Steps Through Two Dictatorships (1)
by Gerd Skibbe translated by my wife Ingrid,
about the author
Born 1930, married, two sons, eight grandchildren and eleven great grand
occupation and political commitment
. Fishing engineer, in charge of a fishing fleet
. Politically active since October 1989
. 1990 - 91 District Secretary for the Christian Democratic Party,
. 1996 - 2002 Member of the County secretary for the European-Union
lay church commitment
. Branch President District President 1965–1982
. Temple worker Branch mission leader
. High councilor 1986–1994
. Councilor to the following Mission Presidents (Walter Wunderlich, August
Schubert, Richard Clark)
An autobiography of Church history, through the years of the Third Reich
and the German Democratic Republic to the fall of the Berlin Wall.
Before world war II
In 1932 my parents decided to move with me, their 2-year old nipper, to the
After spending considerable time investigating Church teachings, my father, Wilhelm Skibbe, was baptised in the same year. He had earnestly been searching for more truth and found it with the »Mormons,« even
though the first sermons in the small ward of Wobeste in East Pommern were most boring. The political scene of the 1920s had made him painfully aware that none of the political parties would ever be capable of keeping any of their promises, and that the churches were at best only a poor image of the original. What made it worse was the fact that all their representatives were incapable of changing anything. It bothered my father that both the armies of World War I were almost entirely 100 percent Christians. Was this not an expression of decayed principles within the system of Christianity? Surely Christians should be able to solve their differences without bashing each other to death?
The Protestant pastor and author of the Encyclopaedia Religion for Youth, Hartwig Weber, described the situation of the events that produced World War I as follows: »The clerics of both the Catholic and the Protestant churches welcomed World War I with joy ... ›See how it flies from the sheath in the glow of the morning sun: the noble German sword - never dishonoured –victorious and blessed, God has placed within our hands. We embrace you like a bride. Come sword, you are the revelation of the Holy Spirit. In the name of the Lord, you shall destroy our enemies...United nationalism, militarism and religion became the one great force of the day. Mass hysteria in support of the war especially, overcame the Protestants. Loud were their cries: »If God is for us, who dares to be against us?« Rowohlt Verlag.
My father disliked this spirit of pride and arrogance, and the clever sermons preachers would send forth to their congregations. Cold and heartless, every sentence stood against everything good and wholesome. Men, dressed in their black and brown uniforms, carrying their waving swastika banners, would often be part of the worship services in their churches. My father could never sympathise with the empty speeches and goals of the communist parties either. They too boasted in the same spirit: all too much, and all too loud.
As Mother was still a member of the Roman-Catholic Church it did not take long before the local priest came to visit our home. This man in his black attire told my very sick mother that it did not please him to see her in a mixed marriage, moreover to a ›Mormon‹. Had it not been for the barking of the huge German Shepherd Dog which the priest had left outside our door, voices would perhaps never been raised at all. The innocent creature most strongly rebelled against the rope that fastened him. The annoying sound of the dog barking caused my father’s feelings to erupt. Even though he was never a man of force, he told the priest to leave, and showed him the door. Hastily, the priest ran down the wooden staircase. That event occurred in 1934, one year after Adolf Hitler took hold of the political reins in Germany.That scene is one of my earliest childhood memories.
In those days the nearest branches of the Church were 100 km away: in Stettin, Demmin and Neubrandenburg. Travelling to any of them was most ifficult. In 1936 the first Mormon missionaries arrived in my hometown.
Johannes Reese, my father’s friend, liked the sober-looking young men, even though he stood in defiance of them, declaring: »If you have to do the labours of a missionary why don’t you go to Africa? Don’t you know that Europe was converted more than 1000 years ago? In reply, Elder Beatty or Elder Hold asked him: »Do you believe that all Christians are Christians?«
Now that shocked Johannes’ confidence and gave him food for thought. I remember the day – I was 6 or 7 years old, in my hand the little paper flag with the swastika on it. I was very proud. Down Wilhelm Street I had followed the handsome, black-clothed band, with their shining golden instruments. Oh, what a joy it was to watch the drum major with his decorated cord embroidered suit and staff! How he would whirl and twirl it in the air, only to catch it again with timed precision. I felt as though the whole village was as entranced, as I was by the great spectacle. Still under the spell of all I had just witnessed, I returned back home. When I arrived, Father was sitting like a statue in his favourite living room chair, immersed in his Holy Bible. As I stood before him, he looked at me for a long time, and shook his bald head over me and my colourful flag. Then he bade me to step closer. As I did he simply took the flag from my hand, which left me feeling disappointed and sad.
Shortly after that I received my one and only spanking from my father. That was because I had opened the front door of our landlord, Mr. Eckdisch’s business and called him a ›Saujude‹ (a Jewish pig). This round, jovial, little man, father of two adult children, must have run straight to my father telling
him, »Your son has insulted me.« I was summoned by my father. He placed
me on his knee, face down, took the felt slipper from his foot, and slap, slap!
It did not really hurt all that much. But, into full consciousness, the words
fell over and over again, in total harmony with the descending slipper:
»Never forget it my son: all people are children of God! Do you understand?
All people are children of God!«
Later on, my mother informed me that throughout the following weeks
many discussions had taken place between my father and our landlord,
Mr. Eckdisch. Father was trying to warn him of the future and of the events
that were about to come to pass as he had perceived them through earnest
reading of his scriptures. »Look here, Mr. Eckdisch, read it for yourself,« and
he quoted Ezekiel 37:21: »And say unto them, thus saith the Lord God; behold
I will take the children of Israel from among the heathen, whither they be
gone, and will gather them on every side, and bring them into their own
»Be wise, sell your houses, take the money and return to the land of your
forefathers,« my father continued. He showed Mr. Eckdisch many other
verses, including prophecies of Joseph Smith, who had predicted 100 years
before that the Jews would be gathered from the far corners of the earth to
their homeland, Palestine. My father said that a Jewish convert, by the name
of Orson Hyde, had travelled to Palestine to dedicate the land for the return
of the Jews in the year 1838. It was to no avail – Mr. Eckdisch shrugged his
shoulders – and made some vague comments. This little ›Mormon‹ could
not persuade him to give up all he had laboured for throughout his life. His
life in Germany was good.
Father talked to Mr. Eckdisch about Hitler and his program in regards
to the Jews. »No,« the latter insisted: »we Jews have survived all the past
has put us through. We shall survive Mr. Hitler. Besides that, I’m of Polish
nationality. The world is a civilized place these days. The prophecy and false
prognosis stood in sharp opposition to each other. Only a few months later,
the black SS stormed the big house at 53 Wilhelmstrasse. Within minutes all
sanctity dissolved into total chaos.
There were no special laws to protect the rights of the Jews. However
there were many who would give everything to show allegiance to the one
and only hero, ›The Fuehrer‹ and his bidding. Oh yes, I can see his face – I can
even remember his name. The strong man with the black cap trimmed with a
silver skull on the front rim. Wild and cold were the looks he threw my way. The
SS-men, citizens of Wolgast, rapidly pushed the four frightened members of
the Eckdisch family into a waiting truck. Mr. Eckdisch looked at his beautiful,
large house and as the vehicle left we gazed after them. Sometime within
the following 3 years these Polish Jews must have reached Warsaw, for in
1944 a postcard arrived from the Warsaw ghetto with the following 7 words
written upon it: »Father dead, Mother dead, Lotte dead. Jakob.« We are left
to wonder how often the well-intended words of a Mormon by the name of
Wilhelm Skibbe returned to the minds of that family.
In the year of 1937, as she was just turning 29 years old, my mother
was diagnosed with tuberculosis and admitted to the university clinic in
Greifswald. Her X-rays showed 7 holes the size of beans in her left lung. The
surgeons decided to immobilise the affected lung. My father, fearing the
worst, mailed a card to Demmin, as the missionaries were stationed there.
In his card he begged them to come to the clinic to give Mother a blessing.
