Keepapitchinin, the Mormon History blog » William O. Pederson: “What We Learned from World War II”

William O. Pederson: “What We Learned from World War II”

By: Ardis E. Parshall - March 24, 2011

William Orum Pederson (1914-2000, baptized 1922) and his wife Ida Margrethe Rasmussen (1901-1977, baptized 1910) were the first Danish Latter-day Saints to emigrate to Utah following the war. Bro. Pedersen offered his lessons on the war to the Church News in 1947.

Now World War II is past it may be both correct and of value to consider what the war has taught us.

While most of the readers very likely have spent the terrible war years at home in the United States, my family and I lived in Denmark, and thus we had the war close at our doors.

World War II taught us that with the knowledge of the gospel of faith in our Lord, Jesus Christ, we could meet all tribulations and sufferings. We recalled the history of our Church pioneers and realized their greatness, and what they accomplished for their love of the gospel.

Like the Thessalonians to whom Paulos wrote: “But ye, brethren, are not left in darkness that that day (the second coming of Christ) should overtake you as a thief. We are all the children of light and the children of the day. We are not of the night nor of darkness” – the Danish Saints – the children of the light – were not left in darkness.

Elder Joseph Fielding Smith of the council of the Twelve, while in Copenhagen, Denmark, in 1939 with the evacuated European missionaries, gave the promise that for the hospitality of Denmark as a country and the Danish Saints especially towards the evacuated missionaries Denmark should be protected from the immediate troubles of the war.

How great a test this promise was to our faith the following events will prove.

April 9th, 1940, we were awakened by numerous German bombers and peaceful little Denmark, which had not been at war for 75 years and had not had civil war since 1536, was occupied by the country that a year previous offered and signed an anti-attack pact with us. This taught us that no matter how peaceful and kindly our intentions may be, the adversary may awaken us some morning, when we do not expect he will come, and if possible make us join his company. Only the knowledge of the gospel and prayerful, active works will protect and save us.

I shall never forget our first air attack and how confused and poorly prepared I was that night. The fact that the second and third air attacks found everybody prepared is the best proof that the unprepared condition taught us a good lesson. Air-raid signals were later ignored and the people became indiffern3t like the people of nations ignore and get indifferent and careless as to the signs of the times given by the servants of the Lord.

As a result of our occupation, the connection between other countries and our country was cut off. Among these was the United States, and with that was broken our connection with the Church headquarters. But World War II taught us that no military power on earth is ever able to cut off connection with our God.

We felt that in many different ways, and our meetings were continued. The released Danish missionaries, of whom it was my pleasure to be president, have organized a fund by which all poor boys and girls could fill missions during the war years. That the results financially were so good is due to the fact that all the Saints in the mission supported us in our efforts. That the blessings of the gospel more fully were enjoyed in the same period is a natural result of sacrifice and love for the gospel.

I hope I shall never forget how happy I was when during the war I saw the moon and the stars shine down on our blacked out city and country. This again reminded me of the Supremacy of God, who at no time receives instructions or regulations from any earthly authorities. If the lesson from this could be at all times to let the gospel light shine in this world, much progress and still more happiness would be enjoyed on this earth.

World War II taught us that those who use authority against the principles of righteousness will call down the wrath of the Lord, for as you sow so shall the harvest be. Many persons in Europe now regret very much that they did not understand or live according to this doctrine.

The occupation also brought about substitute manufacturing as many necessities of life used to be furnished by allied countries. Although all efforts were put forth to manufacture the best possible substitutes, it was understood that they were accepted only until we could get the original things. That always has made me think of why the inhabitants of this earth seem to prefer the substitute of religion when the true and everlasting gospel of Jesus Christ is being offered.

The greatest and most difficult lesson of World War II was a proper understanding and practice of the Lord’s commandment: “Thou shalt love thy neighbor and hate thy enemy. But I say unto you, love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you and pray for them that despitefully use you and persecute you.”

