Keepapitchinin, the Mormon History blog » Guest Post: John Alvon Glauser, An Elder in Nazi Germany
 


Guest Post: John Alvon Glauser, An Elder in Nazi Germany

By: Michelle Glauser - February 15, 2012

My great Uncle Al, the one I interviewed about seeing Hitler and Mussolini, showed me a book of mostly typed notes he kept during his German-speaking mission from 1934-1937. Included are talks and outlines, tables, scriptures, poems (a lot of the poems were about mothers, do you think he was homesick?), and other observations. It was a delight to see his German, which wasn’t too bad. He even wrote out jokes in his talks, but the main focus was on religion.

Imagine my surprise, then, when I came upon a page entitled “Prayers?” Why the question mark? I wondered. Then, as I read the entry, my surprise turned to shock.

I’m certainly no Hitler or German history expert, but a curious missionary had copied down prayers that most certainly were aimed at Hitler! I had never thought that Hitler had ascended to some sort of religious figure status, especially because he had seemed to be rather intolerant of religion anyway, but see for yourself (my English translations are in parentheses):


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Führer, mein Führer, von Gott mir gegeben,
(Fuhrer, my Fuhrer, given to me by God,)
Beschütz und erhalte noch lange mein Leben.
(Protect and preserve my life for a while still.)
Hast Deutschland gerettet aus tiefer Not.
(You saved Germany from deep distress.)
Dir danke ich Heute mein taegliches Brot.
(I thank you today for my daily bread.)
Bleib’ lange noch bei mir, verlass mich nicht.
(Abide a while with me, don’t leave me.)
Führer, mein Führer, mein Glaube mein Heil mein Führer.
(Fuhrer, my Fuhrer, my religion my salvation my Fuhrer/leader.)

-Gebet vor dem Essen (prayer before eating)

Dank sei dir für diese Speise,
(Thanks be to you for this food,)
Beschüetzer der Jugend, Beschützer der Greise!
(Protector of the youth, protector of the old!)
Hast Sorgen, ich weiss es, doch kümmert’s dich nicht.
(You have worries, I know it, but it doesn’t bother you.)
Ich bin bei dir, bei Nacht und bei Licht.
(I am with you, both night and by light.)
Leg’ ruhig dein Haupt in meine Schoss.
(You can really lay your head in my lap.)
Bist sicher mein Führer, denn du bist groß.
(You are surely my Fuhrer, because you are great.)
Heil mein Führer!
(Hail my Fuhrer!)

-Gebet nach dem Essen (prayer after eating)

I asked Uncle Al about these prayers to Hitler, but he doesn’t remember where he got them. Has anyone else heard about things like this?

Recently, Uncle Al sent some more items of intrigue.

German Mission district conference, 1936:

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Deutsches Reich stamps:

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Marching he witnessed:

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And finally, if you’ve ever asked yourself if Mormon missionaries really did “heil Hitlers,” here’s proof (that’s Al with the dark hat):

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Aren’t missionaries’ experiences in cultures strange to them both scary and fascinating at times?

–ooOoo–

Michelle blogs at Circles and Dots and Other Distractions, and at the fun new linguistic faux pas website, Blabbergasted.

 



16 Comments »

  1. Thank you for posting this, Ardis. I’m biased, but I sure think it’s interesting.

    Comment by Michelle Glauser — February 15, 2012 @ 6:34 am

  2. Whoa! Those “prayers” are creepy. They’d even be creepy without knowing about the following years of German history.

    Leg’ ruhig dein Haupt in meine Schoss.

    Ewww. That makes my skin crawl. Blech!

    I’m wondering if they were written by an adolescent girl in the throes of hero worship, or by a missionary as a prank, or if there is another explanation, such as an effort to dilute religious practices by redirecting the sentiments toward the leader of the government.

    Comment by Researcher — February 15, 2012 @ 7:15 am

  3. Thanks Michelle (and Ardis),

    The relationship of Mormonism to German National Socialism in the 1930s is ambiguous and often very troubling. Alan Keele, professor of German at BYU, has documented many instances where our good intentions, coupled with an uncritical stance towards civil authority and a desire to curry favor, led us into situations which are shocking to us now. It is difficult for us to imagine how a mission president from America could write an article for the Voelkische Beobachter (Nazi party newspaper) listing all the ways Mormonism is similar to Nazism, but he certainly did do it. He touched on the Word of Wisdom, the desire for large families, and, perhaps most disturbing of all, our penchant for genealogy. I hope he was not then aware of the reasons the Nazis were so interested in researching everybody’s ancestors.