As Brother Latschkowski entered the room in which my mother lay among
20 other women, she waved to him. He shrugged his shoulders, walked to her
bed, and expressed the fact that he had no idea who she was. Mother soon
clarified the situation: »I have had a dream in which I have already made
your acquaintance.« Father entered and thanked Brother Latschkowski for
the prompt response to his petition, to which the astonished Elder replied
that he had no knowledge of any such card, and that the visit was undertaken
on the undeniable feelings of his heart: to travel to this town, to come to
this clinic, and to find a sister by the name of Julianne Skibbe. The veil of
uncertainty fell, for gathered there were 3 souls, knowing that a miracle was
about to happen, that the angels of heaven had already intervened, and
that all would be well. Then the inspired Elder administered a priesthood
The following day the surgeons decided to take an additional X-Ray prior
to Mother’s operation. Stunned, and in utter unbelief, 7 doctors examined
the new X-ray repeatedly, but found no evidence of damage in her lungs.
Shaking their heads, they declared: »This is a medical wonder! Where are
the inflammations showing in the first X-rays we took last week? Where are
the holes?« My mother and we were examined for many years following this event.
Mother lived a happy life for over 50 more years. And never having any
health problems after that, I often ask myself what would have become of
my brother, sister and me had God decided to take my mother away.
When I was about 9 years old, whilst playing in the schoolyard, I found
myself surrounded by Christian children, making fun of me, calling me a
Some years following the arrest of the Eckdisch Family, my parents
decided to change our place of residency. Father thought that business
in Langestrasse would be better. Whilst inspecting the rooms of the new
location he became acquainted with a lady by the name of Mrs. Martha
Stolp, who incidentally happened to be one of the founders of the Spartakus
party, the forerunner of the communist party. She was our neighbour for
several years. It was not too long before there were difficulties living so close
to this hard line, Stalinist woman. On finding out that Mother was carrying
her 5th child; Mrs. Stolp accused my father of being totally irresponsible. As
the widow of an artist, she had worked as a lyceum teacher, and was a most
accurate, thinking politician and had been left to live with her 30-year old
son, Fritz, in very poor circumstances.
The wallpaper in Mrs. Stolp’s living room had turned shabby and brown.
I guess it must have been about 100 years old. The ceiling was blackened by
smoke. However, her artistic husband had scratched a historical scene upon
it: German General Bluecher, following the battle against French soldiers,
gave Napoleon Bonaparte a kick in the rear, and returned him to the far side
of the river Rhine.
No money on earth would persuade Mrs. Stolp to relinquish her fond
memories of her beloved husband. We could feel this by viewing the excellent
paintings, which adorned her dwelling. One work that would always catch
my eye hung to the left of her front door. It was a naked maiden standing
erect on a rock, gazing at the ocean, her long blond hair fluttering in the
breeze. I would look at her from a distance of about 20 meters, admiring her
Mrs. Stolp became aware that I, as an 11-year old boy, stared at this
masterpiece. Pointing towards it, with her old, wrinkled hand, she explained
to me: »This picture is the symbol of freedom.« Happy to share her husband’s
artistic works, Mrs. Stolp then proceeded to explain other paintings and
their meanings to me. Above the very old fashioned iron bed of her son,
Fritz, - he being a convinced atheist – hung a painting of Jesus Christ. Only
a stern-looking face against the background of a blue sky, it seemed to me
that His eyes were questioning me, »Gerd, who are you?«
After a while Mrs. Stolp turned toward me, uttering words that frightened
me: »I hate Adolf Hitler! The future belongs to communism.«
At the time all that was far too much for me to understand. I was too young
to digest it, but too old to forget it.
I expect, because of her old age, the Nazis left Mrs. Stolp in peace. Not
so with her son - vengeance was to be had. Both of them were outspoken
and fearless which was not a wise in the years between 1933-1945. To have
different opinions, and to run against the main stream, was not favourably
looked upon and was consequently set upon with severe scrutiny. Father was
accused of being an opportunist. If he were not, then surely he would stand
to support their views. Running a small workshop deprived of all luxuries,
he should be aware of where his loyalty lies. Oh, how they laughed at him
when he explained to them: »You dear neighbours would be Mormons if
only you could understand and know all that I perceive.« However, great was
their amusement on listening to my father who had never studied Greek,
who did not know the writings of Homer, Plato, Marx or Hegel. Who would
listen to such an uneducated person? Surely such a man as my father was
not entitled to utter anything at all to do with philosophy, nor to remark that
humans are dual beings comprised of earthly body and eternal spirit.
Did that hardened soul take any notice of my father? In her studies of
Greek literature the old lady had become convinced of the eternal nature
of the soul. On the contrary, her son, Fritz, believed he had outgrown such
ancient follies and that atheism was the only way. Many of the vocal battles
carried out between mother and son occurred in the middle of the night,
or in the semidarkness of our shared hallway. It mattered little that others
would have to listen to their boisterous conversation. I see Fritz, tall and
thin, with thick glasses, looking down upon the rest of humanity. It seems
to me that he hated all children and women. It’s true, he was very clever - a
man of strong character. Looking back on it, I believe the main question at
hand was about Marxism and Stalinism. Both were aggressive. Well I know,
in those days, that neither Mrs. Stolp nor Fritz liked me. To tell the truth, I
did not like them either.
The Mormon missionaries would often grace our home. I liked them,
but all their funny talk held little interest for me. Often they would shake
their heads, especially during our church meetings. I would rock on the
chairs in utter boredom, kick my unruly feet, disturb the meetings where
and whenever I could. I knew better, even though they looked very smart in
their suits and ties. Had I not watched them, years ago, throwing my oneyear
old brother Helmut across the living room, using him as a baseball
whenever mother was absent. They were born baseball players, sure of very
movement. But who in the world knew it? I can still hear my mother’s frantic
cry, when she discovered what was happening: »What in the world are you
doing?« she might as well have said: »Are you both crazy?« But then it’s
not the thing we would say to missionaries, especially when these men are
only 20 ½ years old. Their message demanded a certain amount of maturity.
However, they had left their mothers only a short while before, and would
often just be boys.
In their small unit located at Langestrasse, in Wolgast, with Mrs. Spalding,
the missionaries amused themselves by creating photographs. One was of
the Elders lying on the bed, pulling faces, holding a long knife, with large
pancakes decorated as spiders suspended from the ceiling netting,. The
back of the photos read: German spiders. They would send these pictures to
their homes in the everlasting hills.
There is a photo in which Elder Rudolf Waechtler and Arno Dzierzon
appear. These two were the last German Missionaries Hitler had not drafted
to serve in the army. This same photo shows my father and me buried in
the warm sand on the East-sea in Zinnowitz. It was there that I followed a
discussion, which the missionaries held with my father. Somehow all they
said embedded itself deep within my heart: »You know, in the premortal
world we got pretty bored, looking at the glory of God. It just left us feeling
empty. We could feel no joy, for we knew no sadness.« One of the two Elders
must have said that. I felt far more at that time than I could possibly perceive:
the width and depth of the restored gospel, the pre-existence of mortal
men, the creation of the planet earth - all these things gave me much food
Many years, later when in 1985 I found myself in the reading room of
Berlin’s biggest library, immersed in a historical theology book. Could
anyone imagine my surprise as I read the words about Origen (Origenes 185-
254) recorded so long ago: »All ›Logica‹ (angels, humans, and demons) are
of the same nature. The differences came to pass, by way of the fall ... In the
first estate all Logica were spirit beings and as such Gods ... All generations
are the literal offspring of our heavenly Father, for we are all beings of
spirit, who existed in a premortal heavenly state. The reason for the fall,
the spirits from heaven to earth, was weariness. Looking at our heavenly
Father’s glory, we desired to achieve the same status. For it is the will of
God to bring all his children back to his beautiful realm of happiness and
love.« (Handwoerterbuch fuer Theologie und Religionswissenschaft, 1960,
J.C.B. Mohr (Paul Siebeck – Verlag) Tuebingen, Stichwort ›Origenes‹ p. 1696,
last column) I sat, stunned and overjoyed as I discovered another 28 points
in total harmony with the teachings of my church, The Church of Jesus
Christ of Latter-day Saints! What proof, what testimony, to compare it and
to know that Joseph Smith was the great restorer of Christ’s gospel! How
many Christians have any idea at all? Here then were the exact words the
missionaries had spoken to my father when I was just a child.
I felt as though electricity had penetrated my whole body through
the sentences, »On the day in which you, Adam, will partake of this fruit,
you shall surely die«, »sin entered and thus followed the expulsion, the
separation from Gods presence, meaning that all trespassers will become
fallen beings away from the presence of God.« I could remember the words:
»For as death hath passed upon all men, to fulfil the merciful plan of the
great Creator, there must needs be a power of resurrection, and resurrection
must needs come unto man by reason of the fall, and the fall came by reason
of transgression; and because man became fallen they were cut off from the
presence of the Lord.« 2 Nephi 9:6.