Every person who has seen or suffered from the beastliness of persecution and mistreatment will understand how easy and tempting it may be to have a feeling of hatred, and justify it. Maybe for this very reason the commandment is made so plain and indisputable, that no excuse can be found. Our Master later said, “On these two commandments (love your God and your neighbor) hang all the law and the prophets.”

This is our greatest opportunity to show the world the proper understanding of what “Love your neighbor” really means. The world needs and hungers for the love that does not ask for personal honor and profit. When this is a part of our daily life we will see the real reasons for this war and, having this constantly in mind, we will be able to avoid another war.

As the war became worse and the German army was defeated again and again, the war rushed quickly towards our doors. The Russian army coming from the east, the English army from the west and the U.S. army from the south moved the defeated German army closer and closer to the Danish border. As my work took me all over the country I saw how everything was prepared to “fight to the last man for every inch that is given to the enemy,” as commanded by the German general in Denmark.

Along highways and roads, holes were dug in ditches to cover soldiers with machine guns, and as far as ammunition and materiel were concerned the order would be carried out to its very letter.

The promise given by Elder Joseph Fielding Smith seemed to be unfulfilled. However, only ten minutes’ car ride from the Danish border, while the occupation army in Denmark was well prepared to fight together with the escaping army from Germany against the “enemy,” the Danish news bulletin given by the British Broadcasting Corporation received the message: “We have just received the following message from Montgomery’s headquarters – surrender for Holland, Belgium, Schlesweig-Holstein, and Denmark.”

While the Danes as a whole were celebrating the end of the war, the Latter-day Saints in Copenhagen gathered in their beautiful chapel and offered thanks and praise to our Heavenly Father for the protection and blessings we enjoyed.

The lessons these first days of May, 1945 taught us were:

Rely upon the Lord – his promises always come true.

Watch and pray that ye are not led into temptation.

Be thankful and remember, like the one Samaritan leper, to give thanks unto God.



  1. …Latter-day Saints in Copenhagen gathered in their beautiful chapel and offered thanks and praise to our Heavenly Father…

    Would this be the same chapel that was “remodeled” into a temple? (I say “remodeled” because it was really a tear-down and rebuild, with the exception of one wall.) says the original was built in 1931.

    Comment by Clark — March 24, 2011 @ 9:59 am

  2. I hadn’t realized that, Clark! Cool. Although if all you’re salvaging is a little bit of facade, I agree with you that it’s rather a stretch to call it a “remodel.” Still, with that classical facade I better understand why WOPederson referred to it as a beautiful chapel.

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — March 24, 2011 @ 10:16 am

  3. Interesting article by Brother Pederson. Denmark, of course, holds a place of honor in the annals of World War II due to its protection and transport to neutral Sweden of most of its Jewish population.

    In light of its particular role in the war, it’s interesting to read Pederson’s comments about living in an occupied country and how he was able to tie in so much of his experience to his understanding of the Gospel.

    Comment by Researcher — March 24, 2011 @ 10:23 am

  4. “no military power on earth is ever able to cut off connection with our God.”


    Comment by Coffinberry — March 24, 2011 @ 12:11 pm

  5. I thought it especially interesting, for some reason, that he was able to articulate these insights so soon after the war. If you’d asked me ahead of time, I would have guessed that it would take time and distance to come to peace with all that had happened and to find lessons in his experiences.

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — March 24, 2011 @ 12:18 pm

  6. Perhaps it was easier for Bro. Pederson because the war was easier for the Danes than for any other European “combatant” nation. (Does their two- or three-hours’ resistance to the German invasion even qualify them as a combatant nation?)

    Still, the German occupation, especially from 1943 onward, was brutal, and Bro. Pederson shows remarkable resilience.

