It is the most beautiful and inspiring thing that has ever been my privilege to witness during my entire membership in the Church.
–Walter Stover, president of the East German Mission
The consequences of war did not end for the Dutch Saints with the closing of World War II – they faced additional months of near-starvation, as recounted in part 1. Some of the first organized aid to reach them came from the Saints of the United States, who mailed parcels to the Saints throughout Europe as soon as the mail system was again operational and before larger-scale shipments could be made. In Holland, a group of local missionaries and members was called, serving for 18 months and working out of The Hague, to receive and store and distribute the relief.
By the spring of 1947, the Dutch Saints were sufficiently organized, their most basic needs for food and shelter and clothing being met, that they could turn their minds and hands to producing food for themselves. The church’s Welfare Plan – so new that it had not yet been widely taught in Europe before the war – was presented to the Saints in Holland, and the people accepted the idea that by working together, they could produce a crop – potatoes, it was determined, would be best, along without whatever green vegetables could be added – that could be shared with all the Saints in Holland. Cooperative effort, they agreed, was better than a hundred scattered and individual projects.
Organized by priesthood quorums, Saints throughout the country found suitable parcels for raising crops. Parcels were generally small – back yards, strips of land along roadways and canals, larger plots on former farms that were not being worked due to a shortage of labor. When the Saints, both men and women, had prepared the soil, whole branches gathered for the planting: hymns were sung, prayers were offered for the safety and abundance of the crop, and the potatoes and beans and cabbages were planted.
Mormon crops were flourishing all over Holland later that year when Walter Stover, president of the East German Mission, visited Holland and met with Dutch Mission President Cornelius Zappey. These men, and President J. Wunderlich of the West German Mission, as well as other leaders in the former war zones, had been in touch by letter and knew something of the hardships faced in each country. Hearing tales directly from President Stover, however, moved President Zappey beyond what letters had done.
If we – if we could only give our potatoes to the members of our Church in Germany. What a beautiful lesson could be learned from this; but what would they say if we should ask them for the food for which they had worked so hard to give to the people who had caused them such suffering and depredations – the people who had ruthlessly confiscated the last bit of their food and exposed their little children to starvation. And if they should approve of the idea, how would we be able to export the potatoes, for the exportation of food to Germany is strictly forbidden by the Dutch government, because the Dutch people doesn’t possess sufficient food for their own use.
Despite his apprehensions, both about the reaction of his Saints and the legal problems involved, President Zappey presented his idea.
The result was startling. The Saints thought it a wonderful plan. The word “enemy” was not heard. The progress of the potato project was now watched with double interest and proudly came the reports, “We have so many potatoes for Germany,” and “We have so much.”
The Saints, both men and women, worked on the land all summer long, and the crop – especially the potatoes – was a good one. The Saints harvested their potatoes and began trucking them to a warehouse in The Hague, although they still had no idea how they were going to get their potatoes out of Holland and into Germany.
Besides growing their own contribution to the effort, the Saints in The Hague had the additional labor of unloading and storing shipments, and then reloading the potatoes into transports. They met their task. One group of Saints had just concluded choir practice at the Mission Home when word came at 10:00 p.m. that a truck had arrived. Without a pause, the male members of the choir climbed aboard the truck, rode to the warehouse, and worked late into the night muscling heavy sacks of produce into the warehouse.
No one at home will ever realize, I think, the victory and the joy it has been for us. It will take about four railroad cars to transport all these potatoes. When I think of the suffering and the privations the people of Holland, as well as our Saints, suffered at the hands of the Germans, and how our Saints have labored long and diligently to raise all this food with only one goal in view – to send it to our Saints in Germany – I thank my Heavenly Father for the spirit of the welfare work at home and in this mission.
– Dutch Mission President Cornelius Zappey
It was decided that the crop was so bountiful that each branch president would be allotted a share of the food to distribute to the widows and other especially needy people in their areas. Those branch presidents weren’t always successful. One widow, given a sack of potatoes, learned that her gift had come from the crop grown for the Saints in Germany. She returned her sack to the branch president, insisting “My potatoes must go with them.”
This is one of the greatest acts of true Christian conduct ever brought to my attention. the Dutch Saints are to be congratulated that they can perform this act of welfare service to members of the Church who live in a country which has caused them so much suffering and hardship during recent years.
