Keepapitchinin, the Mormon History blog » Sisters of the German-Austrian Mission, 1937

Sisters of the German-Austrian Mission, 1937

By: Ardis E. Parshall - May 15, 2013

Many of the Relief Societies (sometimes the branch leadership, sometimes the entire Society) contributed their pictures to a farewell album for Elizabeth Welker, who, with her husband Roy, was returning to Utah in 1937 after their mission as leaders of the German-Austrian Mission.




Zwickau, Germany



Planitz, Germany


Döbeln, Germany


Gera, Germany


Ratibor, Germany


Schwartzenberg, Germany


Grosshartmannsdorf bei Freiberg, Germany


Hindenburg, Germany


Breslau South Branch, Germany


Vienna, Austria


Schlegel, [Germany?]


Waldenburg, Germany


Salzburg, Austria


Hohenstein, Germany


Leipzig, Germany


Plauen, Germany


Kolberg, Germany


Berlin Central Branch, Germany


Guben, Germany


Schneidemühl, Germany


(Thanks to Mark B. who helped decipher some of the inscriptions to identify the branch names. Until this post goes up he hasn’t seen some of the place names, so don’t blame him for anything that might still need to be corrected. Shifting borders and changing place names after the war made identifying these things a challenge for someone like me, who is very much NOT an expert on the region.)



  1. It’s poignant to see these pictures and wonder how these sisters and their congregations managed in the terrible war years shortly to come.

    Comment by Marilyn O. — May 15, 2013 @ 7:50 am

  2. That’s the thing, isn’t it? I don’t know the individual stories of any of these women, but once having seen their faces like this, I don’t think it will ever again be possible to read about the war without remembering that these women — these Mormon sisters of the Relief Society — were somewhere in it.

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — May 15, 2013 @ 8:33 am

  3. I love this! Thank you. Some of these faces look familiar to me, though I either don’t recognize, or didn’t serve in those areas. This was the mission I served in, and chances are high that I’ve met at least some of these women’s children, if not they themselves.

    Comment by SilverRain — May 15, 2013 @ 8:50 am

  4. Lovely pictures. Roger Minert’s recent books would give some idea about their lives.

    One thing that I observed from the pictures, and which was confirmed by a review I just read about Minert’s book about the East German Saints during the war was that the women look almost uniformly working class. As the reviewer notes:

    The East German Mormon community, divided into districts and branches (or local parishes) was almost entirely an urban and lower-class phenomenon. These congregations contained almost no professional people. Most of the men were labourers or craftsmen. Only a few possessed their own meeting places, mostly using renting rooms in office-buildings in unremarkable parts of town. But their working-class solidarity was compounded by their loyalty to their fellow Mormons.

    Comment by Amy T — May 15, 2013 @ 8:59 am

  5. I have no connection to Germany or Austria except that a grandson served his mission in Berlin. However each of these photos tugs at my heart and gives me pause as to what happened to them in the next ten years.

    Comment by Marjorie Conder — May 15, 2013 @ 9:35 am

  6. Wow, these pictures at once suggest a perhaps surprisingly strong LDS presence yet also are almost unbearably heart-breaking.

    Comment by Gary Bergera — May 15, 2013 @ 10:34 am

  7. What a find.

    The branch meetinghouse is Schegel seems to have a sign that reads “The Glory of God is Intelligence.”

    Comment by The Other Clark — May 15, 2013 @ 10:41 am

  8. These sisters were subjected to the ravages of a terrible war, which took many of their lives, and the lives of many of their husbands and sons. In addition, many of their towns and their homes were destroyed by Allied bombing and by the advancing Soviet armies. Schneidemuehl, for example, was shelled and nearly leveled during two weeks of fighting prior to its capture by the Soviets on Feburary 14, 1945–75% of the city was destroyed–90% of the old town.

    Then of course there were the unspeakable horrors of the initial stages of the occupation by the Soviet Armies.

    And, if they survived all that, there followed the forced relocation from their homes due to the change in national boundaries at the end of the war. East Prussia was divided between Poland and the Soviet Union, and Silesia and Pomerania became part of Poland, and the Germans in those areas had to leave their homes and move west. All of the old Koenigsberg, Danzig, Stettin, Schneidemuehl, Breslau and Hindenburg districts, and a portion of the Spreewald district, were in territory ceded to Poland or the Soviet Union. So, the branches would have ceased to exist in 1947 or ’47, as the survivors of the war were forced to leave their homes and move west.

