was put on every book and magazine, for we did hope and pray that some of this reading material might come into the hands of Mormon boys who in this way might come in contact with this headquarters, giving us the opportunity to be of further service to them. Last fall we received word from Brother Rich, thanking us for our books and magazines he had received through the European Student Relief Fund, and later on we found Brother Brown in the same way.
In the same way we came to know about 18 elders being in a prisoners camp in Germany, among them William E. McKell from Spanish Fork, B.H. Hinckley from Rigby, Idaho, D. Farrell from Santa Ana, California, H.P. Anderson from Salt Lake City, and F.K. Watson from Reno, Nevada. We have written to these brethren and sent them Eras and other Church literature.
I talked to Hauptmann Kramer, the Swiss officer in charge of the camp in Adelboden, and also to Captain Free and asked them for permission for Rich and Brown to come to Basle on Easter and visit our spring conference and mission-wide Elders’ convention, and these gentlemen kindly granted this leave of absence of four days. What a surprise it will be for our saints at the conference seeing two lieutenants in the uniform of the U.S. Army Air Corps sitting on the stand. Brother Rich and Brother Brown didn’t have an opportunity to attend an L.D.S. service and partaking of the Sacrament since almost three years.
Perhaps you have already learned that our dear friend, Brother Biehl, died at the eastern front about a year ago. Brother Heck has been called into military service and Brother Huck is now in charge. …