The German people were, if possible, hungrier than the Dutch at the end of World War II. Living as a conquered people, Germans — perhaps especially those living in cities like Berlin – had less control than the Dutch over the steps they could take to help themselves. The German Saints, along with the rest of Germany, survived at first on the supplies that were shipped into the country from outside. The German Saints were “grateful beyond expression,” in the words of one Mormon missionary, for the assistance given them through the Welfare Program, both from Salt Lake and, especially, the fresh potatoes shipped from Holland in 1947.
Not knowing how it could come to pass, East German Mission President Walter Stover, stationed in Berlin, reserved about 3,800 pounds of the Dutch potatoes in the Mission’s storage room. Hungry Saints could gladly have eaten them, but he felt that – somehow – the German Saints would be able to start their own welfare garden. To do that, they would need seed potatoes.
In February, 1948, a group of LDS servicemen meeting in Berlin discussed the problem of helping the German Saints begin once again to feed themselves. They realized that, as Americans, they might have more access to power in the form of the American military government than German civilians would. They decided they would do all they could to help the Saints of Berlin, at least, secure land within the American sector of the city, for farming purposes.
It took them several weeks, but the servicemen, led by Francis R. Gasser and Ingvar A. Wallace, persuaded officials to let the Saints use a four-acre tract in the Grunewald forest on the edge of Berlin. Surrounded by the trees of the forest, this tract had long been cleared, part of a winter sledding hill used by Berlin’s children. The land near the bottom of the slope was ideal for farming, having grown nothing but grass for many years.
A Berlin member, August Winklemann, took charge of the small farm. He plowed the land lightly, then workers from the Berlin branch – chiefly women – labored by hand to break up the clods of grass. The Saints secured fertilizer – two railcars of it – and spread that by hand, then Winklemann plowed again, more deeply this time.
On May 6, 1948, hundreds of local Saints turned out to help plant the potatoes. Virtually all were women and children, some of the women past 70 years of age – so many of the men had died in the war, and others were still prisoners in Russian camps, and the few younger men at home were working day and night to support their families. So the women and young people took responsibility for Berlin’s welfare farm.
Producing a crop on their acres became even more important, if possible, near the end of June when the Russians blockaded the western sectors of Berlin. Food and other necessary supplies were flown in via the Berlin Airlift, but even with the constant stream of aircraft, every pound of food that could be produced within Berlin itself was critical to warding off hunger.
The German Saints had to station guards on their acres – day and night – to protect both from roving livestock and from hungry Berliners who might have pulled up the growing potato plants, no matter how small the potatoes were. Again, it was chiefly members of the Berlin Relief Society who shouldered this part of the burden, assisted at times by some non-member friends who hoped to share in the harvest.
It is a wonderful feeling for us to look over these growing potatoes and to know that they belong to us – that we are doing something for ourselves. And even if we don’t receive anything in return for our labors, working on the project is worth-while.
– Unidentified LDS woman taking her turn guarding Berlin’s potato garden, 1948
Finally harvest time came. From September 6th to September 8th, an average of 65 Berlin Saints turned out each day to harvest their potato crop. The work was all done by hand so that not even the smallest potato would be overlooked. Women and children dug and sacked the potatoes; the few men available shouldered the sacks to carry them out of the field.
When all had been gathered and weighed, the Saints learned that their investment in seed potatoes had returned an eight-fold dividend – their 3,800 pounds had returned more than 16 tons of new potatoes.
Each of the Saints in Berlin, and each of the friends who had assisted with the work, was given 40 pounds of fresh potatoes. That left enough in the storeroom for seed for the next season.
While Berlin’s welfare garden is the only one I have any detail concerning, President Stover indicated that a number of smaller branch cooperative gardens had been grown in various branches throughout the Russian Zone of Germany. Working unitedly, the Saints were accomplishing more than they could have done alone.
The series concludes with a report of how the German Saints found a practical way in 1953 to thank the Dutch Saints for their compassion and unselfishness in 1947-48.
I’m sorry I can’t offer better reproduction quality on these photos – hopefully they’ll give some sense of the German Saints at work anyway.
Dutch supplies arrive by truck in Berlin in the fall of 1947 for distribution among the Saints
Berlin’s Saints plant the potatoes kept for seed from the Dutch shipment
Latter-day Saints, chiefly women, working on the Grunewald forest acreage
Richard Ranglack and August Winklemann, experienced farmers who directed the Berlin welfare garden
Harvesting the Berlin welfare garden
Sacking and stacking the harvested potatoes
Sacked in 100-lb. bags, the harvest amounted to 16 tons, all harvested by hand in a three-day period