Here lay the answers to the problems of Evolution. With my hand pressed
to my forehead, I read Doctrine and Covenants 93:33. There it stood, in black
and white: »For man is spirit …« This, then, is the reason that The Book of
Mormon holds 2 separate reports that God’s judgements and the plan of
redemption are given only to Adam’s family and all of his descendants. (They
do not include beings of a prehistoric nature, like Neanderthal people). See
2 Nephi 9:21 and Mormon 3:20. I had invested many years of intensive study
before recognising these connections. Often I would recall these insights
and feel a pleasant light.
In the years 1942-1945, step by step I became a typical German youth.
The drills of the Hitler Youth - prescribed for all children and young men
between the ages of 10 and 18 - were designed to develop an awareness of
nationalism. With the absence of my father, who at best hated serving in the
German Army, I became a totally convinced Hitler fan, delighting in every
report of success. Whilst listening to the news, I would often rejoice. Oh joy!
Germany had won another battle, and sent huge ships to the bottom of the
ocean. Pure heroism stared at me from all sides. Never did I give even one
little thought to the fact that innocent people would lose their livelihood,
their families, their health, to spend the remainder of their days in hopeless
disability; that children burned like grass, that thousands of fathers drowned
or tens of thousands of young Russians boys starved to death because of the
lack of humanity shown by their conquerors. Oh, yes! My schoolmates and
I were busy being excited about conquering the whole world. Our national
hymn: Germany, Germany over all others in the world, sounded ever so good
in my ears.
I was still too young to be a Nazi, but as things developed, I was well on
the way to becoming one. In school and everywhere else we were told that
every good German boy had to love the Nazi flag and all it stood for. It was
the most natural thing in the world to follow the signs of the times. Too late
did my parents recognise that I had drifted along with the political stream.
Author, Hartwig Weber, reports in his Lexicon, how his church, at a time
where mankind was in more need then ever to be led by the hand of God,
would choose their own course and fall victim to their own folly: »Under the
influence of the Nazi Party the Confidential Consulting Office of the German
Evangelical Church praised the efforts of Adolf Hitler, with the goal in mind,
that under his leadership a new social order would be created.«
Only a small group of Lutheran Christians recognized that the way of the
»German Evangelical Church« was wrong, and in 1934 they expressed their
understanding of faith in a work called The Theological Barmen Declaration,
p. 330. They gathered in the »Confessing Church« (Bekennende Kirche).
»Wherefore, I the Lord, knowing the calamity which should come upon
the inhabitants of the earth, called upon my servant Joseph Smith Jun., and
spake unto him from heaven, and gave him commandments.« D&C 1: 17
As a 13-year old I experienced my first love pangs for Ev’chen, a visitor from
Hamburg. She was a delicate creature, like a beautiful flower. My father,
home on his 2-week vacation from the Russian front, must have become
aware of my feelings and that I had reached a new phase in my physical and
emotional development. I remember the day as though it was yesterday.
Father invited me to go with him for a stroll in the park. With his arms resting
on my shoulder, he spoke of ordinary little things and I took it all in, finding
it very pleasant. Then all at once his tone of voice changed. The contents
of his words penetrated my heart like a sharp knife: »Son, never touch a
woman except she is yours. Always remember this advice - never forget it.
There are only two ways: you can go, be driven by your passions, or you may
choose to be happy.« I did not really understand a single word he said. He
turned me toward him and saw utter confusion written all over my face.
»Let other people say what ever they please. But that which is not yours, you
must never touch. If you do, you lose the power to act correctly towards your
fellow beings. There is no growth in unrighteous deeds. It is a Mormon’s first
duty to be honest. Be honest with yourself. Hypocrisy cankers the soul. Ask
God for understanding and wisdom and pray for the strength to be a good
person. Do it! Especially when you know that it is right, and never ever, be
swayed by the things others may say.«
The challenge to read The Book of Mormon, however, caused me the
biggest problem. For all the efforts of the past to read more then a few
lines had failed. As I perceived it, there could not possibly be a more boring
book. My world of excitement also lay in America, but my heroes’ names
were Winnetou and Old Shatterhand, not Nephi or Ammon. Besides that,
little can be said about my spirituality, especially as I was made to kneel,
whilst my father would utter the lengthiest, most boring morning prayers.
Well, as long as he was on vacation I could bear it. Father always prayed for
guidance and protection throughout these trying times. Whatever was he
talking about? What trying times? There were no bombs in Wolgast. Wasn’t
everything going according to plan? Even the fact that we had no chocolate
didn’t matter all that much. Hadn’t the Germans wiped the Russians off the
map? Didn’t they stand on firm ground in France? Just one more short step
and then surely the whole world will lie at Germany’s feet, like a dog that
had undergone a severe beating. Before us Germans, lay a paradise with
colourful flags and banners decorated with the lovely swastika. I used to
get so angry at comments that the war would be lost because too many evil
deeds had taken place. Often this anger was directed at my father and my
innocent mother. In spite of it all, once he had returned to the battlefields,
a strange longing followed him. Being so far removed I could bear his words
when he declared: »I must go, but this I promise you, I shall never aim my
rifle at another human being.« It was good that he was so far away, else I
might have run to my Hitler-Youth leader and accused Father of being a war
In one of the bombing raids the Allies executed on Hamburg, my little
friend, Ev’chen, was killed. This was the first time that it hit me; the first time
I became aware of how serious times were. No better was the horror-filled
night of 17 to 18 August 1943. The sound of loud sirens tore us from our deep
sleep. This meant only one thing: get to a bomb shelter as fast as possible. I
just turned over and fell back asleep. How often had these sirens disturbed
us in vain. The aircraft would fly over our little town to some important city.
Suddenly, somewhere close by, a loud explosion occurred. Grabbing my shirt
and pants, I hurried into our cellar. All hell had broken loose. Our house
shook and my young heart was in trouble. I had only one thought: »This is
In the morning we were informed that not Wolgast, but the neighbouring
village of Peenemuende had been under attack. Hundreds of Lancaster
and Halifax planes had executed their deadly mission. English Intelligence
Services had gained the knowledge that Hitler had ordered the construction
of rockets there, named V-weapons (with the intention of destroying London
and other cities in Great Britain.) Even though it was 6 km away it seemed
that I could hear the wild screams of the prisoners of war who worked there.
Their cries shook the air between the blasts. Prisoners from France, Russia,
Britain and others countries, left without any kind of protection, were burned
with phosphorus. Helpless, they hung on the wire fences that surrounded
their prison camp.
Both these events opened my eyes and shaped my soul. I became a very
serious person. I had matured far beyond my age.
During 1943-1945 Church meetings were held on weekday evenings. Our
missionaries had served in vain to find anyone to be baptised. It looked
as though all their efforts were ineffective. At Relief Society there were 2
sisters, namely Mrs. Schult and my mother. Oh yes, and then there was I,
troublemaker number one!
It was in the middle of one of their meetings that I finally succeeded in
having my mother sign the papers permitting me to pilot a glider. She had
finally given in, and I was happy.
In the first weeks of 1945 we received only negative news. Oh, how I
longed to be free: no one, nothing to stand in my way, no, not even the dry
teachings of my parents. Father was far away in German-occupied Narvik,
in Norway … I dreamed of a life free from all commandments and laws that
held me bound. I longed to enjoy my youth whilst Father, with every letter
we received, informed us that he prayed for us.
At that time however, the ideas of breaking laws were harmless. Let’s
face it, when we’re 15 we might wish to be men, but when all is said and
done, we’re still only kids. In spite of that, I began to have my little romantic
fantasies in regards to some of the beautiful girls in Wolgast.
One late afternoon in March 1945, all youth were summoned to assist
at the railway station, »Wolgaster Faehre«. We were to help Red Cross
personnel transport wounded soldiers to the local hospital. The train came
from Swinemuende, the next battlefront. I envisioned pictures of the weekly
newsreels at the picture theatre: well-furbished transports for all injured
people, with the best of hospital accommodation. However, as I stood,
watching the steaming engine climb over the rise at Mahlzower heights, a
feeling of doom enveloped my soul. We ran towards the carriages, the sun
lending her last rays to the day with just sufficient light to behold a scene of
utter horror: the train had been blown to pieces there were mere remnants
of a train. Above the noise and the smoke of the engine, were the screams
of 200 or more 17 and 18 year-old boys. Here was another moment of truth.