    Comment by Mark B. — May 15, 2013 @ 10:42 am

  9. @TOC–that seemed to be relatively common in German chapels in those days. Not just in Schneidemuehl.

    Comment by Mark B. — May 15, 2013 @ 10:43 am

  10. These photos are incredible. Like you, Ardis, I will think of the sisters every time I read anything about the war and wonder what happened to them.

    Comment by Maurine — May 15, 2013 @ 11:43 am

  11. These look hauntingly familiar to other pictures of the Saints from elsewhere in that same time frame, that we’ve seen through the Images series here. There is a huge weight that we feel in looking at these pictures, as we know something they didn’t at the time. A few of the older sisters look pretty grim, as if they can sense based on the their WW I experiences that their country is headed down a similar path. You can almost feel the pending loss of innocence hanging over their heads in the next few years.

    Comment by kevinf — May 15, 2013 @ 12:28 pm

  12. Today, here, we are commemorating the 70th anniversary of the Dambusters Raid by 617 Squadron, so, having pondered overnight, I follow their example and fly into enemy territory at a height of 60 feet, at a constant airspeed of 240mph, under darkness (well, USA time), and expecting flak in order to launch my bouncing bomb.

    This post will probably not go down well.

    I look at the faces in these photos- no make-up, because that had been prohibited by the Nazis- and wonder to myself what each and every one of them did to oppose Hitler, or to stop his rise to power in the first place. That’s my first, immediate and only reaction. Not how poignant, or what if they knew what was ahead of them- I’d like to ask them what they did to empower Hitler, or what they did to stop him, and his evil doings which laid waste to most of Europe and resulted in the death of millions. One man.

    The role of women in Nazi Germany is a fascinating study. The (generally regarded as decadent) Weimar Republic had given women the right to vote; Hitler was vehemently anti-feminist, denouncing equality of the sexes as Marxism, and began containing left- wing feminists who worked against him, in concentration camps in the 1930’s.

    Hitler’s opinion of the role of women will sound eerily familiar: he said that for a woman, her “world is her husband, her family, her children, and her home.” Would that viewpoint have gone down well within LDS families? Most likely. I’d be very surprised if it wasn’t a vote-winner.

    Mark wrote: “These sisters were subjected to the ravages of a terrible war, which took many of their lives, and the lives of many of their husbands and sons. In addition, many of their towns and their homes were destroyed by Allied bombing…” As one whose generation grew up in a city dotted with bombsites as it was still too poor (overwhelmed with war debt) to build housing, which generation played “beating the Germans” in the school playground, whose mothers and grandmothers had worked all night on fire watching duties while the Luftwaffe attacked and killed millions of civilians, then got up in the morning to go to work to fill the jobs of our fathers and grandfathers away at the front, and who imbibed the toast of ‘Absent Friends’ (meaning those who had been killed as a result of enemy action) at every holiday celebration, my overwhelming response to these pictures is that of Basil Fawlty to his German guest in the Fawlty Towers episode entitled ‘The Germans’:

    Basil: Is there something wrong?
    German Guest: Will you stop talking about the war?
    Basil: Me! You started it!
    German Guest: We did not start it!
    Basil: Yes you did — you invaded Poland.

    Comment by Anne (U.K.) — May 16, 2013 @ 6:33 am

  13. Anne, I don’t know if you were sincere about wondering about what these women did or didn’t do to stop Hitler, but I highly recommend Roger Minert’s series on the German saints during WWII (which Amy mentioned earlier) if you are interested in exploring their lives.

    Comment by sar — May 16, 2013 @ 9:18 am

  14. One quick response to sar–Minert has indeed done an extraordinary job in collecting the stories of the German saints in World War II. But I don’t think it’s possible to read his books without feeling that the recollections of survivors long after the fact tend towards the self-serving: no church members were Nazis, everybody knew that Hitler would end up causing a lot of trouble, the Hitler Jugend and the Bund Deutscher Mädel were ok, but we didn’t really like going, especially when they were the least bit militaristic, etc., etc.

    So, by all means explore their lives. But maintain a touch of healthy skepticism about the version of their lives that shows up in Minert’s book.