– David O. McKay
President Zappey, meanwhile, had been endeavoring to cut through the red tape to permit the Dutch Saints to ship their crop to their brothers and sisters in Germany. Finally he received his answer from the Minister of Agriculture and Food Supply: “The exporting of food is absolutely not permitted, and under no circumstances can or will there be an exception made.”
But the Minister of Agriculture and Food Supply hadn’t counted on a chance meeting at the London airport. While Presidents Zappey and Alma Sonne (president of the European Mission) stood chatting at the customs desk in the airport there, a passenger in the line ahead turned in surprise and greeted President Sonne. He was Dr. P. Vincent Cardon, formerly of Logan, and then in Europe working with the United States Department of Agriculture. Dr. Cardon had just attended a conference in Amsterdam, but unable to get a flight to New York from there, he had unexpectedly gone to London, where he recognized the voice of his childhood friend in the customs line.
The three men hastily conferred in the few minutes before their separate flights departed, and within a few days, Dr. Cardon had sent to President Zappey letters of introduction to the government officials who controlled shipping between European countries. With his letters opening the doors, he was able to present his case in person to the various department directors, and he sought permission to export 15 tons (the expected harvest total) to Germany.
Officials praised the selflessness of the plan, and told President Zappey he and his people were to be respected – but under no circumstances would such a permit be issued. It was simply impossible. The best hope – his last chance – was a promise sought by President Zappey that the directors would bring his appeal to the personal attention of Holland’s Minister of Agriculture.
The next day, a phone call to the Mission Home told President Zappey that his impossible plea had been granted.
But then an unexpected problem arose. Instead of the expected 15 tons of potatoes, for which he had obtained export permission, the Dutch Saints brought in a crop five times that size. With mingled joy and fear, President Zappey again returned to the Agricultural Ministry … and the minister himself approved the increased export.
As the harvest was brought in and trucked to The Hague, and as the Dutch Saints – men and women – gathered at the warehouse to sew loose potatoes securely into burlap sacks, unexpected obstacles were thrown in the path of the Saints. Shipping companies to carry the freight to Germany were hard to find. President Zappey discovered that not only was there a Ministry of Agriculture, there was a specialized Bureau of Potato Directorate who arrogantly notified him that the Ministry could give all the permission it cared to give; the Potato Directorate would under no circumstances allow the export. For a full week, President Zappey haunted the offices of the Potato Directorate, once informing the astonished men that “these potatoes belonged to the Lord,” and he would find a way to deliver them where the Lord wanted them to be. At the end of the week, the required signatures were given.
This is an achievement which is little short of miraculous. I am sure the Saints in the Netherlands Mission will experience a sense of great satisfaction in this overture of good will to the German Saints. Back of it is the unselfishness engendered by the Gospel of Jesus Christ. This will go down in the history of the welfare program as an outstanding achievement and as an example of the true love which characterizes the work of the Lord.
– Alma Sonne, president of the European Mission
Immediately, trying to avoid the possibility of further obstacles, the Saints loaded 67 tons of sacked potatoes onto the trucks they had engaged, and on the night of November 6-7, 1947, those heavily laden trucks, in convoy, pulled away from the mission warehouse and headed east where, a few days later, they reached Presidents Stover and Wunderlich, and the Saints of Germany who faced another cold, hungry winter.
Next: The Dutch continue their assistance to the German Saints in 1948. (This four-part series has grown to five parts.)
The Dutch Saints pray for an adequate harvest before they plant their seed potatoes.
Representative of the Dutch Saints is J.H.F. Luttmer, who waits for a truck to carry
him and fellow Saints to the fields for another work shift after finishing his day job.
There’s no time for him to go home first, so he eats his dinner on the run.
Father of 15, he could have used the hours given to the Welfare Program to meet the needs of his own family.
Newly dug potatoes being bagged and hauled from the fields to the warehouse.
Local (Dutch) Church leaders note the harvest begin to pile up in the warehouse.
Saints working in the warehouse at The Hague securely sew every sack closed.
The ten trucks carrying the LDS potato crop arrive at the border for inspection and paperwork.
All goes well, and the trucks carry on to Hamburg, Hanover, and Dusseldorf.