No one could possibly evaluate the measure of suffering and pain except
they were to behold it with their own eyes. Was this the glorious victory I
had been dreaming of? My legs gave way under my body. I was barely able to
stand up. A man called out: »They attacked the train!«
It must have been »Rattas«, Russian pilots taking their final revenge, or
perhaps English »Spitfires.« I felt helpless and enraged, especially because
each one of the carriage roofs was marked with a large red cross.
As the door directly in front of me was torn open by a huge »Weapon-SS«
man, the stench almost knocked me out. The first soldier lying in the doorway
was dead. The next, who had been bandaged up before the journey, pulled
him self up on me until his arms had found themselves around my neck. The
third cried out: »Friend, friend!« His head, except for his mouth, was covered
with bandages. The bandages were black. Somehow I was able to catch him.
Even though I was only 15 my feelings were of a love I had not known before,
mixed with unspeakable anger. As quickly as possible we transported our
comrades in hand wagons, wheelbarrows, and on everything that had
wheels, to the auxiliary hospital.
In the days that followed, our little town was filled with more and more
soldiers from all fields and status of war personnel. They were all trying to
escape the battlefront.
My order to join the »Volkssturm« (Folks storm), which consisted of 15
and 16 year-old boys, arrived on 22 April 1945. On that day the Russian forces
had crossed the River Oder near Stettin. Had this order come just one month
earlier, nothing would have stopped brainwashed kids from running without
a care into the certain death trap, in the firm belief that, with the aid of the
promised »Wonder weapon« such as the V2 (built in Peenemuende and
other places, with a shooting range as far as London), this war could still be
Goebbels’ propaganda apparatus, to which we were exposed without
interruption, had left its effects. But after having held the bloody leftovers
of my young friends in my very own arms - after hearing the screams, after
seeing their pain - I was happy to see my small, yet very vigorous mother
bang her fists on our kitchen table, and with all the strength her anguished
voice could muster, she cried: »No! No!« She straightened her back to show
who was in charge, but in spite of it could not hide the fear in her beautiful
eyes. Had I not witnessed all I had, I would not have respected her decision.
As things stood, I was scared. The thought that I could really be killed had
put a totally different view on the matter.
On one of the final nights under »Great German« rule - after we had
transported many more wounded soldiers to the emergency hospital, where
the surgeons worked 16 to 18 hours daily to rescue mutilated young comrades
– I caught my mother with her head underneath a green woollen blanket,
listening to Radio London. There were those treacherous 4 drum sounds. My
mother stood bent over our little receiver. We boys had been told to report
any person caught listening to lies from our enemies to the Nazi authorities
instantly. It was our duty. We had to react immediately - the NSDAP had to
be informed of such treason, whether by father or mother, it did not matter.
In my anger I yelled at my mother. She emerged from her blanket snapping
at me, telling me not to disturb her. The blanket still around her small
houlders, her soft hair in tangles, her forehead showing the strength of her
personality, I felt so disgusted. As a good German I needed to run to report
this. I needed to do my duty. Punishment must be meted out. The turmoil
inside me grew to a raging river. However, to my everlasting happiness the
better good within me seemed to scream out: »Don’t do it!« I stopped in my
tracks. All of this was in total opposition to what I believed. Now in all this
hopelessness, this helplessness over losing the war, feeling totally degraded,
I slammed the door behind me. I saw only this huge black hole in which the
whole world had disappeared. I did not wish to see it any more. I wanted to
go away, vanish for ever.
Just days before the Russian forces entered Wolgast, at one of my piano
lessons, my teacher, Mr. Johannes Reese, whilst sliding his long, elegant
fingers across the keyboard in the final cords of the piece before us, said in a
most solemn tone: »I can feel that the Mormon Church holds far more truth
than all the others.« Sentences like this one caused much reflection inside
of me. Like the coloured stones of a huge mosaic they seemed to find a place
inside my heart. Even though that place was far away at that time, the little
stones would lie in wait to fulfil their purpose.
Later on Mother would remind me how, on 29th of April, I had been placed
on the top of the high watchtower to be a look out for the approaching Russian
Army. I did not think much of it; especially as just an hour prior to that I
had upset our local police officer. It all seemed a just punishment. However,
when Mother found out that I was to be the guard throughout the night, she
what to do. If they were to somehow leave - quietly vanish - and then be
caught by the very dangerous army-police (»Feldgendarmerie«), they would
be shot on the spot as traitors. On the other hand, if they waited until the
Russians arrived, they would more than likely be transported to Siberia.
»Where is my son, Gerd?« The walls resounded. Mother could hardly
make out the grim faces of the men cowering in the smoke-filled room.
Then she spied Mr. Wallis who was a well-known member of the Baptist
congregation »I heard from friends that you fired a shot at my son.« One
man tried to excuse him self and the fact that he had fired a shot at me, in
the air, because I had thrown a stone at him. Mother was in no mood for any
antics. Victorious, as any brave warrior, she rescued me from the lions’ den.
On the 30th of April 1945, at 11 am, a huge explosion rocked our
neighbourhood. Oh, boy! It must have been a beauty of a land mine.
The force of it knocked my friend, Richard, and his sister, Gisela, and
me flat to the ground. Gisela had just invited me to a little adventure. The
explosion shook us like leaves, and I pressed myself even closer to the floor.
But the feared second explosion did not eventuate.
The fear that perhaps she had not survived this event pushed me to
my feet. Like a crazy person I threw myself over and over against the huge
wooden door, which, because of the enormous blast, had set solid in its
frame. In my mind I could see my mother, my sister, Helga, and my little
»I’m coming, I’m coming!« I screamed. I could see myself turning over the
fallen rubble of our big, old house, trying to find them. After what seemed
like an eternity, my friend and I finally succeeded in opening the jammed
door. I ran – oh, how I ran! My feet barely touched the pavement. Through
the narrow lanes I flew, repeating the same sentence over and over: »I’m
coming, I’m coming!« One more turn and there was our street, ›our house‹,
my home: 17 Langestrasse. All the houses stood undamaged, except for the
windows. Praise be to God! What in the world could it have been but for an
Someone leaned from an upstairs window to inform me »They have
bombed the huge bridge. It’s all gone!«
So what! I was alive, my brother and sister were alive, and my mother was
still with us. The 2 German soldiers who we had watched just some hours ago
must have known the time this would occur, but had not informed anyone
of it. The German military had destroyed the huge elevator bridge, hoping
to keep the advancing Russian forces from entering the island of Usedom,
on which the Germans still hoped to establish some military resistance.
Let’s face it, any minute now Russian tanks and canons would roll down our
My fears soon left me. I stood in the street waiting. All the town shop
windows were shattered. Excitement filled the air. Freedom was moments
away. For 2 hours Wolgast was a no man’s land, without law, without police,
without soldiers. It was a mess of glass-splintered, open shop windows.
The establishment of the Gauger confectionery store in the market square
beckoned: »Come! Help yourself! Today everything is free.« Was I to refuse
myself? No, no way? I stepped into the clothing section of the shop to view
the meagre lot of men’s clothing. Many people had already entered the
same way. As I had intended to help myself, it occurred to me: »Gerd, this
is stealing. This is not right. This is not kosher.« I had these feelings as I had
experienced them many times before. The small but firm voice: »Don’t do
it.« For some moments I stood paralyzed and confused.
More and more people had entered the shop. Not only had they come
via the broken windows, but by now they had also entered through the
open doors. I saw myself mirrored in the faces of those people. What I saw
seemed so unreal: women, mothers, especially all these grown ups. Had I
not always regarded them as angels? How could they behave this way? Were
they all lost somehow, somewhere? All that was within me swung like a
pendulum from one extreme to another. For a while the frantic grabbing,
squabbling, and fighting seemed as though a whirlwind of crazy humans
were performing a witches’ dance. All this behaviour over a few grey and
black suits which hung lost on a single rack. Everything raced: my blood, my
thoughts, the people. All my emotions were caught up in a dizzy spell, in the
total confusion everywhere. But as fast as it all began, it ended. Yes, even my
normal thinking power returned. For I said to myself, now is now, otherwise
I was just determined to survive it all. And whilst I harboured the hope that
I was going to succeed, others gave way to their pessimism and ventured
down to the Peene River, driven by fear and helplessness. Mothers, now
widows, tied their children to their bodies, added some heavy rocks and
jumped off the pier.
