Behind the Iron Curtain: Recollections of Latter-day Saints in East Germany, 1945–1989

Behind the Iron Curtain: Recollections of Latter-day Saints in East Germany, 1945–1989
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Behind the Iron Curtain: Recollections of Latter-day Saints in East Germany, 1945–1989

Author Norma S. Davis Author Garold N. Davis

In 1939 when Hitler's armies marched into Poland, the LDS missionaries marched out—out of Germany and eventually out of all continental Europe. The missionaries left a strong and thriving Church in the eastern part of Germany. The major cities of this area—Berlin, Leipzig, Chemnitz, and Dresden—were among the few cities in Europe with multiple branches, many of which were old and well established. In Dresden, for example, the Church had been established longer than most wards in Utah; the Dresden Branch was organized in 1855 with a young convert, Karl G. Maeser, as its first branch president. Many of the people in these congregations were second-, third-, and fourth-generation members of the Church. The Dresden area of Germany had been sending a continuous stream of converts to Utah for almost one hundred years, yet approximately ten thousand members were still in Germany when the missionaries were forced to leave in 1939.

When Hitler's armies were defeated in 1945, the missionaries returned to Germany, but not to these members. A new geographical term now described the area in which they lived: Soviet Zone of Occupation. The Iron Curtain had been lowered, enclosing the members of the Church in eastern Germany. They had survived six years of war. On February 13–14, 1945, the city of Dresden had been burnt to the ground by several bombing raids, and what happened in Dresden was representative of what had happened to all the major German cities. Many of the branch meetinghouses had been destroyed by the bombings, and many priesthood holders who had survived the war had been taken to prisoner-of-war camps. Members from the eastern branches had fled westward, and many ended up in refugee camps. The Church was battered and scattered but not defeated. Members had to be gathered; meeting places had to be found; missionary work had to go on. The Church had to be rebuilt.