    So the sight of swastikas at LDS meetings, while shocking, is not really surprising, when you think about it. I don’t condemn the decent and well-meaning men who led the church in Germany at that time — who could have imagined how things would turn out ten years later? — but I do hope we can learn from their mistakes.

    Comment by Mark Brown — February 15, 2012 @ 7:24 am

  4. WARNING–LONG COMMENT:

    Thanks for sharing this fascinating and interesting aspect of Mormon history.

    The experience of the Mormons in Nazi Germany is complex and complicated. Missionaries saw many things while serving in Germany at this time. Certainly, they offer an interesting perspective of the events. The Party banners displayed at the district conference are noteworthy. I think we’ve discussed that issue here on Keepa before. Such banners were part of the environment of the day. It looks like a picture of Hitler on the wall as well. It wasn’t uncommon to see such things. Also, at this time church services were being monitored by the Gestapo. Some branch presidents displayed the banners/pictures to avoid confrontation with Nazi authorities. Other did so because they were supporter of the Party. Some Church members were pro-Nazi, others anti-Nazi.

    Seeing the picture of the missionaries doing the salute is interesting as well. My impression is that such salutes were done in part because that was again part of the environment. Some oral histories I’ve read of missionaries in Nazi Germany made mention that they get caught up in the euphoria of what was going on. Everyone is doing the “Sieg Heil!” and suddenly you find yourself caught up doing that as well. There were also case of missionaries who didn’t do the salute who were confronted Party activists—and in a couple of cases the missionaries were beat up. (The Patriarch who gave me my Patriarchal blessing was one such missionary.)

    I am intrigued by the “prayers.” I would like to know more about the context—who wrote/offered them? Member/non-member? Was this an isolated event or was it common? I do know that members prayed for Hitler in church meetings. But again, meeting were being monitored and usually the prayers were quite generic—“Bless the Führer that he will do the right thing”—that sort of prayer. But these “prayers” are prayers TO Hitler which make them unique. It should be noted that while Hitler was ambivalent to hostile toward religion, there was a quasi-religiousness about the Third Reich.

    We should also remember and place this in its historical context. These journal entries were from a time before World War II and the Holocaust and many of the extreme atrocities of the Nazis. Also, as historians Douglas Tobler and Alan Keele have argued, the mid-1930s was a time when German Mormons thought that things were going well for them in the Third Reich—as Tobler and Keele termed it, they were living in a “Fool’s Paradise.” Therefore, it is easier to understand some of what we see in the photos.

    Comment by Steve C. — February 15, 2012 @ 7:52 am

  5. I would add to Steve’s comment about the quasi-religious nature of Nazism in the Third Reich, which was filled with symbols and rituals that sought to replace Christianity with what appears to be worship of the Führer. And I’d refer to histories of the period, etc., etc., in support, but my time is short and my memory isn’t good enough to do it without spending too much time away from work this morning.

    As to saluting–there was an old song we sang (complete with appropriate actions) in Primary which had the refrain “I pledge my heart, I pledge my hand, To God and to my native land” [anyone want to track that down?]. A teacher at BYU said that when they’d sing this 30 years earlier, they’d stretch out their arms in a gesture uncomfortably close to the “Hitler Grüß”–which led to a change in the recommended gestures. But it must not have been much of a “stretch” for a missionary in 1930s Germany to salute that way.

    And, finally, as always, we need to be careful not to impute knowledge (or even suspicion) of the ultimate depravity of the Nazi regime to those who lived in Germany in its early years. (Just as I think we should be unwilling to give a pass to those who claim that they never knew, during the war years, that something was terribly wrong about the regime’s treatment of the Jews.)

    Comment by Mark B. — February 15, 2012 @ 8:39 am

  6. Mark B. Your comment about the salute is interesting. My Dad claimed–and I hope that someone has more knowledge of this than I do–that when he was in school when they did the pledge of allegiance they would begin with the hand on the heart (“I pledge allegiance…”) and then extend the arm to point to the flag (“…to the flag”). According to him, this was discontinued when World War II began. Given that, I think you’re right that it is not much of a stretch. Also, some missionaries and mission presidents were impressed by what they saw in Germany in the 1930s–a riviving economy, a sense of destiny, a certain excitement. And yes, there were certain aspects of Nazism that put Church members at ease–stress on families, word of wisdom, genealogy. Church members also thought that Hitler had copied some Church organizations and programs (not the case, but the urban legends spread nonetheless).