Driven by a cheeky fearlessness, I grabbed a pair of green trousers, which
happened to lie directly in front of me, and took them home. I did not feel all
that happy about it. But who cared any way? I harboured the same feelings
as some time before, when I had climbed a garden wall and taken a handful
of apples - and had been caught! Only this time it was I, myself who had
caught the villain. For this is the reason I hung my stolen goods over the
cellar window instead of taking them upstairs to my room. Next the thought
came that some sweets would be nice. »It has been 2 years since I’ve tasted
sweets.« So I ran to find a place among all the boys and girls of my age, who
were all hoping to find a little chocolate or coffee at the Andersen shop. I had
not yet learned that a guilty conscience reacts by diminishing one’s moral
potential. I acted somewhat brutally as I pushed my way to the margarine
shelf over which women and boys were fighting. Above my head someone
yelled: »See here, I have found this container!« Others grabbed at it and tore
the item from his hands. The carton broke and all the coffee beans spilt on
the floor. Someone started to throw glass jars through the air, fuelled by
anger because they contained only red beets or perhaps because they did
not hold the desired fruits. Wherever they landed the ground turned red.
Several boys threw the jars through the open window into the street. It all
turned into a hellish spectacle.
The shopkeeper, Mr. Anderson, appeared on the scene. He was a little
50-year old man, with a large bald spot on the top of his head. »Ladies!
Ladies!« he lamented, wringing his white hands as he assessed the disaster
in and around his shop. One of the women approached him: »I’m not a
lady!« she screamed, throwing one of the bottling jars at his feet. The poor
man, now sprinkled by the red juice, gasped for air. How could young men
ever understand the fears of the women at this particular time of Russian
invasion? »The Russian Army will come and hurt us!«
In all that confusion I had managed to collect 16 pieces of margarine, which
I took home. Then I returned to try to make another theft, no longer worried
by my conscience. As I turned the corner of our street I beheld my 9-year old
brother, Helmut, with a large round cheese, almost as high as himself. He was
coming down the gentle slope of the street, rolling the cheese like a wheel,
straight towards me. Not much further up the street was Mr Kriwitz’s general
store. There, as everywhere else, the crazed population had turned to shop
lifting. People everywhere were just concerned with survival. It would have
been easy to take such a possession from a 9-year old. The picture of my little
brother and the huge cheese wheel will remain engraved in my brain forever.
The little blond-haired guy grinned at me. »Hold on,« I thought, »hold on.
Something is very wrong here.« My thoughts came more clearly, much more
clearly than 30 minutes before, when I had first reached out to take that which
was not mine. The awareness that what we had done was not right, and the
command to return that cheese, came with the same breath. »This is theft,«
I snapped at him. He returned my reactions with a happy grin. For him it was
just fun. After all, rolling such a large object required some skill. Within me,
however, developed a totally different concept. I came to the apt conclusion
to return everything we had taken, and I did just that.
Some minutes later I beheld the first Russian soldier, as he walked down
Langestrasse. He walked straight towards me, his finger on the trigger of his
pistol. For years I had listened to the lies of Nazi propaganda, which had
painted a picture of a deprived, uneducated, inferior race of human beings.
Besides that, had I not often seen the half-starved, raggedly-clothed,
miserable creatures as they were driven through Wolgast like cattle, to be
placed in some prisoner camps. To meet this handsome man, a warrior and
fighter of the Red Army as he approached me, left me utterly surprised and
stunned. I was not frightened as his appearance was very pleasant. There was
something about him that reminded me of my own father. The thought came
to my mind: »Gerd, before you stands a true hero!« He wore a high Russian
hat of black lamb fur and a loose black cape over his uniform. Although his
pistol was aimed at me, at no time did I fear for my life. Surely he too had
reason to fear. All around were windows, doors and corners from which
a deadly shot could be fired. He walked easily, showing no haste, neither
looking to the left nor the right as he passed by me. My eyes followed him
in amazement and thoughtfulness. I shall never forget that encounter. I had
not yet learned that it was not the uniform that separated the good from the
bad. Thus I learned within mere moments one of the most important lessons
of my life, strange as it all may seem. Somehow I felt drawn towards this
stranger. I became aware of how wrong my attitude had been throughout
all my life. After he had long disappeared, I stood still, contemplating and
questioning, »Is this how they really are?«
It was very disappointing to see that not all Russians were like that noble
stranger. For just hours later hundreds of new soldiers of a totally different
kind entered our town. Hordes of unrestrained, wild men filled the streets. I
had persuaded old Mr. Gottschalk, also known as »Leller,« our helping hand
in our small business, to come with me to investigate the new scene. He was
surprised at first not to be bothered by the Russians. However, it did not take
too long before a youth about my age, dressed in a thin, dark green cotton
shirt relieved the hunched, rheumatic old-timer of his golden watch. Two
big tears rolled down his wrinkled cheeks as limping, lamenting, bent over
his walking stick, he turned to walk away. What he had lost had been his
one and only possession. Screaming women rushed past us, soldiers chasing
after them. A shot rang out and we stepped aside to let the maddened crowd
of robbers and rapists pass us by. My bewilderment over everything I had
witnessed was so extensive that, in a reflex motion, I raised my right hand
and shouted: »Heil, Hitler.« An elderly officer, in his green uniform, must
have noticed my shock. For what it was worth, he could have taken offence
at such an outburst and shot me on the spot – after all we were at war! He
looked at me, shook his head, just as a wise father would, smiled, lifted his
index finger to his forehead, turned and walked on. Later, other soldiers
would kick my backside with their boots for just looking at them.
As the shooting between Germans and Russians started all over again
we took refuge in our cellar once more. There we sat on wooden benches
for 2 days and nights, in total darkness, and listened to the artillery fire
and explosions. In fear the women listened to every sound that came from
above. Was the front door being opened? Would footsteps descend into the
cellar? Would beasts in the form of humans fall upon them? On the third day
a tall young lady settled down beside me, cried, and told the other women
in our shelter how she had been mob-raped, how she had fled and hidden.
In her despair, she had remembered 17 Langestrasse and Mrs. Stolp, our
neighbour, and hoped to find protection there, because the old lady was a
member of the communist party.
As fate would have it, Mrs. Stolp had passed away 2 days prior. As the
young lady feared to venture out into the street again, we sat next to each
other in the cold, dark cellar. I found it most pleasant to know that my lap
had become a pillow for her head. Totally exhausted, she cried herself to
sleep. Several times throughout the night, her body jerked in fear. Gently I
would run my hand over her head and cheek calming her down and she did
not object to it.
On the fourth night the noises coming from outside did not seem to be so
severe, so I decided to go back upstairs to sleep in my bed. Old friend, ›Leller‹
did the same. In the distance, some hundreds of meters away, we could still
hear the rumbling of grenades. In no time at all we fell into a deep sleep.
After the war
On the 8th of May the shooting finally stopped. I ventured out into the
street. Everywhere I looked I beheld intoxicated Russian soldiers. To one of
the vehicles that rolled through the streets, they had fastened a cow. The
rope around her neck had strangled her to death and she had been dragged
over the cobblestones leaving a huge streak of blood behind her. My eyes
followed the martyred creature and the thoughts that came to mind were:
»This is a symbol of war and victory. This is what it looks like.« Many of the
people, most of them refugees from the east, elderly men and women, had
misery and pain written all over their faces. Many of the young women were
pregnant. They had seen many places that were totally destroyed, they
had witnessed brutal mobbing, murder, rape and more. They had lost their
homeland. Their husbands, fathers and brothers were dead or crippled. There
was no hope, no future - only fear of the rough »soldateska« (soldiers).
Still there were others in uniform, men who stood out from the maddening
crowd - men like the first Russian I had encountered.
I remember the day a convoy of installed lorry rockets (Stalin’s weapons)
stopped in front of our house. In the midst of all the well-disciplined soldiers
sat my little brother. On his straw blond head they had placed a huge, dark
steel helmet. Laughing they passed him around like some rag doll and
spoiled him with biscuits. What they found amusing was that the little
guy had one brown and one blue eye. They were most civilised, for none of
these men would leave the vehicle to enter and rob our home. Many of the
locals cursed all of the Russians. That was really not fair. There were soldiers
who did enter our home and tried to play our piano but they were always
pleasant. At this time I could not tell why people were good or bad. I needed
to gain far more experience in such matters. Had I not believed the Nazis,
the news reporters and men like Josef Goebbels or Adolf Hitler? Had they
not all perpetrated fantasies and lies?