    Comment by Mark B. — March 24, 2011 @ 1:51 pm

  7. While the German occupation of Denmark proper ended in early 1945, the Red Army bombed and then occupied the Island of Bornholm, the island in the Baltic that is the Danish territory farthest east. If my recollection is correct, the Russians continued occupation there until 1947, adding another two years of oppression there.

    Bro. Pederson’s account included this great paragraph:

    This is our greatest opportunity to show the world the proper understanding of what “Love your neighbor” really means. The world needs and hungers for the love that does not ask for personal honor and profit. When this is a part of our daily life we will see the real reasons for this war and, having this constantly in mind, we will be able to avoid another war.

    A lesson we have yet to fully learn, it would appear. Another great find, Ardis.

    Comment by kevinf — March 24, 2011 @ 3:04 pm

  8. I am always amazed when I read and study the LDS in occupied Europe during World War II.

    Researcher: I listened to a program on NPR a week ago about a Danish Jewish family who escaped to Sweden. I was quite impressed.

    Denmark certainly escaped the worst the Germans had to offer. Other countries didn’t fare so well. The Netherlands was pounded pretty hard. Some have suggested this was because the Dutch refused to take the missionaries in when World War II began, unlike the Danes who accepted them.

    The missionaries evacuated to Denmark were put up for a while in the Copenhagen chapel. JF Smith spent a couple of weeks there and held daily devotionals with the evacuated missionaries in the chapel. So there’s a bit more World War II history associated with the Copenhagen Chapel.

    Comment by Steve C. — March 24, 2011 @ 3:11 pm

  9. The chapel referred to in this writing would be none other than the Priorvej chapel which is now the Copenhagen temple.

    I also heard a story about how one Sunday the Danish saints were holding a fast and testimony meeting at this chapel. A German soldier came in got up and bore his testimony in German and then left. I think this experience helped the members better understand how even our enemies are all our brothers and sisters. Unfortunately Ardis I don’t have any good sources to back up this story. Hopefully someone wrote it down.

    Comment by rk — March 24, 2011 @ 8:10 pm

  10. rk, I can confirm that something very like it happened at Esbjerg. With as many Latter-day Saints as there were in Germany and their consequent service in the German army, it’s possible that this kind of thing happened more than once, in various places, perhaps also in Copenhagen.

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — March 24, 2011 @ 8:22 pm

  11. Oh, criminy.

    I knew about that story and just googled it for the link. Now that I’ve read the article again, I have to stay that there is a very particular reason why those who read this post ought to click through to that link and read it.

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — March 24, 2011 @ 8:24 pm

  12. rk: I’ve read that story. The German soldier who visited the Copenhagen branch was Herbert Klopfer. When the war began, he was called as the acting mission president of the East German mission. He also was called up for military duty which after about a year or so took him from Berlin to France, Denmark and finally to the Eastern Front where shortly before the end of the war he lost his life. To quote Paul Harvey, “And now the rest of the story…” Brother Klopfer spoke to the congregation in December 1943 and Brother W.O. Pedersen translated it into Danish. You can read about this here

    Comment by Steve C. — March 24, 2011 @ 8:28 pm

  13. Ardis: You beat me to the punch on the article. Oh well, I just filled in a couple of details. :-)

    Comment by Steve C. — March 24, 2011 @ 8:30 pm

  14. Great minds and all that, Steve! :)

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — March 24, 2011 @ 8:30 pm

  15. That story is also told in that book that I’ll write a review about someday–In Harm’s Way, about east German saints during World War II.

    Comment by Mark B. — March 24, 2011 @ 9:17 pm

  16. What a lovely article you’ve both linked to, Ardis and Steve, and what a nice connection to your own life, Ardis. : ) I’m looking forward to Mark’s review of In Harm’s Way — I’m interested to read his thoughts about the book.

    Comment by Researcher — March 25, 2011 @ 5:19 am

  17. Wow. Sister Pedersen was 13 years older than Bro Pederson.

    Comment by Bookslinger — March 25, 2011 @ 9:30 pm

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