    So again, I see these pictures representing a sort of sense of “comfort” the Church had in Nazi Germany during the mid-1930s.

    Comment by Steve C. — February 15, 2012 @ 9:15 am

  7. Keep these great comments coming. I mourn the fact that Uncle Al doesn’t remember where those prayers came from–he actually has a really great memory for a 98-year-old. I’ve googled the prayers in many ways and haven’t found a thing, but that could just be because things like that disappeared quickly after the atrocities of Hitler’s time were revealed.

    Comment by Michelle Glauser — February 15, 2012 @ 9:24 am

  8. I’ve also heard–directly from those who participated–that the pre-WWII pledge of Allegiance every morning in grade school included a “heil” movement.

    I found Elder Busche’s (of the 70) autobiography “Yearning for the Living God” very enlightening on how faithful Mormons perceived Nazi-ism in the late 1930′s.

    Comment by The Other Clark — February 15, 2012 @ 10:27 am

  9. Extraordinary material. Thanks for sharing it with us.

    Comment by J. Stapley — February 15, 2012 @ 11:16 am

  10. The “Sieg Heil” arm motion during the pledge of allegiance showed up in an old movie my wife was watching on TCM on cable. It was a depiction of either a school class, or perhaps a Boy Scout court of honor, the exact setting escapes me. I thought it jarring at the time, and figured it must have come to an end sometime around WWII. The children in the movie did it just the way it was mentioned above, starting with the hand on the heart, and then pointing the extended hand towards the US flag. I’m going to do a quick look at IMDB, to see if I can remember the movie. I believe it had a pre-WWII Jimmy Stewart in it.

    Comment by kevinf — February 15, 2012 @ 1:08 pm

  11. Wow. I hardly know where to begin. Ms. Glauser’s post and all the responses are exemplary instances of what it means to write history. People often think that “history” is only limited to the past, but it includes the future as well. Such forthright confrontations with the “wrong,” “bad” or “ambiguous” are absolutely necessary resources for making a better world.

    Comment by Mina — February 15, 2012 @ 6:32 pm

  12. I have Elder Glauser’s missionary notebook on my desk now. Michelle brought it to me, because Elder Glauser is willing to donate it to the Church History Library, where it will be preserved and may contribute to a better understanding of us and that time and place.

    Hurray for the families who are willing to share their documents with scholars! (The Valentine’s fudge that Michelle brought to me is all mine, though.)

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — February 15, 2012 @ 6:55 pm

  13. Fudge is a necessary resource for making a better world, too. Just sayin’….

    Comment by Mina — February 15, 2012 @ 9:21 pm

  14. :D

    Comment by Michelle Glauser — February 21, 2012 @ 11:54 am

  15. Six months late, but I thought of this post while reading In the Garden of Beasts, which tells the story of the U.S. ambassador to Germany and his family from 1933 to 1937. It describes many incidents where foreigners, including Americans, were beaten by the S.A. for failing to watch and salute a parade of S.A. men marching past. One family of Americans in Berlin in 1933 simply turned away from the street and pretended to be window shopping as the S.A. paraded past, and were beaten for doing so.

    The S.A. was disbanded in 1934, but it is unlikely that things changed for the better. The regime became more repressive as the war approached, and the same thugs who were members of the S.A. were still part of the Nazi movement (except for those whom Hitler had had killed or imprisoned), so foreigners–including Mormon missionaries–may well have stood at attention and saluted simply to avoid being beaten.

    Comment by Mark B. — August 7, 2012 @ 7:13 am

  16. What was known as the Bellamy Salute evidently was introduced in connection with Ballamy’s Pledge of Allegiance and was not changed until Congress passed the Flag Code on December 22, 1942. This salute would have been familiar to missionaries raised in the United States, who might not have particularly associated it with National Socialism. Perhaps they felt that they were merely showing respect for their host country and flag.

    For a pre-WWII depiction of school children performing the Bellamy Salute, see youtube.com’s

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=L82lVcmIMSk&feature=related

    Note the racially mixed classroom!

    Or just search “Pledge of Allegiance.”

    I’ve heard that National Socialism adopted several items from American culture and law – some which one might judge more innocuous (or inane – such as music from college football fight songs), some not so much at all, such as eugenics and miscegenation codes. Everyone likes to think he or she belongs to the good guys and hates it when an enemy holds up a mirror!

    Comment by Stephen Taylor — August 7, 2012 @ 10:27 am

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