Early in the summer of 1945, I worked as a labourer for the Red Army at the
shipyard of Wolgast, which still exists. In our boredom and folly my friends
and I would swim across the far side of the Peene stream, about 200 metres,
to the shores of the island of Usedom. Guarded only partly by barbed wire,
stored there lay a huge assembly of deserted weapons: large wooden boxes
by the dozen all over the place, containing ammunition of every kind. This
was the reason the death penalty was ordered by the warning signs. No one
was to step on this little piece of land. But boys will be boys -and sometimes
boys will just be stupid! Within minutes we took up some of the rifles and
started shooting in the air. Oh, how well we could handle these weapons,
and oh, how well we could aim! But the ammunition we had found and used
just happened to be flares! What a wonderful display of lights! We painted
the most amazing signs against the endless, blue sky. The fact that others
would know exactly where we were did not bother us. I felt like Robinson
Crusoe on his remote, free island - a world that belonged to no one else but
him. However, Klein-Zinnowitz was not in the Pacific - it was only a stone’s
throw away from the old duchy of Wolgast. The fact that the Russians where
still suspicious and angry with the Germans, had not entered our mind.
Who would dare to provoke their laws? Suddenly, we heard the typical hum
of a low-flying aircraft. From the distance we saw a huge biplane make its
way towards us, like a colourful bug. Our adventure became somewhat
dangerous. There it was, no more than 80 metres away with a large, red
soviet star painted on the light blue wings, looking down on us. We could see
the head of the pilot. As we hid under the trees he could not see us. Seven
rifles aimed at this huge target. It was to our advantage that none of us lost
our heads enough to fire a shot.
Whatever saved us from this deadly game? I don’t know! I only know it
was none of us. Our saving angel’s name was Buena Bergmann. He appeared
suddenly. Also a member of the Hitler Youth like us, he had climbed over the
barbed wire, and yelled at us, at the top of his voice: »What the devil, do you
think you’re doing here?« Seven defeated smart guys laid their new-found
toys on the ground.
At that moment we became aware that a military police boat had
appeared, although it was still some way off. It circled near the big bridge,
approximately 800 metres away, but could manoeuvre its way towards us
at any moment. If the military police were to catch us it would surely be
the end of us. We decided to flee back the way we had come, via the water.
But it was to no avail. Too many eyes had witnessed our foolish game. Too
many ears had heard the firing of our flare guns. »Great!« We thought as
we climbed the ladder onto the pier, »We’re out of danger.« But the Russian
soldiers were waiting for us there, pulling us up over the embankment.
No one can really ever predict all the consequences of their actions, even if
their intentions stand written on tablets of stone. There are still 1000 variable
outcomes - facts that make our life so unpredictable. Surrounded by soldiers,
we stood there, almost naked, frightened to death, with a number of machine
guns pointed at us. What a pitiful sight we must have been, in our threadbare,
black bathing pants! Everything within us and around us froze - even time.
Driving at top speed followed by a cloud of dust, a Jeep came toward us. In it
there was a huge, rough man in green uniform, »the Commandant«! his chest
decorated with many medals. Next to him was a young spindly driver.
No sooner did the Jeep come to a halt than the colossal officer jumped
from his seat. Wide-framed, with heavy footsteps, and his enormous head
bowed to the earth, he came towards us, as angry as a provoked bull. He
had become an angel of vengeance for all the SS and the German military
forces had done to his nation. All eyes were upon him. He was raw, wild,
and ready to devour all that came in his path. He invoked terror and totally
controlled the scene. One word, one wave of his hand and all we would have
seen would have been lightning fire flying from the »Spagin« machine gun
The giant roared like a wounded beast. But the longer he roared the
more we became aware that the weapons pointed at us had not been fired.
Somehow there grew within me a faint hope that perhaps they would let us
live. Little did we suspect that between life and death lay the frozen plains of
Siberia or Karaganda. Many thoughts spun round and round inside my head
creating total chaos. I came to absolutely no conclusion at all. In the end all
my longing focused on one crazy wish: for a miracle to occur.
Our work supervisor, Mr. Kell, a well-known member of the communist
party, dared to face the raging men, whilst the cool-hearted soldiers, only
a little older then we were, stood silent, with their guns, still expecting to
follow the orders of their Commandant. In sharp tones 3 men spoke loudly,
swinging their long arms backwards and forwards, as the flow of words
was translated. At first we did not understand anything at all. The elderly
German, with the red band fastened round his arm, a quiet friendly person,
pledged his own life to rescue us. He offered his life for us! The unbelievable
had happened. The Russian officer with his grim face and his oversized nose
showed mercy on us. Perhaps the SS had shot his own sons or perhaps they
had the same Jewish look as their father. In the end he decided: »You can go!«
We ran off in all directions. I crawled into a little space in the engine room,
where I sat paralysed for a long time. There was not a single word about all
this at home. The worst news sometime reaches the family when it’s all in
the past. What had really happened? Hundreds, yes, thousands of people
who had committed less then we had, were sent to die in the death traps of
the concentration camps such as Waldheim, or stripped of everything to live
out their lives in Irkutsk’s prison camps (gulag prison camps). Most of them
never returned home. Two of my friends were still to experience such a fate.
Slowly I became aware, or perhaps I just wanted to believe, that this being
called God really existed, and that this God of whom I was so unsure, had
indeed protected me in many wonderful ways. Within me awakened a trust
that I should not act against my convictions.
Shortly thereafter, I began looking for a suitable spot in which to hide
Father’s camera from the Russians. They had demanded that all bicycles,
cameras and radios be delivered to our local post office. I discovered a locked
trunk in our attic, which I forced open. Among other items I also found anti-
Mormon literature. There were 2 books written by Pastor Zimmer and Pastor
Roessle. My father had obviously read these works to make a decision for
his future. Had my father left them in the bookshelf downstairs I would
not have felt the slightest inclination to read them. But hidden away like
this, their secrecy held a powerful magic, begging to be discovered. I made
myself comfortable beneath one of the small windows and read both of
these books. The reports of these two pastors had a strange but powerful
hold on me. They were greater then Karl May. With every page I turned, my
desire grew to explore my father’s strange religion of which I was a member,
realising that I had little knowledge of the teachings. Father had seen to it
that I was baptised at the age of 9. As for myself though, I had never felt as if
I belonged in any church at all. Maybe it was because there were no meeting
houses - there were none of the things I would experience some 20 years
later. My reading awakened a strong desire to get to the bottom of it all.
Somehow I felt that here was something of great importance to me and my
My feelings were totally different towards the authors of these works.
They expressed their point of view with such strong words. Again and
again I read certain passages initiating me into the strange new world of
Mormonism. Time and space sank into oblivion behind me. Before my eyes
opened a door to the past. »In the year 1870 not a single church building
existed in the far west state of Utah.« Well, that’s what it said in Pastor
Zimmer’s book Among the Mormons. »To start a mission would challenge
the bravest of preachers. By the year 1858 the USA had placed a Christian
governor in Salt Lake City, but Brigham Young seemed to be the ruling force
in whose presence all would tremble. All, yes, even the slightest criticism in
regards to the teachers or heads of this sect, would deliver the victim into
the bloody hands of these evil men, (Danit’s). Hundreds of the members had,
according to Zimmermann, »been murdered on Brigham Young’s orders.« (p.
45). Instantly I knew that Zimmermann was a liar. Purposely he had denied
the truth. I could feel it, but more than that, he knew it as well. On the one
hand he assumed that the priesthood authority claimed by the Mormons
was a most dangerous instrument within the Church, but on the other hand,
Zimmermann could not help praising some of the amazing achievements
accomplished by these faithful people. Zimmermann hated Brigham
Young (who became the leader following Joseph Smith, the prophet of the
restoration), like no other Mormon. However, at the same time, Zimmerman
admired all this man had achieved, and wrote of Brigham Young’s excellent
leadership abilities. Zimmerman saw him as a man of far sightedness and
perspicacity in regard to economy and government affairs, and as a planner
of irrigation systems, which brought sufficient fresh water to the whole state
of Utah, turning the desert into a fertile garden state. Salt Lake City, a holy
place for all Mormons, has become the central link for trade between the
East and West Rocky Mountains. Utah’s mineral resources will grant her the
chance of becoming one of the largest cities in the West … One of the items
visitors will notice are the broad, beautiful tree-lined streets, each one 132
feet wide. »Young ordered them, following a vision. The extreme width of
the streets, the enormous blocks are pleasant to behold. In the first weeks
of April and October Latter-day Saints flock to the centre of their faith to
attend General Conference of which the final session is the most beautiful.
