We at BYU Studies join with millions of others in recognizing the life of service and example of our beloved President, Thomas S. Monson.
One of our books, Behind the Iron Curtain: Recollections of Latter-day Saints in East Germany, 1945-1989, mentions President Monson's work in East Germany during the Cold War era. We recognize his many years of outreach to government officials that resulted in a temple in East Germany in 1985. His work blessed the lives of many Saints who were downtrodden and with little hope of going to a temple.
In this excerpt, author Garold N. Davis asks questions of Erich Dzierzon, a longtime member of the LDS Church in East Germany.
Garold Davis: When were you able to first go to the temple?
Erich Dzierzon: I would like to say something about this, because those who have not lived under the kind of regime we have lived under will not be able to understand without some explanation. After it was announced that the regime had given the Church permission to build chapels and to build a temple, the Church became known to many, many visitors at the open houses. That was for us a new period of self dignity, and we began to recognize that the Lord's Church could truly be expanded here, that it would be recognized by many, many thousands of people.
It was exactly as had been spoken by President Monson when he dedicated this country. He prayed that the people of this country would become curious about the Church and that this curiosity would develop into an interest for many people. That is exactly what we have experienced. During the time of the Communists, the people became curious, the came to Freiberg to see what was going on, to see the temple and the new chapel, and their curiosity turned into interest. We had many baptisms in the late eighties, 1986 to 1989, just in Freiberg. To experience these things moved us very much because without this curiosity we would never have experienced these things during the communist period.
G. Davis: That is very interesting. I have heard it said that the Church ought not to have made these agreements with the communist
government in 1988, that the Church had thereby lost its independence, so to speak. But I gather that you would not agree, that you
see only advantages for the Church in the agreements, which made it possible to have missionaries come into the country again and
have young people here go on missions outside the country.
Erich: I know that the head of the state, Erich Honecker, at the time he met with President Monson, Brother Burkhardt, and others, spoke the words, "We have observed you for twenty years. Your application is approved." From that day on, missionaries were able to come here, and our young people, if they had completed their military service, were permitted to go on missions to other countries. We saw that as a miracle, and I must say that this contact with the government officials was a good thing in and of itself, and a positive thing for the development of the Church. That was important.
The people here recognized that the communist government was cooperating with the Mormons, and this gave our members a feeling of confidence. They recognized that our Father in Heaven was directing these events and that they would enjoy much more security in fulfilling their duties and obligations in the Church. We never compromised or changed these principles, so far as I know, and the State accepted us.
In a complementary book, Faith Rewarded: A Personal Account of Prophetic Promises to the East German Saints (Deseret Book, 1996), President Monson selected excerpts from his journal, offering a non-German perspective of many of the same events and topics. "It begins with an entry on July 12, 1968, when the forty-one-year-old Apostle, a member of the Quorum of the Twelve for just over five years, went to East Germany for the first time in his new assignment as supervisor of European missions. For the next seventeen years, he retained sole apostolic responsibility for East Germany, visiting the country many times," writes James K. Lyon in a book review (BYU Studies 36, no. 4, 1996-1997).
We remember President Monson with fondness and respect. Another of our books that also discusses President Monson’s work with East German Saints is German Latter-day Saints and World War II: Their Personal Stories of Survival. These Saints tell of Elder Monson organizing the first stake in the GDR, working with government officials in surprising ways, and encouraging the Saints to survive their hardships and look forward to better days.