    Comment by Mark B. — May 16, 2013 @ 12:06 pm

  15. sar: Sincere? if I could time travel, I’d like to be there as the photos were taken in 1937, to find out what their thoughts were about Hitler and the Nazis at that time; Mark makes an excellent point. To further illustrate his comment, I remember one day in the mid 1960’s my cousin arrived at my house with his German hippy penpal in tow, inviting themselves for tea. I was only 7 or 8 but sat in agony waiting for the inevitable exchange, which finally happened:

    Dad: so, what did your father do in the war?
    Hippy German penpal: he was a U Boat Captain. And you?
    Dad: I was in the Royal Navy for 12 years, dodging U Boats for half that time.
    Hippy German penpal: Oh, even though my father was a UBoat captain, he was forced to serve. He did not support Hitler, Nazism or it’s ideals.
    Dad:(with wry ironic laugh)Since the end of the War, I’ve never met a German of my generation who did. (to Mum) Any more tea going?

    The penpal was cool. He wore hippy bells round his neck on long red ribbons, and as he left, gave me one, which I still have today.

    Comment by Anne (U.K.) — May 16, 2013 @ 12:44 pm

  16. Meanwhile, back to Anne’s first comment: it’s true, as Basil said in that painfully hilarious episode of Fawlty Towers, the Germans did start it. And it’s perfectly appropriate to consider, even 70 years onward, the responsibility that a people have for the actions of their nation.

    Before attempting an answer, I should assure Anne that I believe that I am as constant a friend of the British (at least since 1900–all bets are off for the eighth and ninth decades of the 18th Century!!) as she could find among us former Colonials. I grew up cheering on the RAF as I read of them rising from their airfields in Spitfires and Hurricanes to take on the endless streams of Messerschmitts, Heinkels and Junkers. I get teary-eyed when I read Churchill’s speeches–“[W]e shall not flag or fail. We shall go on to the end, we shall fight in France, we shall fight on the seas and oceans, we shall fight with growing confidence and growing strength in the air, we shall defend our Island, whatever the cost may be, we shall fight on the beaches, we shall fight on the landing grounds, we shall fight in the fields and in the streets, we shall fight in the hills; we shall never surrender . . . .”

    And if that period when Britain stood alone in the face of nearly overwhelming odds, under daily attacks from the Luftwaffe and suffering staggering losses at sea to the German U-Boats, was not, as Churchill said, “their finest hour,” I don’t know another time in British history that was finer.

    In contrast to Britain, America was lucky–it escaped attacks on its territory, and civilian life during the war years was good. The only dark cloud was the risk of loss of its sons in faraway places that most Americans had never heard of before the war started–and certainly never expected to bury their sons in–Bataan, Kasserine Pass, Anzio, Guadalcanal, Peleliu, Okinawa.

    And my family was lucky–my father should have been on the S.S. Leopoldville on Christmas Eve, 1944, crossing from Southampton to Cherbourg, but he volunteered for other duty and so crossed a day or two later in an LST. When a German submarine torpedoed the Leopoldville that night, several of his closest army buddies, including a fellow member of the Snowflake Stake, were among the 800 soldiers lost.

    So, it’s nearly inevitable that we see things a bit differently here–we didn’t pay the same price as our British friends.

    Without in any way minimizing the terrible losses suffered by the British, let me add one detail, though, which I found in a Wikipedia article entitled “World War II Casualties.” According to that article, total United Kingdom deaths in the war (military and civilian) were just under 451,000, of whom approximately 67,100 were civilians. So, whatever ruin the Luftwaffe visited upon British cities, they did not kill millions of civilians. Millions were affected by the bombing, of course, and the material losses were substantial. In addition, the war took an enormous toll on the British economy and resulted in a crippling load of debt that, rather like Coleridge’s albatross, hung around the neck of Great Britain for years after the war. By contrast, the war started an economic boom in the United States, and we’re still enjoying its benefits.

    So, what blame do the German people bear? Should those sturdy sisters in the photographs be called to the witness stand to answer, not “What did you do in the war, mommy?” but “What did you do to prevent the war Grossmutti?” The starting point should be the elections that resulted in the Nazi Party coming to power. In spring 1932, there was a presidential election. In two rounds of voting, Hitler received 30% and 38%, and lost to the incumbent, Paul Hindenburg. There were several parliamentary elections held in Germany in 1932 and 1933–July 1932, November 1932, March 1933 and November 1933. The percentages of votes received by the Nazi Party were 37% in July, 33% in November, and 43% in March 1933, two months after Hitler had been named Chancellor (in a coalition government). Shortly after the March elections, the Reichstag passed the Enabling Act, effectively making Hitler the absolute ruler of German. The election held in November 1933 had only Nazi candidates (and 17 “guests”) on the ballot, as all political parties other than the Nazis had been outlawed, and the Nazis won 93% of the votes cast.