The Saints are admonished to live according to the principles of the gospel.
Thousands of faithful saints rise as the prophet lifts his hands towards
heaven to pray and bless the people. This is followed by utter silence during
which one could hear a pin drop. The Saints feel how the inspiring words
of their prophet, fill their hearts and souls. Even the stranger can feel the
wonderful spirit emanating throughout the building. All this is followed by
the sound of the massive organ as 500 voices break forth in singing praises
to their God. To close the gathering the whole congregation of 1600 people
would sing the Hymn of the prophet: »Praise to the man who communed
with Jehovah. Jesus anointed that prophet and seer. Blessed to open the last
dispensation, Kings shall extol him, and nations revere. Hail to the Prophet,
ascended to heaven. Traitors and tyrants now fight him in vain. Mingling with
Gods, he can plan for his brethren; Death cannot conquer the hero again.«
Strangely enough not so much the positive in Zimmerman’s words, but
the negative caused me to ask many questions. I needed to find the answers
to these questions, in order to gain my own testimony. All the things that
Pastor Roessle wrote lay in opposition to each other: on one page »This
godless priesthood, which has claimed thousands, trampling on the word
of God, dragging the Saints through the dust. Countless Germans are being
defiled with teachings making them believe it is all heaven’s food for their
souls.« But on the very next page Roessle believes that Joseph Smith was an
honest man. »His character is much disputed. The Mormons think of him as
the greatest martyr of the century and as the most important man to have
lived in our time. His enemies just call him a liar. Others say that Joseph
Smith himself believed in his fantastic revelations and believed to be a tool
in the hands of God. With all these facts he developed an amazing skill of
planning the future. Moreover, he knew about labour and business affairs.
His friendliness and love towards all men had always been appreciated,
especially by the humble and uneducated people who adored him.«
I thought, »Look at this – the back and forth of these reports. Surely
everyone who reads these pages must notice them. This knowledgeable
thinker could not be compared to a mere teenager such as I was. Besides, I
knew all that my father had taught me, even if the meetings I had experienced
as a child were ever so boring. I tried to remember, but then I could not think
of anything at all that was not good and positive. The messages were clear:
»Be the best you can, whenever you can, wherever you can. Be the best,
always rise to the challenge: Do it!«
And thus, in spite of my lack of knowledge, and in spite of my youth, I
could see the warped views of both these authors. I read and reread whole
passages. I read far more in those 7 days than I had in the past 15 years
of my life as a Mormon boy, every fibre of my being vibrating to the truth
that someday in my future I would be capable of explaining that here were
eternal principles of great value; that the teachings of Mormonism show us
an ever-expanding view; that they are filled with ideas to build and expand
the human soul, ideals that will lift all mankind to a higher level of existence,
without boundaries or limitations; teachings that leave individuals free to
choose their own destiny. I felt as though these teachings opened up a door,
leading to a kingdom of spiritual growth where I would be free to cherish my
own thoughts, where I could do all I wished to refine and educate myself if
I so chose. This then was in total opposition to all other Christian doctrines.
Here the name »Church« had a beautiful sound.
Soon I was able to find the connection between the different teachings.
It became intuitively clear that what the world needed more than any other
thing was the blessings of the restored gospel of Jesus Christ.
Well I remembered the day, it was on the 30th of April 1945, the
conversation I overheard at the front door of Mr. Gauger’s shop between
a German parachute soldier, his round steel helmet in his hand, and a
young Russian journalist in uniform. They were discussing the future and
the question of what would become of Germany now that the Third Reich
of Adolf Hitler’s era had collapsed. The surprising answer from the young,
fluent, German-speaking Russian journalist was: »We need something that
will bind all nations together.« These words planted themselves in my heart
like the roots of a mighty oak tree. I could feel the conviction with which
this man spoke, giving the disillusioned German a view of the kind of future
he envisioned. The Russian asked for support from one who was once
his enemy, now his captive, who had laid down all his medals of war and
somehow appeared like a shorn sheep.
Why was I, Gerd, there? Why did they permit me to listen to their
conversation? Now I know! It was all part of a far greater plan. Here a
Russian journalist asked a German to start writing articles that would go
to all prisoners of war in Russia. I do not exactly remember why I seemed to
comprehend the Russian’s request, except that somehow I knew that once
conditions had settled down, people had to find a better way, otherwise the
silly as well as the smart would succumb to their human follies, commit the
same errors, and would, because of high spirits, fall upon each other, causing
endless grief. It seemed perfectly clear that Christianity thus far had failed.
I sat in the attic of our house pondering the many thoughts that engulfed
my eager mind: the words »We need a new idea.« Over and over it occurred
to me that Mormonism may well be that idea: After the original teachings of
Jesus Christ. He who called himself, »the Prince of Peace.« had been changed
and falsified and lost their effectiveness. If the hidden knowledge of the
preexistence of the human soul, as taught by Joseph Smith, and restored
by Heavenly Father to the earth to teach us once more about higher ideals
in life, if all Christians would became aware of the eternal nature of their
souls. Surely this knowledge, as far as people would accept it, would become
a healing balm to unite all nations. Surely this is what God wants for his
children. As I reflected on these ideas I could feel a pleasant light and a
spirit of peace resting on me. I’m left wondering, »Would I have had all these
wonderful feelings, if I had kept the stolen goods? - if I had allowed myself to
give way to weakness and passions?«
Zimmerman’s and Roessle’s attacks on my Faith the Church of Jesus
Christ of Latter Day Saints, or nicknamed by the world as the Mormons were
a wake-up call for me. True, all they had written would perhaps be believed
by tens of thousands of ignorant people who would demand even as these
authors: »Stop the Mormons and all their false teachings.«
I have read Roessle’s book, Aus der Welt des Mormonentums, that State
and Church must unite to wipe out Mormonism. Roessle insists: »I cannot
emphasize it loudly enough: the Mormons’ goal is to convert the whole world
and thus enslave all of mankind. The whole system is geared towards this
goal. This is the purpose of their extensive missionary effort. One must also
be aware that Mormonism is in opposition to Islam, although in many ways
has the same capacity to adjust to all traditions, situations, and views, even
to the point of absorbing all beliefs.« To cap it all, he adds: »This still small,
nominal, completely different church, will one day gain global status. This
American church is a dangerous shallow belief, with a total lack of biblical
knowledge, aided by the power of Satan. Under the banner of the gospel
they are going about spreading their teachings. Because of their satanic
forces the Mormon sect will become a world power and a great danger to
the nations of the earth.«
My finger lay on page 91 of Roessle’s writings, and thus he opened my
eyes. Among the literature I found in our attic were several pamphlets. I
shared them with friends and distributed them among the refugees who
had settled all over Wolgast. Often there would be more than 20 people
living and sleeping in our hallway. All of them had lost their homes because
the Russian and Polish Governments would not return the lands that they
had conquered. Most of the refugees had lost everything, save the clothing
on their backs. At the end of 1945 most of the beautiful old Cities of Great
Germany lay in ruins.
Johannes Reese, my piano teacher and Father’s old friend, asked around,
if any of the refugees or others would be interested in attending meetings at
our home. Johannes Reese conducted the meetings in my father’s absence.
Among the first visitors to our home were the Dunkers, the Chusts, and
the Weber family. Mrs. Weber was a widow with 3 children, all of whom
later became members of the Church. So did Lady Waldmann, my friend
Hans Schult (who later became district president in the East Berlin area),
and others. More than 20 souls investigated the Church in our home. But
Mr. Reese taught a fair mixture of Catholicism, Evangelical and Mormon
doctrine. As most of our guests were happy to talk, think and exchange
thoughts on subjects other than the lack of food and everything else, they
returned on a regular basis to the meetings held on Fridays or Sundays. At
times I found these meetings very boring, but I learned a lot about The Holy
Bible and history.
