John R. Barnes, one-time secretary of the West German Mission, was among the missionaries evacuated from Germany on 25 August 1939, at the opening of World War II. He entered the U.S. Army and fought in Europe, eventually reaching his former mission field at the end of the war. Elder/Major Barnes was the first American Latter-day Saint to reestablish contact with the German Saints of Frankfurt in the first days after the end of the war. His report (from early June, I think, although I do not have the exact date) is addressed to Thomas E. McKay, acting president of the European Mission.
Dear President McKay:
Here’s another report to you on mission activities in Europe during the war’s effect on our Church here. If I am not mistaken I was the last one to leave the mission home of the West German Mission and I am sure I was the first to return to it. It was four and a half years ago that I left. Seems like yesterday in some ways, and yet an eternity in others.
To come to the point. The other day I had the occasion to visit Frankfurt am Main again. I went to the military government officials and got permission from them to check up and see what I could find out about the present status of things. To my surprise I found that the mission home and office is still standing, and only slightly damaged. A few broken windows here and there. A bomb had hit in the little “Hof” formed by the two parts of the building, but had only cracked the wall slightly and left a large crater. Most of the rest of Frankfurt is piles of rubble. Our “Lokale” was completely burned out sometime more than a year ago. They were not able to save a thing from it. I found that Sister Bruenger, who was working in the office as a stenographer, translator and auxiliary organizations leader is still there. She has been there the entire time, keeping things going the best that she could under conditions. Once, not too long back, she was held for a week by the Gestapo and had to go back over all our books and make records and reports of all the financial dealings for their use. In it she was entirely alone and received no help or assistance from any of the local brethren. She is now married to Brother Otto Foerster. They have a two and one-half year old daughter. All are well. The baby is with its grandmother in Hereford.
Sister Karmer, who used to cook for us, married the nephew of one of the members from up in the Ruhr District. No news from her for awhile as the postal and other means of communication have been greatly disrupted by our very effective bombing.
Brother Walter Biehl, who was in the service when I left, was killed early in the war. Brother Fritz Giehl, who was left in charge of the mission, was also killed in the service in the early stages of the war. Brother Herman Hauch from Frankfurt is also listed as killed in action. Brother Herbert Klopfer from Berlin is missing on the Russian front. Sister Heimburg who was translating for us was married before we left, has two children, but has not been doing anything in the Church since we left. The old brother Hoffman from Frankfurt passed away after a great deal of suffering in a lingering illness.
The reports from all districts and branches are that many members have been killed, and most all of them bombed out of their homes, which is particularly true of Munich, Darmstadt and Hamburg. Brother Tahler from Munich was very active and helpful in keeping things going until he was called into the service, and continued to do all he could even then. He is apparently still living, though he may now be fortunate to be a prisoner in American hands. Brother Weiss from Nuremberg has also been very active and has apparently travelled somewhat on his own to help things keep going. From all comments, he and Brother Tahler are particularly loved by the members and looked upon as the ones who should be leading the mission. I asked about Brother Pohlsander from Celle, but they haven’t heard lately. He has been doing all he could.
There have been no regular meetings in Frankfurt for some time, though they do hold an occasional meeting, in the mission home. Several of the members of the Frankfurt Branch are living there as their homes have been entirely destroyed. I don’t remember all of the names of those there now. Most all our records are still intact in one form or another. I had a particular thrill to go into the stock room and see the stock of lesson books, Books of Mormon, and other Church books still in good shape as they were when we left them. The roll of wrapping paper, the string and the scissors were still on the wrapping table, much as Brother Gubler used to leave them when he finished making up a shipment of books. Only our long carriage typewriter remains as far as that kind of equipment is concerned. My accordion which I left in our hasty leaving was not to be found. The transcription machine and slide projector were still there, though in need of repair. There were many little things I looked for that struck that certain chord inside when I saw them.
There is going to be a tremendous job to be done in the Church when peace comes. It will be almost like starting from a new beginning. There will be little or no way to locate the members. One of the biggest jobs at first will be to take all of the membership rolls available either there at home or here, and check them name for name against all of the records of civilians which will be re-established in the various communities, and then search out each one to put them again in contact with the Church. Along with that, there should be a very rich field for proselyting for new members. I feel that a number will turn to the Church in sincerity, though many will come as they did in the years of inflation, just as a source of worldly assistance. Genealogy will be a big field here, too.
I will try to do all I can to get things rolling again. I may get a chance to get back into Frankfurt and try to get things organised there at least. I also want to get from there all the addresses that I can so that when I get a chance to get to any other towns, I can get things going there, too. I had only about half an hour when I was there last time. At present, I am expecting a new assignment which should put me in a better position to help in getting the work of the Church started on the way again over there. The people need religion. If more of the German people had listened to our message when we were here as missionaries, we would not have to be here as conquering soldiers. The whole world can well afford to turn more to the Church, and stay turned in that direction, even when the impetus of war is passed by.
You might be interested in some of the old familiar places in Frankfurt. The Roemerberg is only a shell. It is completely gutted and about all that is standing is the front wall. The Dome is little more than the tower with a shell for the rest of the building. The opera house is also just a shell. Most of the buildings up in the business district and the industrial district are piles of stones and trash. All of the “Altstadt” with its unique narrow street, overhanging houses, and historic places of interest to tourists is completely leveled. Oddly enough, Mosler’s skating rink is still in operation. The railway station is a mass of twisted steel. Perhaps the papers have carried pictures. I took a few myself of places I had previously photographed. the comparison in my album will be something to cause thought to any who look at them.
Kindly pass my regards to all my friends there. Tell President David O. McKay, Brother Callis, Brother Murdock, Apostle Smith, Apostle Lee and all the rest of them hello for me. I hunger for a good Church service or a chance to attend a session in the temple, or any of our Church work thereat home. Tell Brother Murdock I haven’t had a chance to get to Holland to see how the Dutch Mission is doing, but when the British have cleared things out up that way enough I will make every effort to get there and check up on things. I will never forget those days in The Hague with him.
P.S. – The members said they had been fasting and praying the day I arrived and felt I was answering their prayers.
Major J.R. Barnes O-416373
Hq. 72 Repl. Bn.
APO 159 New York, N.Y.