    Even if those Relief Society women in the photographs voted for the Nazi candidates in 1932 or 1933, what were they voting for? War? Surely not. They may have seen the Nazis as the best bulwark against communism. Or as the best hope for reawakening the German economy, for a chance for their husbands to get a steady job. Or an end to the street battles between the Communists and their enemies, which marked German public life in the last days of the Weimar Republic. But it’s beyond any reasonable belief to suggest that they were voting for the Blitz, or Admiral Doenitz’s U-boats, or for Dachau and Auschwitz, Sobibor and Treblinka.

    Besides, they may have voted for the Socialists, or some other party other than the Nazis–well over half the Germans did vote against them in the last free election. And if they did vote for the SPD, what more could these poor, working-class women have been expected to do?

    Those women may have cheered the early successes of the German armies–rare is the patriotic citizen of any country who does not welcome news of military success more than failure. They certainly would have prayed for their sons as they marched off to uncertain fates in distant battlefields. Like Tennyson’s six hundred, theirs was not to reason why–by 1939, they could not be troubled by such questions, because any hint of political power in the people was gone, and their lives were as grim, or would shortly become as grim, as the lives of those who bore the brunt of the Germans’ attacks.

    Back to my question: What did they do to stop the war, or to stop Hitler coming to power? I’d answer with another question: What could they have done? And the answer to that, I believe, is “precious little.”

    Comment by Mark B. — May 16, 2013 @ 1:49 pm

  17. Yes, Mark B. and Anne, I am well aware of the problems of collected memory projects like Minert’s and also of the politics of German guilt vs. German victimhood. But Minert’s series and the work on the Huebner group are all we have right now available to an English-speaking audience if we want to understand the lives of German Mormons during WWII.

    Comment by sar — May 16, 2013 @ 2:39 pm

  18. This comment thread is fantastic! I appreciate being able to follow the difference of opinions without anyone becoming disagreeable.

    Elder Busche’s bio of “Yearning for the Living God” includes a good explanation of the how and why of a rational, faithful Latter-day Saint family supporting the fise of the 3rd Reich.

    Goodness knows I don’t agree with alot of what goes on in this country politically, but options are limited–and these German Saints had even fewer options than I do.

    Comment by The Other Clark — May 16, 2013 @ 3:25 pm

  19. Unless, of course, we assume that the lives and attitudes and experiences of German Mormons during World War II were a lot like the lives of other Germans during the same period, in which case there is a vast literature that describes the German people’s experience, and their attitudes toward Hitler and the war, etc., etc.

    Having seen the attitudes of my fellow American Latter-day Saints toward all sorts of political matters, from wars cold and hot, from Vietnam to Iraq and Afghanistan, I wouldn’t expect the Mormons in Germany to have been much different from their non-Mormon neighbors, or to have had any special knowledge about what a monster Hitler and his regime were going to become. So they probably had the same attitudes and many of the same experiences as their non-Mormon neighbors.

    Comment by Mark B. — May 16, 2013 @ 3:36 pm

  20. I think Mark’s no. 19 was in response to war, rather than TOClark? Like you, Clark, I enjoy the exchange of ideas — passionate but without rudeness — and am so glad everybody has been able to maintain that.

    I’m having to learn more about the Church in the Third Reich than I’ve ever known before, for a project I’ve been asked to do. Sometimes it would be easier to stick to pioneers crossing the plains, or missionaries in exotic places …

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — May 16, 2013 @ 3:52 pm

  21. Yes, my no. 19 was meant to follow immediately after sar’s no. 17, and, if it weren’t for the kind tone of his note I’d get all annoyed at TOClark for butting in. :)

    Comment by Mark B. — May 16, 2013 @ 4:11 pm

  22. Mark B.: Yes, I completely agree that we can learn about German Mormons during WWII from the vast extant literature about Germany and Germans at that time. But what I like about posts like this one, is that they invite us to think about individual people and their place in history. Did it matter that these Germans were also Mormon? The answer has to be yes AND no.

    Comment by sar — May 16, 2013 @ 4:30 pm

  23. Ardis, are these pictures owned by the Church? Did you have to get permission to publish them? Are they, by chance, in the public domain?

    Comment by Dave Nelson — March 18, 2014 @ 6:20 am

  24. Dave, in a not-always-successful attempt to keep my research from melting away into other people’s work without acknowledgement and compensation, I generally do not provide sources or spell out my agreements with private owners, the Church, or other repositories.

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — March 18, 2014 @ 7:52 am

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