Mr. Reese was a cosmopolitan man. His knowledge was enormous. He
would never forget to bear his testimony about The Book of Mormon: »This
record is true!« If asked why he was not a member of the Church of Jesus
Christ of Latter-day Saints, he would simply shrug his shoulders and answer:
»I have a lot of friends - I want to hold on to their friendship. But, I’m certain
Joseph Smith did not deceive the world.« The men and women looked at him
with wide eyes. »One must ask the question why a man would write such a
book? Had Joseph Smith insisted that these things were of his own making,
he could have had a long and peaceful life. With all his talents and abilities
he could have became a wealthy, famous preacher and leader. All he would
have to have said was: »I think!« or perhaps instead of organising a church
he could have started a new political party, and perhaps received much
applause. As it was, he was mayor of a city called »Nauvoo, the beautiful«
of which he himself laid the foundations. After all, it was one of the largest
cities in the United States at the time. He had original thoughts and a mind
that operated with crystal clarity. This is made manifest in the structures that
he built. His ideas in the realm of education were extraordinary. It was his
goal that uneducated people in prisons should receive lectures and courses
that would give them a chance for a new start in life; that industrial centres
should be situated outside the borders of the city; that homes should only
hold one family and be built on large blocks of land in order to have sufficient
acres for gardens and recreation. He was a man who loved all people, who
called everyone a brother and friend. It was he who was persecuted, driven,
and threatened. Ever since the publication of The Book of Mormon he
was hunted like a fox by a dozen hounds until the very end. Yes, he could
have saved his own life. All he had to do was to deny the principles he had
preached. Instead he said: »I am going like a lambto the slaughter; but I am
calm as a summer’s morning; I have a consience void of offense towards God,
and towards all men. i shall die innocent …« Doctrine and Covenants 135:4.
Then he submitted himself to his hang masters, even though, at the time,
he could have chosen to escape the raving mob. Now I ask you, my friends, is
this the way a liar would act?«
After Mr. Reese’s impressive explanations there would be silence in the
room. He continued, »Don’t get me wrong, I was not always of this persuasion.
Many times I have fought and argued against this man. Now I must admit
that I did so because I was ill informed and ignorant. This, I believe, is often
the reason why people close their eyes and hearts to the truth: the less they
know, the more they talk.« He laughed: »Well, why should I be any different?
In the end you really need to figure it out for yourselves. Go out into the
streets, ask any Christian to tell you about the Mormons and even though
they have no idea what so ever, they will firmly decide against them.«
Hans Schult and I took up Mr. Reese’s challenge. Together we went out to
prove it for ourselves. As we entered the street we stopped a gentleman aged
about 60, who I knew belonged to a Christian congregation. »What do you
think about the Mormons?« I asked him. Stunned, the old man looked at me
with an earnest expression and replied: »The Mormons are a horrible sect.«
»Why are they horrible?« I asked.
»They have polygamy and, on top of that, other scriptures!«
»Do you personally know any Mormons?« I asked. »Do you know their
»Oh, no,« he replied. »Praise the Lord that I don’t!«
A little later the missionaries arrived in our area once more. In the fall
of 1946, shortly after my father had escaped from a prison camp in France,
Elder Walter Krause came to visit us. (See: Edith Krause, Walter Krause in
seiner Zeit, 2005, p. 122). In spite of all his wounds Walter came to visit us. He
was a survivor of the destruction of the city of Dresden, in February 1945. He
had left his family in Cottbus, to serve a mission for the Lord. Unbelievable!
This was shortly after his return from the war and after years of absence
from his waiting family. But, he found a ripe field to be harvested, and within
a few weeks 50 people became members through baptism.
The first of these converts was Mr. Max Zander. He was a well-educated
gardener who had asked his friend, Johannes Reese, about good literature.
Mr. Reese had given him The Book of Mormon. Max read it and was totally
surprised. »Is this really true?« He asked.
»Go and attend their meetings,« my piano teacher told him. Max did. He
listened to Walter Krause, and felt the spirit of this man and the Church. It
was overwhelming for him. I remember those wonderful hours of inspiration.
Without hesitation Max asked to be baptised.
Elder Krause said: »Are you sure?«
»Yes, Brother Krause, I am!«
The date for Max Zanders’ baptism was to be on the 14th of December
1946. The night prior to that, very cold weather arrived in our area. Concerned
we followed the mercury on the thermometer: minus 10 degrees Celsius! I
carried the axe, Walter and I broke a hole large enough for 2 people through
a 12 cm layer of ice in the river. And thus it came to pass, that the branch in
Wolgast was organised.
In October 1946 my father returned home a sick man, his soul recovered
very slowly … In the last days of the cruel World War II, my father had
listened to the news. The newsreader had announced that my father’s little
hometown, Wolgast, had been totally destroyed, and in his imagination he
saw his wife and children dead, lying under piles of rubble. Shortly after that,
he became a prisoner of war. He was transported to France where he had to
labor in a coalmine. There his soul became terribly ill. Month after month,
the darkness and the uncertainty over his family, made him even more sick.
No hope, no light. Around him were desperation and hunger, but we were
OK. I was 16. We were lucky to live in an undamaged home.
After one and a half years in the coal mine my brave father made the
decision to flee and escape that hell. And he did. It was very dangerous …
At last, in October 1946, after traveling for more than 1000 kilometers
and experiencing many adventures, he saw his hometown Wolgast well
and whole. He saw my mother, my brother and sister and then he found me
at the workbench, in his workshop. He was so overwhelmed that he broke
down. He did not regain his balance for several months and was incapable
of work. One day he asked: »Gerd? Will you help me?«
»Yes,« I answered.
»Please, fast with me so that I can get better.«
We fasted for many weeks, 1 or 2 days, sometimes for 36 hours. It was
hard. I was young and hungry, laboring daily in our small business. After
weeks of effort, and not seeing any improvement in Father’s health, I asked
myself, »Why?« Later on, however, I could see. Father’s health had improved
and, with that, my own soul received strength.
One day, whilst working in our machine room in which we produced
wooden shoes, Mother came in to show me a telegram from the district
president. «Gerd, I need your help, please come immediately. Walter Krause.«
Immediately I stopped the machine, took a look at the clock, and 30 minutes
later I stood on the railway station. It was the only way to travel as nobody
had a car, or a motorbike. My destination was 100 kilometers away. It was late
and, 25 kilometers before reaching my goal, the journey was interrupted. I
felt terrible. The rail officers told me that the rail lines had been destroyed,
and that there would be no trains for the next 10 hours … I had to make a
decision. »Well,« I thought to myself, »I will just have to walk …« Five hours
later, hungry and exhausted, I reached Prenzlau. The President shook my
hand and said: »Gerd, we need the key to the assembly rooms to proceed
with our sacrament meeting to morrow. I do not feel well enough, to go to
Brother Popanz. Would you go to fetch the Keys for me? Brother Popanz (one
of the first German missionaries after World War I) is sick as well and is not
able to come. Now the residence of Brother Popanz was 16 kilometers away.
And so I kept right on marching for 32 more kilometers.
The next day, Sunday, with key in hand, we opened the door. I had no
idea that this would become one of the best sacrament meetings of my life.
We were having our meeting on the first floor; in the room directly below us
young people were having a party with very loud music.
It was a hot afternoon. There were 6 of us singing: We Thank Thee, O God,
for a Prophet. Elder Krause began to preach and I heard his first words. It
was also the last one for me. I fell into a deep sleep. It was wonderful. I will
never forget it. I’m sure that in the next life I’m bound to tell you the same
true story. It was here that Heavenly Father blessed me with my first great
testimony, for in exactly those minutes I could feel the beautiful power of
the Holy Ghost. It was like tender waves flooding over me, again and again
whilst I was asleep. I felt it, and I could see and understand. I received a great
confirmation: Joseph Smith is the prophet of our Lord Jesus Christ.
Exactly 50 years later I related this experience in my address to the members
in Prenzlau. Following the meeting, Edith Krause and Luise Eckert approached
me and said, »We can remember that Day and the wonderful outpouring of
the Holy Spirit we could all feel it. It was a special time for all of us.
Excerpts taken from Walter Krause’s Diary, published in 2005 by Edith
Krause, Walter Krause in seiner Zeit, p. 138: