After Hyrum and Ella Valentine returned to Utah in early 1917 from presiding over the Swiss-German Mission, Hyrum spoke in April General Conference.
First he thanked the Church for the help it provided the members in the war-torn areas. Then he told about the transition from having missionaries preside over the branches to having local members head the work. Finally, he told about the Swiss and German brethren who had been called to arms. “[F]ive hundred of our men from that mission … were taken into the war immediately, and of that five hundred we had lost thirty-four up until the time I left….[T]hese men were … in the prime of life and were the most vigorous, the most stalwart men that we had in the Church…”
When the war started in 1914, President Valentine had been traveling throughout the mission with Apostle Hyrum M. Smith. By the time they returned to mission headquarters in Bern, Switzerland, one of the missionaries serving in the mission office, Elder Wilhelm Kessler, the editor of the mission publication, Der Stern, had left to serve his Fatherland. Wilhelm died on the Western Front in 1916.
Hyrum told those assembled in Salt Lake City for General Conference, “My brethren and sisters, [Wilhelm Kessler] died as he lived,—a faithful Latter-day Saint, a soldier of the Cross, though enlisted for the time being with his country’s army.”
Apostle Hyrum M. Smith had traveled throughout the mission and had met these soldiers and their families before he ended his service as President of the European Mission and returned to America. A year after President Valentine gave his report in conference, Elder Smith died suddenly and unexpectedly at age 45. The combination of grief over his death, the suffering of the nations and the members of the Church in the Great War, and the beginnings of the flu epidemic weighed heavily on the heart and soul of his father, President Joseph F. Smith.
President Smith told the Saints gathered at a subsequent General Conference:
On the third of October, in the year nineteen hundred and eighteen, I sat in my room pondering over the scriptures; and reflecting upon the great atoning sacrifice that was made by the Son of God, for the redemption of the world; and the great and wonderful love made manifest by the Father and the Son in the coming of the Redeemer into the world; that through his atonement, and by obedience to the principles of the gospel, mankind might be saved.
As he reflected on the message of the gospel in that time of soul-rending grief, he said, “the eyes of my understanding were opened, and the Spirit of the Lord rested upon me, and I saw the hosts of the dead, both small and great.” He went on to describe his vision to the gathered Saints.
After General Conference, the written version of his vision was approved by his counselors in the First Presidency, the Council of the Twelve and the Church Patriarch, and then printed in Church publications.
The January 1, 1919 issue of Der Stern carried this comforting vision in German translation for the grieving Saints of the Swiss-German Mission.
Ich sah, daß die gerechten Ältesten dieser Dispensation, wenn sie von diesem irdischen Leben Abschied nehmen, in der großen Geisterwelt der Verstorbenen fortfahren mit der Arbeit der Verkündigung des Evangeliums der Buße und der Erlösung durch das Sühnopfer des eingeborenen Sohnes, unter denen, die in Dunkelheit und unter der Knechtschaft der Sünde sind.
Or, as we know it in English:
I beheld that the faithful elders of this dispensation, when they depart from mortal life, continue their labors in the preaching of the gospel of repentance and redemption, through the sacrifice of the Only Begotten Son of God, among those who are in darkness and under the bondage of sin in the great world of the spirits of the dead. (Doctrine and Covenants 138: 57)
As they read these words, how could the German-speaking Saints help but think of Wilhelm Kessler and the other young men from their branches who had given their lives in the service of their Fatherland and who were now, as they had been reassured by President Joseph F. Smith, busily engaged on the other side in preaching the gospel of Jesus Christ.
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After the war ended in 1918, Der Stern continued to print a few more soldier death notices as the editor received word of the deaths. They were printed alongside notices of member deaths, including those who died from the flu epidemic, diphtheria, or starvation.1
Each death notice began with two scriptures: John 15:13 and Revelation 2:10.
The following members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints lost their lives in the service of their Fatherland:
January 1, 1919
Member of the Hannover Branch, he died of a wound in France on August 3, 1918. He was born on January 25, 1895 in Falkenberg-Osterholz, Hannover, and baptized on March 26, 1915.
Friedrich Hermann Richard Kaske,
Member of the Hamburg Branch, he died in the West on September 21, 1918. He was born on December 24, 1890 in Königsberg, Prussia, and baptized on January 17, 1915.
Arnold Karl Wittkamp,
Member of the Hannover Branch, he was killed by an airstrike in France on October 22, 1917. He was born on September 23, 1897 in Anderten, Burgdorf by Hannover, and baptized on May 24, 1909.
Hermann Heinrich Emil Tesch,
Member of the Hamburg Branch died on August 31, 1918 on the Western Front. He was born on August 31, 1893 in Hamburg and baptized on July 7, 1907.2
Karl Ferdinand Curt Juch,
Member of the Leipzig Branch died on October 13, 1918 on the battlefield. He was born on August 30, 1893 in Leipzig, Sachsen, and baptized on March 30, 1913.3
Member of the Munich Branch died on November 13, 1918 in the fight for his Fatherland. He was born on March 16, 1894 in Munich, Bavaria, and baptized on February 20, 1909.4
Member of the Hamburg Branch died on November 4, 1918 in France. He was born on August 4, 1892 and baptized on October 14, 1902.
Member of the Hamburg Branch, noted as missing on July 11, 1916, now registered as fallen, was born on January 29, 1896 and baptized in 1907.5
Erwin Karl Emil Deuchler,
Member of the Karlsruhe Branch was buried alive on November 1, 1918 at Verdun. He was born on July 11, 1899 in Karlsruhe and baptized on October 3, 1909.
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May the Lord richly bless the grieving survivors and strengthen their hope in a glorious resurrection.
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For more information on the historical background of Doctrine and Covenants 138, see George S. Tate, “’The Great World of the Spirits of the Dead’: Death, the Great War, and the 1918 Influenza Pandemic as Context for Doctrine and Covenants 138,” BYU Studies 46:1, 4-40.
For more information on Wilhelm Kessler and the Valentines, see Jeffery L. Anderson, “Brothers across Enemy Lines: A Mission President and a German Soldier Correspond during World War I,” BYU Studies 41:1, 127-139.
The picture of Hyrum M. Smith is from FamilySearch Family Tree, courtesy of “SZukie.” The picture of Joseph F. Smith is from Wikipedia.
- See, for example, Der Stern, July 1, 1919: “Freiberg, Saxony. As a result of malnutrition and heart disease, our dear sister Maria August Voigt died on April 10, 1919…. Memel. As a result of malnutrition, our dear brother Julius Lippke died here on May 30, 1919.” [↩]
- Hermann Tesch, Musketeer, is buried in the German Military Cemetery in Moulin-sour-Touvent, France, Block 1, Grave 104. [↩]
- Curt Juch, Staff Sergeant, is buried in the German Military Cemetery in Bouchain, France, Block 2, Grave 209. [↩]
- Max Hierbeck, an officer in the Imperial Navy, is buried in the Military Cemetery in Vladslo, Belgium, Block 4, Grave 1507. [↩]
- Adolf Lendt, Grenadier, is buried in the Military Cemetery at Rancourt, France, Block 4, Grave 828. [↩]