Samstag, 16. Oktober 2021
Dienstag, 28. September 2021
Steps Trough Two Dictatorships
by Gerd Skibbe
My beloved wife Ingrid translated this life story from my book "Konfession Mormone".
About the author:
Born 1930, married, two sons, eight grandchildren and fourteen great grand children.
Fishing engineer, in charge of a fishing fleet
Member of the "Tollensefischerei-Genossenschaft" 1956-1992
Politically active since October 1989
1990-98 Councilman Neubrandenburg
1990 - 91 District Secretary for the Christian Democratic Party, Neubrandenburg
1996 - 2002 Member of the County secretary for the European-Union
Branch President, later District President 1965-82, Temple worker Branch mission leader, High councilor 1986 – 1994, Councilor to the following Mission Presidents (Walter Wunderlich, August Schubert, Richard Clark
German title: Schritte durch zwei Diktaturen (or the long Version: "Konfession Mormone")
An autobiography of Church history, through the years of the Third Reich and the German Democratic Republic to the fall of the Berlin Wall.
|Germany 1939 on the right the lost territories,|
Middle red - the GD
Germany today in Europa green
Dictators and Saint
Before World War II.
In 1932 my parents decided to move with me, their 2-year old nipper, to the small coastal town of Wolgast in Vorpommern.
Mother Julianne (1908-1992) Father Wilhelm (1905-1965) me
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 (from Constantine, transl. G. Sk.) In the name of the Lord, you shall destroy our enemies.” Rowohlt Verlag.
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?”
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. Travel to any of them was most difficult. 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 the question: “Do you believe that all Christians are Christians?” Now that shocked Johannes’ confidence and gave him food for much 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, via my mother, I was informed 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 land.”
“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 Wilhelmstrasse 53. 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 the 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. That inspired Elder administered a priesthood blessing.
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, and whilst playing in the schoolyard, I found myself surrounded by Christian children, making fun of me, calling me a ‘saint.’
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. 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 beautiful profile.
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 about 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 one-year 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 bo
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 Wächtler and Arno Dzierzon appear.
The missionaries Dzierzon and Waechtler, I am between them behind us my Father and brother Helmut
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 for thought.
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.” [Handwörterbuch fß r Theologie und Religionswissenschaft, 1960, J.C.B. Mohr (Paul Siebeck – Verlag) Tübingen, 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),
The Great War
Pictures: Hamburg, Dresden und Refugees from TopFoto Galerie
“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, 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 enemy.
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 the end!”
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.)
Picture Wikipedia Rocket V 2 start 1943
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!
Just as the boys in this picture, I too blew my fanfare.
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
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 Fähre”.
Picture: my hometown Wolgast, the old bridge, the Peeneriver and part of "Wolgaster Fähre"
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 March1945. 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 Peenemünde and other places, with a shooting range as far as London), this war could still be victorious. 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 shoulders, 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 then all the others.” Sentences like this one caused much reflection in 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 (Rathausturm see picture)
This is the place, my friend Richard and I were watching
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 stormed the police station, where the local authorities sat contemplating 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 brother, Helmut.
“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 Lange-Strasse. All the houses stood undamaged, except for the windows. Praise be to God! What in the world could it have been except for an enormous bomb?
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 streets.
This the new build bridge, on the same place
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 hang lost on a single pole. 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.
Theshopkeeper, 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
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 surrounding us.
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 future life.
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 Zimmer, “been murdered on Brigham Young’s orders.” (p. 45).
Instantly I knew that Zimmer 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, Zimmer could not help praising some of the amazing achievements accomplished by these faithful people. Zimmer hated Brigham Young (who became the leader following Joseph Smith, the prophet of the restoration), like no other Mormon. However, at the same time, Zimmer admired all this man had achieved, and wrote of Brigham Young’s excellent leadership abilities. Zimmer 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 pre-existence 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?”
Zimmer 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 lamb to the slaughter; but I am calm as a summer’s morning; I have conscience 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 other scriptures?”
“Oh, no,” he replied. “Praise the Lord that I don’t!”
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. 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 sick. Month after month, the darkness and the uncertainty over his family, made him even more ill. 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 travelling 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.
Our family 1946 left Helmut, right Helga later on Tempel matron, Freiberg
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.
“In April ’47, Gerd Skibbe was to fill an errand from his mother: to travel to the island of Usedom to the village of Mahlzow to buy fish. I was happy to go with him; for once again we would have an opportunity to engage in gospel conversation. Sister Julianne Skibbe, Gerd’s mother, packed a pair of wooden shoes for the fisherman’s wife. She asked Sister Edith Schade, (then responsible for genealogical work in the Church), if she would like to go too, and if she would like to try out a pair of wooden clogs. Because for all other shoes one had to have a coupon, Sister Schade agreed. Thus the 3 of us walked down to the Peene River where we boarded a ferry to take us to the island. On arrival we found out that the Soviet Army officers were checking everyone’s passport. “What’s all this?” I thought to myself. We were under the belief that the time when people were arrested in the street, or in their workplaces - never to be seen or heard of again, or to be sent to some far off prison camp in Siberia - was behind us. What on earth was wrong? First the Soviet officers looked at the passports. Gerd Skibbe and Edith Schade had come without theirs and were told to step to the right. I carried mine, which was made out in 4 Languages. Brother Suhrmann, (a leader in the coal mining industry after the war) had obtained it for me, in Steinpleiss. I was told to step to the left. The proceedings were executed in utter silence. As all of about 30 people had been checked, all the people to the right were told to leave. So Gerd and Sister Edith Schade were free but, the rest were told to go inside a building and stay there under guard. Gerd and Edith discussed the situation then came inside the building to inform me that, whatever might happen, they wished to stay with me. I refused their offer, fearing mainly for Edith’s safety among so many Russian officers. The 2 however did not change their mind. As nobody objected they stayed.
“After some time had passed, a huge military truck arrived. We were told to climb into it and sit down on the floor with the Soviet soldiers guarding us with machine guns. There we sat while they stood over us. This forced ride across the beautiful island of Usedom did not exactly delight us. The ride of 42 kilometers ended in the village of Heringsdorf. The truck stopped in front of one of the old holiday villas. The Soviet commander told us to get off the truck. There the people were divided and sent to different rooms in the building. The 3 of us were separated, as were the men and the women. “Whilst we were waiting, darkness fell upon the world. One by one we were taken before the commander, who also sat in a darkened room. The reason for this was that at times they cut electricity supplies. At that time we did not realize it and took it as just another way by which the Soviets upset the Germans. Sister Schade told us later on that she was afraid because of the darkness, hearing only the voice of the interpreter and the man asking so many questions. Somewhere in the far corner beds were squeaking. Later as the electricity was turned back on she could see that for the second investigation they were in a watch room. It was fitted with bunk beds in which soldiers were sleeping.
“As the first interrogation was linked to the second, the commandant led the latter without an interpreter. At this time we did not know that Gerd Skibbe had been one of the first to be questioned. He was dismissed and waited for us in the street. Sister Schade stayed, and settled down in the doorway of the well-lit kitchen, where the Soviet soldiers came to get their evening meal. Later Gerd also came in to sit with her. Finally I was informed that I had been mistaken for a Nazi leader by name Swede Coburg (“Gauleiter” Party area-leader of Pommern) who they did not want to escape. The commander told me that there was a “Brother” (Gerd) and a “Sister” (Edith) waiting for me, that because we were not afraid of them in any of their questioning, and we had all told the same story, we were free to go. Before I left the room, the officer shook my hand, opened his uniform jacket and informed me that he was a believer too. On a chain he wore a picture of the Madonna.
“Together we left the building, and as we found ourselves on the street, we bowed our heads to say a prayer of thanks. Then we walked along the road to return to Wolgast.
“Now as Sister Schade had these wooden clogs on her feet, not being used to such shoes, she walked as far as Koserow, then could not go any further and ask to have a rest.… Gerd knew the local baker and knocked on his door. It was after 2 am. The baker told us to go to the barn where we could sleep on the straw. No sooner had we settled down than a heavy thunderstorm broke loose. Rain came down in bucket loads. How happy we were to be inside this barn were it was warm and dry! The love and loyalty of my faithful companions gave me hope and strength to go forward in the labors of the Lord.”
Shortly after this event, Walter Krause received support through Brother G. D. who came from Saxony. He was a very special sort of missionary. He was 19 years old and his mission president, Walter Stover, had called him, as his family were of good standing and G. himself displayed signs of loyalty and faith. In reality, however, this young man was everything a Mormon missionary should not be. At the time no one knew where his dual aspirations would take him. In the end, however, such deception was short lived. Walter Krause soon became aware of G.’s hidden ambition, and would have sent him home without any further ado. But destiny ran faster than expected. The first to really notice that there was something wrong with this young man were my mother and I. We found him smoking in my father’s woodshed, a room filled with tinder dry wood and wood chips. It stood amongst many old German timberwork houses that had survived hundreds of years. Nervously G. swung his arms through the air to dispel the smell, but to no avail as the smoke had filled the room. After he had exposed himself, he smoked when and wherever he felt like it. G. was supposed to help me cut the wood in our small factory. Little did he care about it. He preferred sitting in the warm living room. When I surprised him whilst he was reading Decamerone by Boccacio, he hid it immediately, and this made me suspicious. I was curious, searched for the literature, found it and read 2 pages. No, that was not the right kind of book for a Mormon, so I asked him: “Why did you bring this book to our home?” He shrugged his shoulders and replied: “I’m old enough for it.” Such was the case when G. reluctantly came to help me to transport timber from the forest 15 km from Wolgast. We lifted the heavy 2 metre-long logs onto the truck, an old, slow vehicle powered by wood gas. Exhausted, we climbed on top of our load, and let the sweet, spring air warm our backs as the truck crawled its way home.
As we entered the small village of Zemitz, G.
decided to take off his shirt. To my horror, I saw the glowing colours of the
Nazi flag, with the swastika, printed on his singlet. As we drove through the
new green of the village alley, he sat like a statue and everyone could have
seen him wearing the red, white and black NAPOLA emblem (NAPOLA means the
special school for future leaders in Adolf Hitler’s Third Reich) that encircled
his chest like a ring of fire. I felt like jumping off the rolling truck. Two
years had already passed since losing the war. Two years of looking at the
ruins and agony of all that barbaric Hitler fascism had left behind.
Even though most Germans found it difficult to bow to all that Soviet power had decreed, actions like the one G. displayed on that day were against all normal reasoning. For under that sign not only had every single family of Germany endured great suffering, but all of Europe - yes even half of the world. Thousands of cities had been levelled to the ground. All of a sudden I understood the reason G. just loved to conduct our meetings whenever Elder Walter Krause had to visit other branches. Most of the members were old enough to be G.’s parents. In the early days we stood up to sing hymns. The commands to stand up and sit down were given by the hymn director. “Up!” and “down!” G. would call out to us, as though we were subordinates. To my surprise, all investigators and new members were obedient and nobody complained. It could be that they thought it was the right way to behave. I became scared of G. and I did not dare inform his senior companion. Oh, had I only done this, it would have saved unnecessary worries! But I did not want to be a traitor.
Some weeks after G. had exposed his political inclinations, the officers of the Red Army arrested him in Stralsund. At the time he sat in the first class waiting room of the railway station, which was allocated to the officers and civil employees of the Red Army. Now and then the military police would check the passports of all present. G. spoke perfect Russian, loved Vodka and had acquired a large repertoire of dirty jokes, which I was exposed to for 2 years of Russian occupation
Part of the education at the NAPOLA was to be able to be a special agent for the Nazis, and as such, G. had been weaned away from any religious affiliation. Poor Walter Krause! Following G.’s arrest, Walter was summoned to appear before the Commandant in Stralsund. This officer told him that should there be a repeat of such an event as described above, G.’s life would not be worth much to Russian authorities. For 20 years G. journeyed through many prison camps, in Siberia’s coal mines, working in water-filled holes. There he would have ample opportunity to curse his fascist educators, who had left him like an outcast dog.
G. and I met some 20 years later, in about 1968, at a Church meeting in East Berlin. I did not recognise him. He approached me, telling me who he was and, yes, then I recognised him. He petitioned me to be his friend again. But I had many serious doubts. Somewhere deep inside our souls there seems to be a mechanism that does not permit us to turn off feelings of mistrust as perhaps we should. I uttered a few empty words. He must have felt an inner pain, knowing that I had rejected him. What he needed was a welcome word and an embrace. It saddens me to know that I just left him standing there. He passed away soon after that. Yes, I could have done much for G., had it not been for my constant fear of being watched at all times by the “Stasi.” This accusation will be mine to bear. He did after all return to us. Perhaps I just refused to see the good in him until it grew too late. The fear that he possibly worked for the authorities held sway over my heart. Let’s face it, there was sufficient of that all around us. We the “Mormons,” especially the leaders, were considered members of a dangerous American sect. We had to be extra careful. The famous dedicatory prayer (1976) by President Monson on the hills of Radebeul had not yet been uttered. For that we needed to wait. However, it changed the position of our church and gained recognition for us by government authorities from 1980 onwards. But that event was a very long way off….Our waiting was the curse of a desperate era.
Throughout 1947 I was assigned to our district president, Walter Krause. I was put in charge of the welfare program, and had to deliver the food rations sent to us from the Church in Utah to the suffering Saints. Thus once or twice a week I transported the parcels throughout Mecklenburg and Vorpommern. They contained canned meat, corn, tomatoes, peaches and sacks of wheat.
- Thomas S. Monson
- May 2013 Liahona
Walter Krause was a steadfast member of the Church who, with his family, lived in what... ... of the lack of freedom in that area of the world at the time. Brother Krause was a man who loved and served the Lord. He faithfully and conscientiously fulfilled ...")
Our Church had established a well-functioning program in 1936 to help their members. Thousands of tons of wheat were delivered to the people in Germany. The Russians gave their consent (signed by the military commanders in Karlshorst) that Red Cross and Soviet military administration would be supplied in conjunction with that of the Church.
Until 1949 hundreds of bags of wheat had passed through my hands, as did a lot of other food products, clothing and shoes, all transported by train. Never did I lose any of the assigned items. Total strangers would often see me struggling with the heavy boxes on the platform, and would lend a hand. I never had to defend those precious gifts from our brothers in the States. Always aware of the sacred trust that had been placed in me, I was very careful. That was the era in which millions of people experienced severe hunger. Those who could went out of the big cities, to trade their precious carpets, pictures and other valuables for potatoes, butter, or grain. I remember seeing a fat girl sitting on a huge heap of potatoes, in the waiting room “Bahnhof Zoo” in West Berlin, looking like a malicious guard dog.
Old and disabled citizens died of hunger. Typhoid ran rampant. As I look back on it, it was truly a miracle that I found the necessary room on the constantly overcrowded trains. I always found a place for myself as well. That was amazing, especially when we consider that until 1946-47 on average 20% of people could find no room in train carriages. They would travel sitting on the roof, or standing on the foot rails outside the train. All that was not really dangerous for me, except for the beautiful burning eyes of the girls… but I was obedient and said to myself, “Be careful, later on, Gerd, you will find the best young lady for you.” And that idea, given by my father and other leaders in the Church was true - I could feel it.
Travelling 1946 -47 in Germany
Owing to the Church passport that I carried, and on showing the care assignment document, the authorities let me travel twice in the special carriages set aside for Russian generals. Their actions astonished me. This document, supplied by the mission president, with countless stamps of travelling assignments is kept to this very day, in my book of Remembrance.
As I travelled, I saw many, many cities in East Germany. Not all were destroyed like Berlin. Schwerin and Stralsund where undamaged by the allied air raids, but Berlin, Demmin, Neubrandenburg, Dresden and others lay in black and grey ruins. It was depressing to see the rubble and the hopelessness.
Marienkirche Neubrandenburg was burnt down 1945 by the Red Army
Years later I understood that the hand of God, recompensed the German nation, and all they had decreed upon the heads of their fellow beings. Had Nephi not foreseen all that self-generated misery long before my day?
2 Nephi 29: 4-5
Had not all of these predictions come true as regards the German nation? Had not their pride, their hatred towards the Jews, fallen upon their own nation with the most gruesome reality? In the years since, I have asked myself the questions: “How could a crime of such magnitude ever have been executed? Why did the Europeans, especially the Germans pursue the Jewish nation?” I found the answer in the works of Evangelical pastor and college teacher, Hartwig Weber. In his Lexicon for Youth on page 330, he confirms:
“Anti-Semitism is a product of heathen times, brought to full flourish by Christians... officially and in principle... After the tolerance edict issued by Constantine the Great, Anti-Semitism was able to unfold and became universal and lasting. The Christian Church made it an important component of their teachings... Gregor of Nyssa, by 370, called the Jews ‘the enemies of mercy‚ advocates of the devil, haters of the good...’ In the year 1215, at the 4th Lateran council, they demanded that all Jews and Arabs should carry an identification tag. As a result, Jews were committed to wear yellow or red hats and a yellow ring on their coat. Jewesses had to wear a band on their bonnet. In 1450 ghettos began to be erected, and ... in only one night (1572) the leadership of the Huguenots was exterminated... The history of Christianity is one of amalgamation of power and war since the days of Constantine…” Here Weber states the generally negative inclination of the old reformer, Martin Luther: “His hatred grew even as he did, in years becoming more grotesque… His hatred toward the Jews is like a black shadow over all he taught. ‘First: burn down all their synagogues and their schools, to be sure to cover all that would not burn with earth. For no one should ever have to see neither a single stone nor any evidence of their existence.’…” No, not so Mr. Martin Luther!
It was never Hartwig Weber’s intention to rewrite the facts of history.
“Neither the evangelical, nor the catholic leaders had the courage to speak up on behalf of the persecuted Jews... For the churches themselves were driven by an ingrained anti-Semitism. Only inasmuch as their own safety and power stood under attack, did they oppose the Nazi state… The destiny of millions of Jews seemed to be a waste of time. Among those who called themselves Christians were about 300,000 Jewish converts. In 1933 there were 29 Jewish men in the service of the Church…In 1941, leaders of the Evangelical Church (Kirchenkanzlei der Deutschen Evangelischen Kirche) demanded that special documents should be signed by top officials, to declare that all baptized non-Aryans where to be excommunicated from all German Christian societies.” Jugendlexikon Religion, Rowohlt 1988, p. 49
Unbelievably, as the months passed, the communists succeeded in calming us all down. On the walls of many buildings they hung posters and covered large areas with huge placards informing us of how their regime would establish peace, and that the Soviet Army would remove fear from the earth. This was their way of indoctrinating us. Russian soldiers were the best people in the whole world. My friends and I bent with laughter. Still there was some truth in it all. For by now the people just longed for some kind of freedom and peace, no matter how it came. But anyone with the slightest disapproval of the system became a victim.
Young Russian soldiers where trained like savage animals. They were victors without consideration of human rights. Wherever they could, they forced their ideologies upon the German people even though their propaganda said the opposite. We learned to live with the lies. Didn’t the prophet, Joseph Smith, declare it to his friends that such systems are of Satan? The latter tried to force his ideas of ‘Good’ upon the souls of men and thus would break their free agency.
In the spring of 1949
I left Wolgast and became an apprentice in a tree nursery in Prenzlau. As Walter Krause’s family had also moved to Prenzlau I became their boarder. At first, as such work demands ,I felt like a slave and I wished to close that chapter of my life as soon as possible. Until mid-July we lived in the city’s old army buildings. Then those huge buildings were claimed by the newly created East-German military. This was curious! 3 months before the state German Democratic Republic was proclaimed, on the 7th of October, they created their army.
Sometime later, in the summer of 1950, huge banners were hung from the windows of what used to be our meeting rooms. The banners were 20 meters long, bright red, and stated: “Greetings to our brothers in Korea, fighting against the US Imperialists.”
That suggested that the aggression had been started by South Korea and that the peace-loving North Koreans had become the helpless victims. All the young people of the town were gathered by the SED (the only really existing party in East Germany). They showed us propaganda movies of the North Korean Freedom Fighters and of how the puppet regime of the South had collapsed. Disappointed, I sat through those mendacious presentations asking myself how all those events could really have occurred. And then I remembered: hadn’t Adolf Hitler played the same tricks on us? On the first day of battle the northern fighters had penetrated 60 km into South Korea! Something was wrong there. Hadn’t they implied that the Americans and the South Koreans were the aggressors? Impossible! Offenders have the advantages because of the surprise effect.
Sure, I was young and not really well educated, but I was not stupid. It was always the same story: the search for more power, just like under Hitler and Stalin. They have the same father, even the man, as described in the Book of Mormon:
“How art thou fallen from heaven, O Lucifer, son of the morning! Art thou cut down to the ground, which did weaken the nations! For thou hast said in thy heart: I will ascend into heaven, I will exalt my throne above the stars of God; I will sit also upon the mount of the congregation, in the sides of the north; I will ascend above the heights of the clouds, I will be like the Most High. Yet thou shalt be brought down to hell, to the sides of the pit. They that see thee shall narrowly look upon thee, and shall consider thee, and shall say: Is this the man that made the earth to tremble, that did shake kingdoms? And made the world as a wilderness, and destroyed the cities thereof, and opened not the house of his prisoners?” 2. Nephi 24, 12-17
I spoke only with trustworthy people about my objections. “You should be more responsible!” I told myself. However, the fact that I was small was always a great obstacle.
The wrong way
One day I met a young man who said: “Come and learn to be a youth leader.” Following his invitation I visited a congregation of boys and girls, all 17-20 years old. I enjoyed the fellowship of those youth, all clothed in blue uniform shirts signed with the symbol of the rising sun and the letters FDJ. (Those were tokens given by the communist leaders, and meant Free German Youth). I did not overlook the beautiful girls who were there. After all, in those days the practice of critique and self-analysis was in full swing in those meetings. In a way it overlapped with the teachings of the Church: “We need to improve our own character; we have to work hard to change; we can never say, “It is done.” All people must try to better themselves at all times - only then can we ever achieve a better world.” At first I just longed to know that this was indeed the goal of all FDJ members. That’s how my thoughts changed. Stalin did not look so black and red after all. Even on Sundays I would speak about it in my talks at Church. To my astonishment one of the police officers appeared in our sacrament meeting in his full uniform. He had to make a report for his authorities. And thus I began to talk about the need for improvement at all times.
Into my mind came the words of the prophet, Joseph Smith: “The appointment of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is to bring to pass the improvement of all its members.” This sounded like music to my ears because it also was the slogan of the GDR. Of course, it is a longing imbedded within the soul of every human, no matter when or where they live.
This is what the Book of Mormon and the Holy Bible say: The small inner and the large outer peace are chain events of correct choices, or as Isaiah has written:
“And the work of righteousness shall be peace; and the effect of righteousness, quietness and assurance for ever.” Isaiah 32:17
The police officer came twice, and again I preached the same sermon: that we all have to do our best. All the while I was speaking from my own, somewhat red-colored, viewpoint. On one hand the sweet sound of the gospel and on the other the tempting tones of the pied piper. Thus swung the pendulum of my emotions, to and fro.
Our branch president, Max Zander (who had also moved down from Wolgast and was my teacher in vocational [technical] school), let me speak my mind. I was a counselor to him at the time. As I had not broken any gospel teachings, Max saw no need to intervene. The curious police investigator was convinced: Mormons are progressive people. He decided not to return. At this time we needed a special certificate for every meeting from the police. After that event it was easy.
A little later I saw that policeman’s daughter, as we worked together in the huge tree nursery. One day, at harvest time, we received the directive from our boss and his clever son, to stack grain bundles outside. So we were left alone together for long periods of time. It was obvious that she was pregnant. She looked at me with hungry eyes. Yes, I felt like man. But into my mind came the teachings of my father: “Never touch a woman, unless she’s your wife.” Thank God, I received better thoughts. That kind of situation made me more aware than ever that we must never push aside eternal laws. It is true we are people with free agency, not slaves of our passions.
At times my heart and my head were at war with one another. As I was accustomed to working with people and ideas, I was elected to be the political youth leader of our school (Kreisberufsschul-Aktivleiter) for 600 or more students. Even so, I never made much fuss over my religious beliefs. Thus I began to lean on both sides. Once I spoke to a huge youth congregation against communist goals in regard to pro-North Korean propaganda. That was a big mistake. But once more my guardian angel protected me. Nobody reported me to the secret police. What luck!
In those days, at the age of 20, I met an old classmate, Dieter Kavelmann. He walked proudly in the blue uniform of the National Police Force. (Kasernierte Volkspolizei) A lot of young people were employed in the professional army of the GDR. Clinging to his arm was a very beautiful lady. Above us sounded the hiss of a modern Soviet fighter, the sign of a new society about to begin. I looked at Dieter’s braided silver shoulder trims. In spite of his 21 years, he had already been promoted to an advisory position. He looked right through me and made a comment about the strait jacket I was wearing. Yes, I was no more then a poor apprentice. To tell the truth I wished to get rid of my strait jacket as soon as possible. He was a somebody and many times I felt like a nobody in the tree nursery which I hated even more then my own weaknesses. Dieter realized almost instantly that it was only because of my strong moral principles that I did not have the power to break the contract I had with my boss. He laughed at me. Not only did he look happy, he was!
Picture Wikipedia: German Barracked Peoples Police 1950
Dieter was aware of my religious views, which he judged to be illusions. “Come to us!” he said, “You have a pre-military education, just as I do. We are looking for good people. Come and join us!” It all sounded like music in my ears. “Yes!” he said, “and you have a clear head for ideology.” With glowing colors he painted a fabulous picture. “Poor Gerd, all you earn is 50 Marks per month. If you come to us, before you know it, you could be earning 800 instead. Move! Get away from a boss who only uses you.” Throughout this conversation directed at me, he looked at the slender blond clinging to his side. “Within 6 weeks it could all be yours. You can talk, and you’re not bad-looking. In fact you would be just perfect.” The lady beside him smiled. As for myself, I could feel my face turning bright red with shame and envy. There was only one question that bothered me: “If you do back out, who will be in charge? Who will be your leader?”
“No!” I answered firmly.
“Why do you hesitate? What’s wrong with you?” Dieter asked.
I shook my head. This would be the way to deny my faith. Can a lie change the truth? Not even with the best intentions. The only thing that will save us from all these ins and outs of confusion and error is the desperate will to seek for the truth unceasingly.
“With their money they will buy your soul,” I said, only to myself. At the same moment the dark form of Joseph Wissarionowitsch Stalin appeared clearly in my mind - the cold expression of his face, a face that was displayed on almost every corner of each street. Many fell for this man, who had, like Hitler, destroyed the lives of millions of people. He was a mass murderer, and I would not let those in his service paint his life colors on me. Never did the ordinary working man assign jobs to boys like Dieter to turn brother against brother. It was the will of one man to rule the world. Yes, that was the hand that drove Stalin’s clock, and to which Dieter responded. It was the clock that directed the rhythm of his daily life. All of a sudden I knew that it would be wrong for me to wear that really good-looking uniform. I understood that I was not born to live the way he did, because I had insights that would never permit me to do anything careless.
“Listen, Gerd,” he hollered, “I tell you, there is no God. We must take our lives in into our own hands. Why are you so afraid? This is a new era. Fling all your worries overboard and live, man!” I shook my head and his face looked strained. After that encounter we never met again.
I stayed as an apprentice at the nursery, counting down the months of boring drudgery.
To study at university I needed my school-leaving certificate. I went to catch up on schooling by visiting the Laborers and Farmers Faculty, a special school for latecomers. That was also was the wrong way, as there students had to make a statement of loyalty to communism. In doing that I would have to deny my belief in God. So I judged my situation as a test of self: “If you can endure the apprenticeship for one more year, Gerd, then you will be able to endure most things in life.” My goal for the future was to be able to endure - to hold on. It became the most important focus for the remainder of my apprenticeship. Wasn’t that what the Church had always taught me? “The most important task you will ever do on this earth is to build your character. You must learn to live with the things that weigh you down.” If I could honorably free myself from all unpleasant circumstances, I would surely never want to free myself from the duties that came my way because of my callings in the Church. Those burdens, if we wish to call them burdens, were precious to me. As I immersed myself in that thought, my head filled with wonderful ideas. “Gerd, you know things that most people, like Dieter, will perhaps never know. You know of the reality of the Holy Ghost, you know that…” An unexpected shower of beautiful love and intelligence fell upon me - an overwhelming feeling of happiness that, in the silence of that moment, also confirmed to me: “Yes, Joseph Smith is a Prophet of God, and Gerd, you know that there is a God - a God of power to cause your heart to leap for joy.” It was one of those breathtaking moments that lifted the soul from the dust of the earth to the portals of heaven. This is the anthem the choir sang with so much devotion, last New Year’s Eve at the concert hall in Schwerin: “Brothers, over starry shores surely dwells a loving Father. Joy, eternal flame of Heaven, where all mankind join as brothers, where your gentle wings abide. All people, all people, for the minutest span of eternity.” These gentle wings had fallen upon me, to bring me peace and to comfort me. “Over starry shores above surely dwells a loving Father.” A Father, my Father!
Months passed with the sweet surety that I was a child and son of a great and eternal God. This meant that in reality, not just in my imagination, I was heir of the greatest and noblest royalty ever to be.
With all that I had perceived and knew, I understood that my behavior needed to reflect my beliefs. I needed to look beyond the daily little discomforts. I needed to concentrate on the future, defending my beliefs both internally and externally. It was my hope and duty to help the Church to grow. For only through and by her teachings could we ever hope for order in society. Only through her word would the world know peace. Nothing would hinder me in my resolutions - nothing would throw me. Well, that’s what I thought. But, oh boy, what a mistake! All my good, noble thoughts and feelings somehow did not hang around for too long. With the first sign of doubt or careless thought they would disappear. Even the ideals we recognize as good and honorable are only thoughts - they are seeds of the spirit. If we are not constantly mindful and on guard, the wind will carry them in whatsoever direction it may please.
There, in the middle of the grey sidewalk, sat a 30-year-old man in a blue uniform shirt. I recognized him as the Baptist preacher from Prenzlau. He showed obvious signs of exhaustion from the heat and humidity of the day. He had endured endless miles of walking in all that confusion, among thousands of youth who had poured into the streets of Berlin. It had all had a bad effect upon him. Pale as a ghost, he sat groaning. Folks just passed him by, stepping over him. Nobody seemed to notice or care. I stopped to talk with him and we stared at each other in surprise. “Whatever are you doing here?” My eyes questioned him. “You do not belong here. Did you, like all these blue shirts, join the ranks of these atheists? If you could only see yourself!” The preacher possibly had the same thoughts about me: “What is a Mormon doing among all these communists?”
“I have come to observe all that goes on here,” I explained, jumping to defend my own conduct. However, to tell the truth, the world of blue and red summoned me more strongly than ever before. Let’s face it; Mormonism would never have a chance in this part of the world. All the bright blue shirts seemed to grace this grey city that still consisted of huge mountains of rubble. Never before had the world of communism appeared so easy and free.
My aunt welcomed me with open arms. She was so
happy to see me. As I was not wearing the blue shirt, she thought I had come to
visit her. “No, Aunty Bertha, I’m here because I’m an adventurer!” I told her.
The next day, I followed the main stream and landed in the Friedrichstadt Palast. Enthusiastically I listened to Swajtoslaw Richter’s performance of Tchaikovsky’s Piano Concerto No. 1 in B minor. Whilst gathering with thousands of youth, the flow of the music held us all in a spell. I joined in the rhythm of clapping and cheering with the blue-shirted crowd. Together we drifted from one free concert (by world famous artists) to the next. It was a beautiful feeling to have the same interests.
The hours flew by. Close to midnight I found myself talking to a lovely young lady beneath one of the old steel lamps that had survived the rain of bombs. I had met her that Saturday evening. In the background stood the dark silhouette of the blackened ruins, and the partly-demolished home of No. 9 Mehnerstrasse, near Alexander Square. (That was my aunt’s residence.) I saw the delicate features of the young girl’s face - the street lamps lending a magic glow to her long blond hair. No painter on earth had ever painted such beauty, with such a background. Between the black fragments of burned brick, roofing tiles and timbers still hung the smell of horrific nights spent in fear underneath a clear sky. In my mind I saw the two elderly, paralyzed, catholic ladies, who, unable to flee into a shelter, had hidden for 3 years under their heavy dining room table every time the city came under attack. There they would petition God for safety. Often I wonder whether their praying had been the reason that only that particular section of the huge building had remained intact. Or was it all just coincidence? No scene is ever forgotten as long as people share their interests. Countless are the pictures within my mind, pictures of people’s lives and their struggles to survive - people I have never met, whose lives have touched me.
“Take me with you to your room,” I heard the young woman whisper. Already I regretted ever having been so bold as to seek such adventures. For the past 2 hours we had passed countless couples in love. Could I not be one of them? Why should I miss out? What were these questions? You are a Mormon! You do not wear a blue shirt, you do not think act like others around you do. For you there are only 2 options: either you give in and let your passions carry you, or you go to Church in the morning. Short but fierce was the battle within.
The following morning, after having been expelled from the “S” train by FDJ guards for not wearing the blue shirt, and after having to walk a long distance, I finally arrived at the brand new building of the Mormon Church in Dahlem, West Berlin, near the mission headquarters in Hirschsprung Allee. But I had not removed the FDJ emblem on the collar of my old jacket, to show that I was a visitor from the GDR. (It was the emblem of the rising sun). Out front, on the rostrum, sat a friendly, well-dressed American. He looked at me and smiled. I was sure that smile was for me. It was the most beautiful, uplifting smile I had ever encountered, coming from the countenance of a fellow male. Perhaps, the worries and the self-accusations of the previous night, perhaps the inner battles endured were still written on my face: having to excuse myself, after explaining to the girl the reasons for not following her request, and then withdrawing myself so forcefully from the scene. I could not act against my inner conviction. I could not commit such a wrong. Thus I sat there, in a chapel filled with friendly, quiet people, like a child who had been absent from home for too long. Everything was so familiar, yet at the same time so strange. In our Sunday School I talked a lot - too much nonsense. They discussed one of the passages from the Sermon on the Mount. To be honest I was much more interested in me - I longed to know if there was a truth that would free me At the close of our Sunday School on that August morning, 2 elderly ladies entered the chapel, well-dressed in light-colored summer attire. They were accompanied by 2 missionary elders into the large room in which hung the impressive pictures painted by Brother Burden. The latter was a member of the Dresden Branch and had painted scenes from the life of Jesus Christ in a classical style. Memories took me back to Wolgast and the Jesus at Mrs. Stolpe’s home. His searching glance was filled with compassion for all our weaknesses and trials, which we humans seem to be so good at heaping upon ourselves. He sees our desires and all our wants - especially all that is not of benefit for our souls. I had no intention of eavesdropping but seeing and hearing the way those 2 missionaries taught the investigators about the First Vision held me spellbound, as though an unseen magic had fallen upon me. The 14-year-old Joseph had wandered unto the woodland, where he had bowed himself in prayer among the tall trees, to ask God to settle the petition of his heart. He had been unaware of all the knowledge he had left behind the veil at the time of his mortal birth; that in the Pre-existence, before the foundations of mother earth were established, (perhaps before the Big Bang, under the hands of the most intelligent Spirit being: Jesus Christ), Joseph was ordained to usher in the last and final gospel dispensation. All that had occurred in a world of spiritual circumstances where time is measured and felt according to the eons of the Gods. It wasn’t so much what those young men said, but the manner in which they shared the principles. Somehow it all touched me deeply. There was not the slightest exertion of fanaticism or sanctimony. In a plain, illustrative way, the missionaries painted the scene of Joseph kneeling, whilst the power of the Destroyer fell upon him – and then in a heavenly vision 2 personages of light stood above him in the air. Calling Joseph by name, one of them pointed to the person beside him and said: “This is my beloved Son, hear him.” Was this the great event for which the apostles of old had longed for? (They had longed for the return of Jesus Christ to restore his kingdom, after people had changed his teachings and thus perverted all of Christianity over thousands of years.) Or was this just a forerunner to the scene? Christ had promised that he would return to gather his own. How great Joseph Smith’s astonishment must have been! All he had hoped for was perhaps a voice, perhaps a cloud - not beings who were gods but who had the form of people on earth. What he beheld in no way resembled the teachings of many earthly churches or their ministry. Their teachings were: God is only spirit, 1 spirit consisting of 3 spirits. Whatever we are to make of such a precept I don’t know, but I know that all of Christianity confessed this sentence: the “Lord Jesus Christ, the only-begotten Son of God, begotten of the Father before all worlds (eons), Light of Light, very God of very God, begotten, not made, being of one substance with the Father.” They try to explain that which is impossible to understand: “Nevertheless not three Gods, but one God. Not three Lords, but one Lord…” Moreover, it is unbelievable that the Roman Catholic Church warned all mankind: “This is the right Christian faith. Whosoever does not believe this faithfully and fully, cannot be saved.” I know that this faith was professed by Emperor Constantine, who acted against the original teachings of the Church. This same Constantine murdered 20 Members of his own family. No, never will I accept such a lie. Still, what did it matter that I could not believe such a concept? In answer to Joseph’s questions regarding which of all the sects was right, and which he should join, he was told that he must join none of them, for they were all wrong. The personage who addressed him said that all the creeds were an abomination in his sight, that those professors were “all corrupt…” I felt this to be true. I could see what my father had seen: “The clerics of both the Catholic and the Protestant churches welcomed the First World War with joy...” Their creeds were like a cake - all was right, except they used cement instead of flour. Nobody could eat and digest what they had baked. It was God who had said it, not Joseph. I could understand it, not with force, not by the will of characters like Constantine, but because the gospel means freedom, and remembrance of our parentage; that we are a children of God, endowed with talents from him; that we can be brave; that we can search for the pearl of great price; that we can act according to our own conscience and that we can keep the commandments of our Father in Heaven. The power is in us to make the choice between good and evil. This stands in opposition to the teachings of the world. I love Joseph because of his honesty and courage. Even though he was hunted and persecuted, he lived to follow the promptings of God and to restore the true gospel of Christ to the lost nations of the earth. Ever since reading the reports in our attic I had believed in the Restoration, even though in the past month there had arisen some small doubts. I could only blame them on the convincing effects Marxism had on me, and on our society. I had to come to terms with it because I had to live with it.
The atmosphere that radiated from these two missionary Elders lifted my soul insomuch that I felt happy not to have surrendered to the wild onslaught of my feelings. I was thankful and humbled when thinking about how close I had come to step onto the tightrope, pretending to be a tightrope walker. In my folly I would have fallen to the ground and broken my back. I was I, and this ‘I’ was perhaps more delicate than I had suspected. I was more fragile than others out there. Perhaps I would have become entangled in a net of new feelings and emotions or, worse still, because of my disappointment with myself, given up the fight and just drifted along with the tide of human passions. As so many other young people of my age, with all the entanglement I would have lost my precious freedom.
After the 2 ladies had departed I walked towards the missionaries. They were the same age as I was. I asked if they could understand the struggle I had with myself lately, how I felt as though I sat tottering at times, not knowing which way to turn. I stood on the firm ground of Mormonism, but on the other hand, realised that the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints was so minute that it would never be able to change the affairs of this world. It would never be able to conquer the problems, the lack of freedom and injustice of many nations. This was the reason for my indecision. The missionaries told me that they would love to talk with me. We agreed upon a date at their unit in Breitenbachplatz. Together we had a wonderful time. Three months later, after having completed my apprenticeship at the nursery, I registered at the Greifswald Institute for teachers, with hundreds of other students. I had excellent leaving results from my vocational school and took all the desired requirements with me. The months till Christmas only seemed like days. On weekdays I was a student of Marxism, but on Sundays I was an active Mormon. At first I had no problems with that. At last I had time to study and learn, instead of slaving in the fields with a spade and rake, in the rain or snow, the wind and stone hard soil in order to make some boss richer than he was already. Here, at the Institute, I never toiled, never bent a finger, or so it seemed to me. With pleasure I immersed myself in my studies. My love for politics and history made it easy for me to learn.
In the fall of 1951 our Church gatherings were held in a separate room of a local pub. There were 6 of us, sometimes 7 members in attendance. I did not mind that it was small, smoke-filled, and smelling of stale beer. As many new students had moved into the city, because of the university in Greifswald, every little room, every little space available was offered as accommodation for them. Thus the local authorities cancelled our access to our little room, so our church meetings were held in the bar, which was closed to the public on Sundays. Situated next to the bar was the clubroom, the stomping ground of the students with whom I shared semesters at the Institute. As there was only a makeshift, sliding door between their room and ours, they could listen to every word that was spoken at our meetings. This is how they found out that I, their fellow student, was a “Mormon preacher.” There we were in this uncomfortable, unpleasant, smelly environment, between bar and regulars, partaking of the Sacrament. On one so memorable Sunday, Brother Arnold Riemer, a new convert and painter by trade, preceded my address. He was the only active male adult besides me. He spoke about Ammon as he stood before King Laman: “I am a man; and man in the beginning was created after the image of God, and I am called by his Holy Spirit to teach these things unto this people that they may be brought to a knowledge of that which is just and true.” Alma 18:34. Arno spoke perfectly. Like an artist he played a wonderful melody upon the strings of our hungry souls. The longer I listened the more I desired to be as Ammon, a just and true man. It was one of the talks where speaker and listener forget place and time. This untrained orator had woven an unseen link between our hearts. Silently we listened to every word as it fell from his lips - pure inspiration - and we forgot the smell of stale beer and pub taps. We understood that only through opposition can we discover the beauty of truth and liberty. Our world of unrighteousness and lies was no more than a hellish reality.
Two days later, in December 1951, Karl Kleinschmidt, the famous Protestant Cathedral preacher from Schwerin, a mighty thinker and member of the atheist party of SED, came to address students and faculty. He delivered a most controversial speech. Even as I had tried to mix fire and water, so did he. With great energy Karl Kleinschmidt fashioned the impression of achieving the possible from an uncertain source. We saw how it rumbled in his head. He related a story about one of his pastoral visits to an 80 year-old man, who freely admitted: “Oh dear, you must know, Pastor, you have come to the wrong man. More than 20 years ago I left the evangelical church. I am a communist!”
“Well then,” the preacher replied, “in this case I have come to visit a comrade. Congratulations! You are not wrong, you are the right man.” The rough manner in which this representative of the state and the evangelical church laboured to win us over, was not appealing to me. Following his enthusiastic advert to convert us to a new age, out of the 300 people in the Hall, Stralsunder Strasse 1, I asked him if he, as an educated, modern pastor, approved of the fact that infants are baptised and thus become Christians against their own will. I had settled down in the balcony of the ugly, old building and had a perfect view of Pastor Kleinschmidt. I thought to myself, “Here goes - he will stumble and fall. He is not prepared for this kind of attack.” But, to my amazement, there was not even a trace of surprise evident on his broad face. He never hesitated for one second. Even though all could feel the justification of the reproach, the 50-year old spiritual leader turned to face the questionnaire: “Comrade,” he said, “If you get married and you have children, may we assume that they will be citizens of the same state? Is that so? Is this a forced rape upon their free will? No, of course not! Neither is the fact that you are born into a church.” Much applause followed his saucy excuse. The answer was so simple, even though most people should know that it was not the truth. But it was good enough for that time, and the pressure of the moment was reduced to nil. One hundred and one questions should have followed in succession. Karl Kleinschmidt continued as he started. His positive movements, his broad forehead and his speech reflected his iron will to satisfy his precepts. He desired to belong to the elite of our nation. It was not enough to be a cathedral preacher. He emanated a strongly longed-for growth, for power and security. Unwittingly he held an imaginary mirror into which we both gazed. He could not see me, but I saw into his soul: this man was no preacher. There was no evidence - not one sentence uttered - that would prove his faith in God. As a member of the leadership in the important German-Cultural society he was assigned to speak to us. As a like-minded person he represented Walter Ulbricht who was the head of the communist party in the GDR. Ulbricht was a devoted follower of Joseph Stalin, but Stalin was a mass murderer –his goal was to win us for the political party of the GDR. He was the friend of Johannes R. Becher the author of the GDR Hymn: Auferstanden aus Ruinen… (Risen from the ruins)
Such gruff speeches did not suit Kirchberg. His delicate features could not be compared with the iron mask of the party secretary Stanke, whose tone he tried to copy. Kirchberg’s hard line was like an artistic performance. Oh, how I longed to see this man 6 years prior to that day. What would he have done, said, or preached then? How did these men change their allegiance from Hitler to Stalin, from being a Nazi to communist? Oh yes, men like these Hitler Youth Leaders became the GDR’s FDJ leaders, always out front, driving others about like cattle. I remember that it had only been 6 years previously, in March 1945, they persuaded us 15 year-old boys to swear allegiance to the “Fuehrer,” Adolf Hitler, to the rattle of many drums gathered around huge burning piles of wood. They had persuaded us that it was an honour to die for him, to swear by the Gods of Walhalla, and that we had to follow every order given to us - even if it would cost our own lives. They had talked and talked: that we were the ones to secure the victory for Germany. All this had happened only 3 days before the end, the total defeat. Oh yes, these men were without feelings and without scruple. But it was no trouble at all as, 4 months later, in the blink of an eye, they did the same for regimes of a totally different persuasion. Their career was all they could think about. I asked myself if perhaps Lecturer Kirchberg had ever considered the possibility of escaping to the free Western World. Did he never have differences of opinion with his comrades? It was easy to escape - you boarded the train, fell asleep, drove and got off the train in Berlin, and walked for metres. That is how easy it was before the Wall was built (in August 1961): instant transport from one world into another. In a muted voice Kirchberg answered: “You are dangerous to this society.” Secretly I nodded, but I knew that everyone, there in our Institute just like me, had their own doubts. Then he said: “Surely, you are smart enough to know that there is no way to return to the past.” This was exactly the point. Sheer logic allowed us no choice. Once the Russians had placed their military forces upon our land, there existed only one rule: “Obey, or be sorry.” With eyes that stabbed like daggers, Kirchberg looked at me. “By the way,” he concluded: “whoever entertains thoughts of engaging in Church affairs has no business attending this institution.” Was he joking or something? “I’m a Mormon,” I confessed, against these stabbing looks. He knew then. My thoughts could no longer find any peace. If this was true, if the Institute demanded a show of allegiance from me, then I had to rectify the situation once and for all. However, I had not foreseen having to make such a decision. I shook. I had never meant to ruin my own life. Perhaps Kirchberg could feel the inner fight and the thoughts I harboured in regards to people like him. I remembered the days in Prenzlau and the bright red slogan banners, suspended from the windows of the 3-storey military building “Greetings to our brothers in Korea fighting against US Imperialism.” I felt it again: “This is not true - here is a fight between freedom and evil forces.” That was the thing I hated, to be enslaved by individuals or under the dictatorship of a system.
The following day I came to the conclusion to quit the Institute - it was my duty. As I informed Mr. Kirchberg of my decision, he was shocked. I could see on his face that he had not anticipated this. The choice I had made upset him to the extent that he offered to discuss any questions that I or he might have. “I will not accept your resignation until we have had further consideration on the matter.” Had he hoped that the remarks I had made on the previous day would just disappear? What was it that bothered him? Did he honestly believe that he could change my mind, or wipe away this “religious humbug” as he called it? I accepted his offer on further discussions - that too surprised him.
Mr. Kirchberg, the director, Mr. Roderick Schmidt and I met in the Stalin Room, in the offices of the Institute of Greifswald, Marktplatz 1, for 5 evenings. At times Mr. Stanke, the party secretary would join us. They did not like the idea that I would leave the Institute. They tried to shake my faith in God. Back and forth their sharp arguments flew. As far as I was concerned, at times I could feel that they were good willed. But at all times they tried to win me over to their point of view. They endeavoured to convince me of the disastrous role the Christian churches had played in the history of man. But their argument in regards to the existence of God was at best really naïve. They could not understand that I did not change my mind even after I had listened to the account of many of the criminal actions committed by the clergies. Too insufficient was their background knowledge of the fact that this was precisely the reason why I was a Mormon. The history and the development of Christendom after the 4th century had seen too many changes and deleted too much of the original gospel as taught by Jesus Christ. The old Church had lost her beauty on losing the principle of the free agency of man. I longed to defend this human right everywhere. I felt it deep in my soul. Our prophet, Joseph, taught us that it was Satan who “rebelled against God, he sought to destroy the agency of man, which the Lord God had given us.” We are responsible for retaining that which we have received (in pre-mortality). This is the basis upon which the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is built. This is the reason why traditional Christianity hates the restored Church. Mormons simply do not fit into their ranks - Mormons are different. It is because of this difference that many people reject Mormonism. On the third evening of our 5-day debate, party secretary Stanke joined us. He appeared in the attire of a clergyman. That was just a tad overdone as regards the seriousness of a priest’s office. Stanke expressed the wish for me to finally realise that the connection between throne and altar has been the reason for all the wars of Europe for the past 1500 years. “Yes!” I know.” I replied. “Have I not explained this to you 3 times already? Popedom’s main concern has been to exploit mankind. It has always been the enemy of all that is of God. The Bible is filled with such stories. No, not only did Pashur, a Jewish high priest and chief governor in the temple, oppose the divinely appointed prophet, Jeremiah, but nowadays shepherds and pastors are far more concerned about their own personal welfare. Nothing much has changed since the days of Jesus and Caiaphas, the high priest who sentenced him. The enemies of God always emerge from the ranks of the believing. They know no mercy. Throughout history all of the councils and synods busied themselves by changing, twisting and dismantling everything until it became a riddle of mass confusion. The positions once held by fishermen and carpet weavers were taken by hard-line senators with blood-stained robes, decorated with crosses. Even without Stanke’s lectures it became perfectly clear that 1000 years of Christendom in Russia was no more than the traditional court ceremonies of the tenth century. It is easy to recognise all these ceremonies: the expensive, golden ornaments, the velvet, silk and Linen clothing, heathen pomp, the head coverings, jewelled Mitres. They all exist to show the absolute right of leadership and power of the Church, founded by Emperor Constantine. Too often whole nations were forced to become Christians in order to increase their domain of power and political influence. Kirchberg, Roland Schmidt and Stanke had more reason to disregard all popedom than had I. But on the whole it all boiled down to the same old story. I could see it even more clearly than those educated men. Enveloped in communist ideology, their faith in God had been lost because of the sad history of Christianity. The word “Church,” as far as Stanke could recognise it, meant: the burning of women declared as witches, crusades, monasticism, the Inquisition, the persecution of all Jewish people, and hypocrisy. All these men were well-versed in German and Russian history, but, so was I. What they couldn’t comprehend was the fact that I agreed with all they had said and yet would not conform to their convictions. In the records of Christianity, no matter what page we read, it would still be evident that ‘Faith’ and ‘the Church,’ as soon as there was the slightest chance of playing the power game, were broken, and of little benefit to the human race. Thus it was from the reign of Vladimir of Kiev until Nicolas II, or from Charles the Great (who ordered the beheading of 3000 Franks because of their refusal to be baptised), to the Hitler-adorer, Bishop Mueller (Reichsbischof Mueller). In the sands of time we can always follow the same tracks. Throughout history these ‘holy’ men and their weapons were all part of the deal: sprinkle a little holy water upon the swords or bombs and they too became the messengers of God. One who, like Stanke, had been a prisoner of war and member of the Antifascist Committee in Leningrad, and who had the chance to visit the Isaac Cathedral to view the historic paintings of innumerable priests escorting the religious processions of Russian Orthodox ‘Holy Days’ – trimmed to the hilt with silks and satins, velvets and furs, banners and golden statues - one who had ever witnessed these proceedings of such unholy and literal unchristian power, must one day be banned. I never opposed him, most sharply confirming his statements, and adding: “the God-given law of progression demands that all which does not come from him will sooner or later be broken.” Even those who had proven to be non-Christians must realise that the son of a carpenter, even Jesus Christ, had never planned such demonstrations of power. All I could do was support their arguments by adding: “2000 years of Christianity were 2000 years of oppression and the taking of mens freedom. These things were forbidden according to the word of Christ. Stanke stared at me, bit his lips and granted me opportunism. I put up my protective shield by deploying a counter attack, I told him a story: “In my hometown in Wolgast, there is a fountain made of cast iron. It is situated in a free area in front of the town hall. Depicted in the outer rim are 8 or 10 reminders of the most important historical events of the city. In one of these maps the fact of forced Christianity is shown. Until the year 1128 the citizens of this old duchy believed in Herovit. To the left stands a soldier with a gigantic sword, next to him a monk priest. He is to baptise these heathens in a makeshift tent. They stand naked in a huge wooden tub, which is filled knee high with water. These people, just like Stanke, believed that they had no choice in the matter. Bishop Otto of Bamberg blessed them, and then they were Christians according to the political interest of both, the Dukes off the City of Wolgast named Wratislaw and Bogislaw and there religious leader the Bishop Otto of Bamberg. This makeshift ceremony however did not give any of those poor souls the right to return to their former beliefs. As far as I could comprehend, it was brutal rape and totally against the will and laws of Christ, and an offence against God. This, gentlemen, is one of the reasons that I am a Mormon.”
My secret aim was to lead these lecturers to understand that communism had the same ideology, without God, possessed by the spirit of greed and power, showing forth little consideration for human needs. Besides this, I expressed that even though much had gone wrong, there are now many great and selfless priests, and good Christians throughout all churches. This proved too much for Mr. Stanke. He lost his temper, left, and shut the door behind him. While the other 2 stayed, they bluntly refused to accept anything at all that even slightly resembled faith, or Church, or the idea that there could be a creator. Like a sharp sickle, both thistles and unripe wheat were cut down in one swift action. Not losing faith in themselves or their brilliant system, they tried with renewed energy to change my mind by talking me into another round of discussions.
In the meantime, the events of the week had permeated the Institute. In the final days of my intermezzo there, I meet a very friendly young lady, who told me, that she had faith in God. This was not really surprising, as among the 400 students I had found a little faith here and there. I asked her if she would like to accompany me to a movie. I had the feeling she, like me, had problems with the reality that she had committed herself to the course of the Institute. I thought it a good idea to air our feelings for the many reasons of our struggles. She appeared shy, she asked me: “Are you still free? Please, no misunderstandings “But I need to know, before I go to the movies with a man.” She did not really catch on to my thoughts, excused herself and left. Well, so much for that, I had to face the music by myself. And thus the day of my final discussion arrived. Mr. Kirchberg and Mr. Schmidt had given the matter much thought. They placed their cards on the table. It was perfectly clear that they just followed the trend of the times: “In all the universe there is no being higher then man!”
“And where did you get that idea from?” I asked. There was some rumbling and grumbling among themselves. Then they accused me of being outrageous, so I answered and told them: “Atheism is no more than raw material waiting for the foundry. If it is true that in our universe we, the human race, are the highest intelligence, that must mean, we are gods, at least semi gods? Then surely there must be whole gods! Here we are, mortal beings who will die. Here we are, morally small, but we are progressing.” The gentlemen were astonished. Roland Schmidt, shaking his impressive head in utter disbelief showed that for just a moment, he felt helpless like a child. I asked him if he had ever heard of a religion that taught about the eternal progression of man. That totally confused him. “Be honest,” I said, “You know as well as I do, that no one at all can predict the end, or where mankind will evolve and progress to in the future. And the expected counter attack came immediately: “We are part of the animal kingdom!”
“Yes,” I replied, “it is true, that biologically we are put together from the same materials, but only our body - not our soul, not our spirit. Man is not subject to the instincts of an animal. We are in charge of our actions and expected to constantly control our behavior, because our spirit is from Elysium, from a world beyond this earth. Friedrich Schiller knew this: “Brethren, over starry shores above surely dwells a loving father.” Have you never read Goethe’s famous words, how he related the fact that man is spirit and body?” Word perfect I quoted:
souls live, alas! in my chest,
The one wants to separate from the other one;
The one holds, in crude dear desire,
Itself to the world with clasping organs;
The other one lifts itself by force from the dust
To the country of high ancestors.”
They looked at me, as if to say: “You are a very dangerous person.” I shrugged my shoulders: “This is the reason I must leave this institution.” My hand already lay upon the handle of the door. I could almost hear their sigh of relief – happy not to have to continue this conversation.
Some days later I received a letter stating the fact that I had left the Institute at my own bidding. Yes, they really had tried very earnestly to win me over. They had the authority to just throw me out, but had not done so. As for me, I was happy, strange as it all seemed. I knew I had made the correct decision. At the highest level there were certain people who had suggested, at the very start, to shorten the whole process by simply expelling me through the dictatorship of the proletariat
Life is not easy
On 17 January 1952 I arrived at the village of Cammin where a new door opened for me. I needed to find my place. I was to help my friend Kurt Meyer. I found my sleeping quarters in the attic of his small cottage. Throughout the following weeks we harvested reeds on the frozen lakes which Kurt had rented from the government. Early in the mornings, glistening in the first rays of sun, a heavy white frost lay on the slender reeds. Under the brilliance of a blue sky, as we pushed the humming plates across the ice, the reeds would often fall on us, covering us in silver-white dust. Pay in those days was a hearty meal at the end of the day, and so I became part of the Meyer family.
Towards the end of February the sun did her best to melt the ice on our small lakes. On the Teschendorfer Lake lay 400 bundles of reeds. One day Kurt had to keep an appointment at the dentist in the city and asked me to go to rescue the bundles of reeds. As I labored to harvest the reeds, the ice broke repeatedly, and I found myself knee deep in the icy water. Although it was not life threatening, it was very unpleasant. I was grateful for the protection my boots offered. As can be imagined, my task proceeded at a very slow pace. By 5pm it started to get dark, and there were still many bundles on the lake. I was determined to gather them all and thus continued to labor in darkness, until I had finally finished my task. I decided not to go home via the short cut across the lake as the ice was of an uncertain thickness. I concluded that I would take the very much longer route around the lake. In good spirits I started my long march back home. Above me the stars painted a picture of beauty, reminding me whence I had come and to where I wanted to return. I did not mind that I was soaked to the bone. The thoughts that at least in my heart, and my thinking I was free, made me happy. As I entered through the door the lady of the house looked at me in surprise, and froze on the very spot, turned pale as a ghost, and could not hide the tears in her eyes: “And I thought, you might have drowned, Gerd,” she stuttered. Well, to tell the truth, I actually enjoyed the idea that here was someone that cared about me. Still what of it! She was someone’s wife, she was taboo. “Well,” I thought, “she should not really have worried that much. For what it’s worth I should not matter at all.” The night frost returned and Kurt and I were able to harvest the remainder of the reeds from other lakes. However the scene of that night with the lady of the house returned. I pushed aside everything that could possibly lead me in the wrong direction. I had my dreams: my plan was to start a small rose nursery. Kurt had already set the necessary land aside for me. It was very cold as I decided to take a train to a neighboring village to purchase the supplies needed to start my little adventure (once the cold had passed) of cultivating 1500 rose bushes, 1000 wild apple trees, 1000 wild cherry trees. Thus I arrived at the village train station. Whilst passing the small waiting room, which also served as the local pub and social gathering place for the men of the village, I opened the door to see what all the commotion was about. I do not remember, as at the time it was of no interest to me. Two days later I found out the mayor of our village had been arrested. A week had passed and he had still not returned. “Gerd, the mayor has not returned”, murmured the lady of the house, “the local farmers suspect you.”
“Of what?” I asked her. By the best of all within me, I could not think of any wrongdoing.
“Well.” She replied, the lines across her forehead showing disapproval: “Someone must have betrayed him.”
“Oh dear!” I exclaimed, “And here I am, wondering why everyone has been so quiet lately. Do you seriously believe that I could be silly enough to get caught up in such a nasty affair?”
Unaware of any wrongdoing, I soon forgot our conversation in the kitchen and turned my attentions to the labors of the day. At the end of that week on my way back home from the village movie theatre I walked through the park behind the old castle. Out of the darkness appeared the black silhouettes of men, quickly coming towards me. At first I felt unsure and frightened. As, however, I recognized their voices and identified their faces (my eyes having adjusted themselves to the dark), I regained my composure in spite of the sharp accusations thrown at me. “They will only let off steam,” I thought. Their anger flared like flashes of lightening - it seemed to come from all sides. “It was you!” One of them barged through. “Traitor!” Playing around with other folks’ wives! ... We’ll kill you; we’ll soon get even with you for what you have done to our mayor!” There was only one thing left for me to do. I had to trust in their sense of justice. I had to calm these irritated men. As for the accusations directed against me, in regards to other men’s wives and the mayor’s arrest, I really had no idea what they meant. “Well,” yelled one man, “we shall find out.” But these men spurred each other on. “All because of a lousy song…You needed the money, didn’t you? …They (the Stasi) would have paid you 60 bucks - Judas wages.” Their dark, ghostlike shadows encircled me like a huge spider’s web. United in an oath they held their fists ready for the final assault, leaving me shaking in my boots. That I was poor as a church mouse, well, that was true, sure. Where should I have any money from? I was under suspicion, because I would never join them at their local pub. One of my enemies, Mr. Neumann, (so the lady of the house – who, by the way was a very beautiful woman - had told me), had made several attempts to win her over. But she had always refused him. I knew, and this man hated me. In the evenings he would came down to the lake to fill barrels, which he transported on a sled to water his cattle. Without fail he would let me feel his dislike, by showing his superiority, by looking down on me, making me feel small. There were never many words. If only I could understand why? It was he, who had threatened me the most: “The hole in the ice is already dug for you.” The 3 holes, which could clearly be seen from the shore, had been dug by me, for fishing. “Be wise!” Neumann yelled, “Get out of here!” Upset, even though for the moment the danger had passed, I ran all the way back home. As I took the final turn around the fence, I saw the silhouette of the lady of the house, in standing at the front door. She stood in the dark of the veranda, and was shaking: “Gerd, didn’t I implore you not to go to the movie to night?” she whispered.
“You knew, about all of this?”
She nodded her head, “Yes I suspected it.”
Four weeks passed until the truth of the matter was told by the mayor of Cammin, Mr. Herbert Schindler had lived through 4 weeks of Police interrogation. He appeared agreeable, subdued, and offered me a chair in his small office. With unsteady hands he lit a cigarette, then he started to talk speaking freely. He seemed to know everything, and was a little theatrical, as though it was part of the deal of his release to go back to his village and lay the cards on the table - to let everyone know what had been going on. He confessed that as mayor, and number one man in his village, it had been foolish to sing an old German war song in a public place: “We fly towards England, bombs on England…” It was more than foolishness - it was outright stupidity. It was an adoration of Fascism and war. The penalties for such a crime were 5 years in prison, according to the communist “law to protect the peace.” As I had stuck my head into that waiting room, there was a possibility that I had overheard it. Whether you are aware of it or not, you, young man, in your arrogance, seem to pass the village folks without greeting them – it’s not wise.” Then he said straight to my face: “Male villagers,” (he accentuated ‘male’), “the males of this village do not like you! You make yourself an outsider.” In any case all the males seemed to know about me did not sound so hot. They knew I had no money - that in itself made them suspicious of me. Two hours after I had shown my face inside the pub, the mayor had been arrested. As far as the farmers were concerned, it must have been I who had reported him. Because I needed money, it must have been I who had run to the Stasi.
“What would have happened if you had not returned, Herbert? What if you couldn’t have given them the name of the person who reported you?”
The mayor shrugged his shoulders, and smiled faintly: “Oh well,” he said, “I know these village folk. I don’t think they would have harmed you.”
“Are you sure?” I inquired.
“Well, just between you and me,” he replied, “a Mormon and his polygamous religion is not to their taste. Just be careful.”
In the summer of 1952
we were informed that the President of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, David O. McKay, would come to Berlin.
Of course, I just had to be there. I beheld a tall man in his 70s with wavy, white hair, and a most pleasant countenance. I could feel the radiance of his spirit. His concern for us was pure compassion. I stood in Titanic Square as the prophet alighted from the car. His facial expressions revealed the message: here was a man without any guile, a man with a humble appearance, a man of God. For minutes I just stood, reflecting on all the follies of which I had been guilty throughout the past year. I remembered the hour in which I was asked to hang up the portrait of Stalin in the school for landscape gardening. How could I ever think for one minute that men like Molotov, Kaganowitch, Berija and Stalin could be great people after all?
President David O. McKay 1873-1970
The square near the building in which our conference with President McKay was conducted, was beset with a group of Jehovah’s Witnesses. They tried to push their way towards David O. McKay, but were held back by a cordon of male members, who protected him. The Jehovah’s Witnesses wished to tell that friendly old man, that he was a servant of Satan. They waved with their Watch Tower pamphlets, cursed and screamed, showing their disregard and jealousy. I looked at them and thought, “Have you ever read the Book of Mormon? Have you never heard what the Lord has said? “Behold, this is not my doctrine, to stir up the hearts of men with anger, one against another; but this is my doctrine that such things should be done away.” Book of Mormon, 3 Nephi 11: 30 If we are his followers we cannot hate other people, just because they have another faith. This kind of behavior always made me wonder. If we really believe in God we can feel his tenderness towards all of his good, willing children. David O. McKay spoke of the responsibility of the Saints: to live according to our beliefs, to deliver honest labor, to be good neighbors, and exemplary citizens of our towns and villages.
“It is a prerequisite that you, dear fathers and mothers, should be a good example, for only then will the indoctrination through scientific atheism spare your family. I promise you, you will not lose your children if you do so. Your families shall dwell in the security the Lord will provide. Remain in the places in which you live now, and help to build the Kingdom of God on the earth.”
This meant that we needed to stay in the GDR! This hit me personally like a hammer on the head, because I had dreamed of leaving the Russian area as quickly as possible. Every day 400 - 600 families left the GDR – they, like me, had enough of it all.
As for President McKay, he left as humbly as he had come. He opened the car door for his wife, let her get comfortable, turned towards the Saints and waved before taking his seat.
For a while I managed to maintain all that good behavior. Then came autumn and once again all my earnest endeavors of being a perfect Mormon boy spread their wings, and flew away with the migrating birds. Once again reality was not as I had planned it. Truth remains. Every living thing longs for growth, and must grow or die - it is a law of life. If we do not move towards one direction then it must be towards the other. My relationship with the lady of the house had taken on a new phase of development. Her husband, Kurt, had sought me to be a reliable laborer, never as a potential threat to his wife. I don’t think he will ever be able to judge the situation rightly, which he so often left wide open to disaster. Why would he be absent, for days and long nights, leaving behind his young wife? He would do it over and over again to visit with his friends.
On the surface my life seemed to be in order. But, on the inside thoughts of rebellion had taken hold like noxious weeds. They grew slowly but they grew, demanding the light of the day, and action. No longer were they to be confined to the prison of thought nor to dangerous dreams. I had actually decided to conquer her. She was older than myself, but that would not stop me. As far as I could make out, she was never happy in her relationship with her husband. She suffered from depression, caused by the miscarriage of her baby boy. She had told me that she had lived through much distress with her husband for many years, as he never even as much as noticed her feelings. In the dark she would wander out into the woods.
One day, one of the men who had also been in the park threatening me, asked if I would be interested in earning a few Marks for myself by harrowing his field. It was a task I had never done before, and, enjoying a challenge, I agreed. Perhaps he thought that in order to make good on his past behavior he would do me a good turn. He had come down to the lake where I was busy hanging the fishing nets over long poles to dry. He gave me instructions on which of his horses was the best, but I did not know anything about horses. Well, how was I to know the difference between a dark brown and a ‘Rappen’ (a black horse)? In the village every one knew that an old gypsy had talked him into buying that stallion. It was a handsome-looking beast. But, as I was about to find out, it was very dangerous. It was not the horse I was supposed to harness. I did well, and I was pleased with myself. By 4pm I still had one acre to do, and I knew I could finish the task. The woman I had thought of for many days, much more than any other thing in the world, would celebrate her birthday on the following day, I deliberated my plan. Whilst laboring in the field, I worked out the strategy of how I would proceed in obtaining that which I longed to have. In my mind I recorded every little detail, every glorious detail. The fact that my action could have long and painful consequences, yes! They pricked me a little. I just pushed them aside. What of those silly warnings? I had made up my mind. This time I would go ahead and, for the first time in my life, deliberately commit an evil deed.
With those thoughts in my head I followed the powerful stallion that, with no effort at all, pulled the 3.5 meter-wide harrow over the plowed field. At the very moment that I made my decision, the reins, which were much too long fell out off my hands. I had held them far too short and not tight enough. I immediately bent over to retrieve the reins, but the nervous horse kicked, and the hoof of his hind leg landed in my face, on the zeugmatic bone. I took a backwards somersault. It was amazing I never lost consciousness, but found myself on my hands and knees, on the soft brown soil, blood dripping from my mouth and nose. Instantly came the thought: “My skull is broken.” The second thought was: “That serves you right!” I knew it. “Didn’t you make a covenant with Heavenly Father, 5 years ago?
“Dear God, should I ever plan to do evil, please protect me, please stop me, if necessary the hard way!”
Hadn’t God just stopped me, via the hoof of that beast? I still did not know the full extent of the damage - all I could feel was a dull pressure which seemed to be far removed. My thinking was crystal clear for the moment at hand, for 1 hour the incredible pain seemed to spare me. What, however, surprised me most was the knowledge that a God, so great, so powerful, had not overlooked the petitions of one small, frail human being like me. The nervous system conveying pain stayed inactive for the period of 2 hours. Nearby a boy herding geese had witnessed the accident. He stood before me, his mouth agape. To my own amazement I stood up and asked him to take the horse by the head and lead it back to M. Schulz’s stable. For the moment I needed to find help for myself. Even without so many words the boy would have known what to do. I started walking, bravely at first. After about 200 meters I still had 1 kilometer to go before I reached home, when I met the old servant of one of the farmers. I thought him to be a hardy old soul, because all his life he had been a tractor driver. I called him by his Christian name, and he approached me, I removed the handkerchief which I held pressed against the right side of my face, to ask him: “Does this look bad?” He sank to the ground like a tree that had just been cut down. For I had no idea that my right eye was hanging out of the eye socket, big and red like a ripe tomato. I guessed from this that my injuries must be a fearful sight. Why else would a big man like this faint? As he regained consciousness, never uttering one word in a state of shock he ran away. As I entered the house, my landlady took one look at me and repeated the same instruction several times: “Lie down, quickly, lie down!” She insisted. Taking full control of her emotions she hurried through the door to access the next telephone and called the hospital, where Erika, a member of the church, was Sister in charge, and also a friend of hers. She had to run all the way to the mayor’s office, in the old castle, for he was in possession of the one and only phone in the village. As she returned, all out of breath, she tried her best to comfort me. I did not really need her reassurance as she washed me, stroked my head and said: “I had a dream last night. Oh, oh! But, it will not be deadly. It will not be deadly!” I gave her no reply as in any case I found it difficult to find words. An hour passed and we received information that Erika and the ambulance had arrived in the neighboring village of Godenswege, where the road ended… “The unsealed lane to Cammin is impassable. My driver fears we will get stuck in the mud. You will have to transport Gerd to where we’re waiting for you. Please, find a horse and wagon to bring him here.”
Soon afterwards they bedded me on a wagon on which they had laid some loose straw, and transported me over the humps and bumps of the open country lane. Above me the rush of the autumn wind played in the gigantic crowns of the elm trees. I had what seemed an extended awareness of everything that surrounded me. I longed for medical help and protection, sensing that with every minute hell would became a reality. After a little while, to my relief, the ambulance and Sister Erika, who had not stopped persuading the driver to take the risk to meet us, had arrived. Erika sat silent and pale beside me, held my hand, felt my pulse, then gave me an injection. I had known her for many years. She was a very tall, beautiful Mormon lady who had been converted to the Church after her own search for the truth – I had always liked her. The only thing I found to be a disadvantage is that I was 10 centimeters shorter than she was. On arrival at the hospital they placed me on a stretcher, which felt cool. Then I was taken to be examined. The doctors stood around me, helpless as they shook their heads. “There is nothing we can do!” explained one of them. The other was surprised at the peace that seemed to engulf me. I, however, was the only one knowing from whence it came. I had accepted the hit as punishment, and in a way it made me happy. Had I rebelled and become all upset it would have caused me to drift from one shock into the next. Now I wonder if it would have been of benefit to anyone at all. Deep was my slumber, as for 3 nights I slept in the gentle arms of “Morpheus.” On the fourth day I felt as though a pendulum was hitting an enormous bell on the same spot inside my head. I thought that I would surely go crazy. All I wished and begged for was more injections. The pain robbed me of any further thoughts. Towards midnight I was visited by a renowned surgeon, Dr. Kloesel. I tried very hard to control myself and did not beg anymore. In his monotonous voice he conversed with the night sister. I could not help but listen and then I sank into a deep sleep from which I awoke the following morning, almost free of pain. In the evening Erika came to visit, so I asked her, “What do I look like?” She was concerned and came every evening after having finished her shift to spend an hour with me. She spoke gently: “Well your eye is almost back to its socket. Even the old military doctor, Doctor Buhts, had told Erika that in 8 years of military service in 2 world wars, he had never seen anything like it. “How could an eye, because of internal bleeding, gain double its size? One would think in such a condition it would burst.” Now I understood the old tractor driver, I looked like the bell ringer from Notre dame. I had to laugh - he had beheld something from a horror movie.
I also recalled fond memories of 1948, and those strange new feelings taking hold of the soul back in the days of getting to know Erika. We celebrated New Year’s Eve with many other LDS youth in Neubrandenburg. This humble gathering could not be compared with the great dance and play festival held in the big Mormon ward of Cottbus, which I attended in 1946 for the same purpose. The members had prepared that event with much effort, ideas and characters. It was the first get together of all members, a time of getting to know many other Saints. The little party held in 1948 had held its charms too. In the late afternoon the 4 girls from Neubrandenburg had escorted us to the railway station, which was to transport us the 75 km back home to Wolgast. Which my friend Ulli Chust and I had walked to get to Neubrandenburg to join other Young Adults at the New Years Eve party. Erika had worn a beige and brown coat, and I had felt good being close to her. In those days we had to purchase railroad tickets before we could get onto the platform. We had to go to the conductor, he would stand on top of a wooden box, clipping a hole in our 20 penny ticket. Because Erika was so tall, I gave her 2. We had fun, laughed and smiled at each other. Wordless we knew that we meant more to each other than we could ever express. Now, 4 years later, Erika sat by my bed in that hospital ward. I looked at her thinking of my landlady at the same time. Had Erika known what had gone on in my head just a few days ago, I don’t think she would have felt so much at ease. Well, that was me. My intentions had been to actually ruin a marriage, someone’s family. I had intended to break a promise which I had made to my God, a promise that I would never let myself stoop that low, never do such a thing. On the other hand I knew that I had always had a love for Erika, but she was a head taller then me and 4 years older. I had never earnestly considered her. Her small face, with that special expression written upon it had always been pleasant. She radiated the light of a pure soul. I just admired her, and kept silent. In spite of that, there was a time in which I had imagined having a family with a person like her. Strange as it seemed, in the years that had passed, the feeling had returned that, even though there was that difference in our height, Erika would be the mother of my children. There were times when the veil was lifted just long enough to believe that we would be happy together, with a sense of having known her for an eternity. Whenever I thought of that New Year’s Eve Party, those feelings would return - we have known one another forever.
I remained in that hospital for 4 weeks, plagued many times by negative thoughts in regard to my past, but more over my future. Perhaps Erika would feel the intensity of my concerns. The lady living in the small village was still there after all. She had taken a permanent spot inside my heart. I often felt her thoughts. Her love and her sorrow overshadowed me, feelings that were beyond control, just as I had not learned to control my own. It is impossible to cast out another soul of one’s heart as though it was just rubbish. … Mysteriously interwoven are such relationships, even if there are no words spoken. Neither Erika, nor I, dared to touch the situation in which I seemed to be caught, and from which I could not just jump as though it were a slow moving train. All in all there was a silent understanding, an agreement that we would support each other. As the final day of my hospital stay arrived, I could see it more clearly. What I longed for more and more was her. That feeling however did not last. There seemed to be a gulf between what I wanted and what I could have. Many times I lay awake through the night, demanding, praying, to somehow come to terms with this jumbled-up domain of my feelings. In the end only one thing stood out from all others. I must make a new start; I realized that I had learned another very important lesson in my life. Never again would I allow myself to overstep certain borders. I wished to live by the counsels given by David O. McKay to the Saints at the conference in Berlin. No, not only in a shallow way, but from the depth of my heart, to follow and never to be so naive again.
Four months later I wrote a letter to Erika asking if she would consider marrying a man smaller then herself. Immediately she wrote back, all very formal of course, as was the custom of a properly educated German. Once the news had gone forth that we had agreed to marry one another, she received a warning: “Do not marry this guy - he is irresponsible, and you will have nothing but trouble with that one, he will make you very unhappy, just look at his past.”
It is curious that the less people know about themselves, the more they know about the past of others. In the summer 1953, on our wedding day The 3rd of July, we rented 2 small rooms in a large house. These rooms used to be the servants’ quarters situated in the attic. Below us lived 4 families, all with high levels of responsibility in our area. In our immediate neighborhood lived more prominent individuals. Together we built (according to the order of time) a housing community. We had to have meetings to receive political instructions on Lenin, Karl Marx and Joseph Stalin, the father of all the people residing between the Bering Strait and the Elbe River. Erika and I were happy to be able to live together as many newlyweds had to live apart for many years because of the enormous lack of housing, owing to the whole inner city having been burnt out by the Russians. Thanks to Erika’s excellent reputation we were lucky to find an important and grateful person to speak for us at the Office of Housing. Provisions were made to build new homes, however, progress was very slow. Later on they built huge apartment houses for 100 to 200 families. That way it would be easier to control the people. It was in total opposition to the gospel plan, where the happiness of individuals is a prime consideration. To be in control of the masses was important for political reasons. The government was striving to build a totally new international society. All people on earth would live for a glorious future called Communism. Three per cent of the population would govern and 97 percent would have to be loyal citizens.
Picture: Bundesarchiv Tens of thousands of workers in the GDR rose up against the state. The communist leaders called to Moscow for help. Russian tanks put down the uprising
Ten days after our wedding, 4 weeks after the brutal defeat of the workers insurrections in the GDR, especially in Berlin, I was summoned by one of the housing community leaders. I was to attend a disciplinary meeting, and yes, you guessed it, I was in trouble again! The leader of our meeting, (which was attended by 20 people) was Mr. Wolf, a colonel on the staff of General Field Marshal Paulus, Commander of the 6th German Army in Stalingrad (he converted to anti-Fascism because of deep regrets). All individuals except me were leaders in charge of the political, economical or health administration of the GDR. I respected Mr. Wolf, but the things he told us once again were all too much for me. He spoke about the laborers, “Why are they revolting? What is it they want? Is this not their new state as well? How long will we have to put up with the bad influences of the West (via Radio in the American Sector of Berlin: RIAS).”
The communist party insisted: “They should work much harder and, at the same time, receive less pay!”
In full force the army and the Police moved in, supported by Russian tanks, to break the strike. The date of this event was 17 June 1953. It was forbidden to speak the truth. We simply had to accept what the Party prescribed. Party members told us that the capitalists had planned this adventure and called it ‘X Day.’ What nonsense! Here in our meeting Mr. Wolf spoke about ‘X Day’, and how it was directed against the working class, whom he allegedly adored. In our meeting those elite people nodded, then opened Pandora’s Box to discuss the unpleasant problems at hand. For more than an hour I listened to the speakers paint a picture of how perfect, how wonderful it was to be a citizen of the GDR; how it was the best that anyone could wish for; how all the wrongs and shortcomings were to be blamed on the West. Without shame they distorted reality, but each and everyone I spoke to complained about the harshness and cold treatment the party executed. They mentioned the fact of how the leaders would praise themselves on the radio and in the daily newspaper. It made me so angry that I could have screamed. There was a total lack of self-criticism, a total reversal of the things I had experienced whilst working as a FDJ leader some 4 years before.
The reason why people living in the GDR were so poor was because the communist government used every penny to build up their military and security forces. Wherever we looked, we could see men in uniforms. There were times we would see more men in uniform than in normal clothing. There was a lack of butter, except in special shops for ‘Intelligence,’ little fruit in its season, and chocolate, 8 years after the war, was expensive and of bad quality. There were only 3 or 4 varieties of sweets. One in 500 families owned a car (until 1962. After 1968 every second family owned a little ‘Trabant made out of plastic). Free voting was forbidden. Although we received ballot papers, with the names of lots of people who no one knew, it was impossible to do more than to fold the papers, and put them in the ballot box. Nobody dared to open his mouth, as that would be considered state treason. “If you are a friend of Peace, why would you choose another party?” Functionaries, who then ran the factories, would talk, read and comment on the communist newspapers. “Are you a friend of the Soviet Union or not?” After going to the movies the attendants had to stay and discuss the subjects that had been shown. We had to acknowledge an allegiance to the state: “Yes I love socialism and its goals. We are proud of our new society.” In the East where the communists ruled all was great. There were no problems, no crises, for there all was white. But in the West among the capitalists every thing was bad and black, especially in West Germany and the USA. They were the enemies of mankind and all that was good in the world. Please dear reader, go and investigate it for yourself - the libraries have archives…
I repeat: the government gave orders that the laborers had to work increasingly harder for less pay…
I, little Gerd, accidentally living in the same area and the only uneducated person present, protested: “You lot would talk differently if this glorious state were to reduce your privileges!” That was cheeky – but it was true. About 20 leading personalities in the room stared at me: all at once I knew I was ridden by the devil and added: “With one exception, all of you care about your jobs.” I could not hold it back - it just burst out because I knew that it was the truth. I could not undo it without destroying my own honor. Ex-Colonel Wolf looked at me - I was the only laborer present. He tried to rescue the situation immediately. So did I, but so what? I had insulted the elite of the best party in the whole world. (Mrs. Dr. Haendel and Mrs. Dr. Ackermann were not party members, but supported its principles.) Party secretary, Guter, and his young wife, the rural district leader and his wife and others shook their heads. Then Mr. Wolf spoke: “Well, you are very young!” He looked into my eyes as if to say: “Go the next step. Apologize!” I perceived that. In my mind I can see my poor wife Erika, her hands held flat against her face: “Don’t talk so much, please don’t talk so much.” After every morning prayer it would be the last thing I would hear before I walked out the door. My brain was doing overtime. The situation in which I found myself was, to say the least, embarrassing, and that feeling grew more intense by the minute. On the other hand there was little space to move as I had no intention of playing traitor to my own conscience. With all eyes still upon me, I mumbled: “To any of you to whom my remarks do not apply, I apologize.” Thank heavens that all of them were reasonable enough not to pursue the matter. Recognizing the fact that I could not do any better, they accepted my so-called apology. It was perfectly clear to each person in the room that they should not risk the engaging in free dialogue. Such privileges were against the communist party law. (“Don’t forget that the name ‘Communist Party’ is unusual,” they told us, “the official name is ‘Socialist Party.’” But this was only a trick.)
At the close of that meeting they persuaded me to take part in collecting money for the ‘National Front” for 1 or 2 hours. Whilst doing so I was arrested by railway police officer, who had become suspicious because I did not have special identification. He walked with me along the streets to the city police station and I, for once, said to myself regretfully: “You are a fool, Gerd Skibbe. Never again!” Mrs. Guter, the wife of one of the party leaders, who was very upset at such an error, came to rescue me from this predicament. It was then that I told her: “This will have been my final and last involvement in political activities.” (I stayed faithful to my promise until 1989, when the Wall in Berlin fell.)
The events of those days only filtered through in small portions to Erika, who would lovingly admonish me: “Please be careful. You know people are arrested for saying far less than you.” I had to promise her to be on my guard at all times.
Only weeks had passed, when I was in trouble again. Erika took hold of my hands looked at me in a very serious manner and confessed: “I’m pregnant.” I felt shock and fear. The birth of a child would be too much for her. Her heart would not be able to cope with it. The doctors at the hospital where she had worked had given her ample warnings, that should she fall pregnant, an immediate abortion had to be undertaken. This was the reason that, 2 months before our wedding, Erika had cancelled the engagement. It took all my naive persuasive efforts to change her mind. “Well,” I whispered, “then we have to follow the doctor’s orders.” In determination she shook her head, and then she added very quietly: “I shall have our child!”
Spring and Erika’s time to give birth had arrived. Hour after hour the same doctors who had warned her of this event labored to save her life. Sitting in the hallway of the hospital, I held my head in my hands, praying and pleading. I could hear the hearty cry of my son, Hartmut. There was certainly nothing wrong with him. His voice and lungs worked very well. But Erika sank deeper and deeper into unconsciousness. The doctors feared that her heart would collapse. For hours they labored, doing all they could. I sat next to her door, hearing their frantic footsteps and their discussion, but could do nothing to help - nothing except pray: “Please Father, she has had a priesthood blessing. Let it come true.”
Other people passed by like phantoms, far removed from all reality. It was midnight as chief doctor Prokop approached me: “Mr. Skibbe you may go home now. We think the worst is behind her. We think she’ll make it!”
I nodded in thankful appreciation for all they had done and walked home. Erika was strong enough to find the narrow bridge that returned her back to life, to her son and to me. Later on she told me that in her mind she held on to my hands - that it was my love and my prayers that had helped her to cross a deep, dark ravine. Together we praised our God for her deliverance, for His mercy and love.
It did not take too long before I felt the urgent need to try my sensing device, by speaking to strangers, and trying to find the limits of my “I can.” I had a need to know how and why others felt about the political development of the GDR. I could see that not all the people had become atheists. I could feel that most citizens were unhappy with the rough and dishonest propaganda. In the city we read how clever and beautiful the party was that led us. Red posters announced: “We will beat the capitalists!” They promised: “Eternal friendship with the Soviet Union” In all the years of communist government I found only 5 people who were totally convinced by the system, who stood unshaken 100 percent behind the party line. All others confessed their loyalty only with their lips, or harbored serious doubts.
Again I labored in the unforgiving gardening profession, at the fruit plantation of Tollenseheim (later on the School of Agronomic Engineering). There I meet Mr. Maque, who had been the communist district secretary of Neustrelitz. He was the principal of the very small School of Agrarian Associations (LPG). He was one of the 5 absolutely convinced communists who I was to encounter. In any case he certainly was different. He wished to be successful, to have a large school, and in time he found responsible people who listened to him. This man was a ‘doer’. His rough-cut face not only appealed to the women. Everyone who knew him acknowledged him as a great personality. He was granted huge amounts of government money to enlarge the buildings, and thus the school. By the end of 1954 he had a huge surplus, which he should have used for elementary building work (measurement and planning), but he invested in buying sports equipment. Among it was a very expensive speed boat, the dream of every sports-orientated male. It was to be his treasured possession. As the money lenders investigated Mr. Maque’s senseless spending spree, they threatened him with many warnings. But because he was a big man, they just ended up waving their index finger: “Comrade Maque! Comrade Maque!” And that was the only price that man paid for his magnificent speedboat. Headmaster Maque only took interest in that boat. The other rowboats were piled up under one of the huge apple trees - exposed to the inhospitable conditions of a north German December. As circumstances willed it, the land surveyors had left their 2-metre-long red and white measuring poles in one of the adjacent garages. The poles were fitted with a metal point. I lifted one them, weighed and balanced it, and then let it sail like the spear of a mighty warrior. It flew up over the apple tree and the stack of piled up rowboats. Oh, what joy it was to behold! It was observed by our caretaker, Paul, a huge man. He said, “That was a great throw! I can do that!” So he picked up the heavy pole, which weighed about 2 kilos, and as he was unexperienced in that kind of activity, let go of it in a most clumsy way. The point of his flying object collided with the side of one special canoe - a gig. Oh my! The sound of the shattering cigar-box thin hull of the boat! The vibrating pole had reduced the expensive boat to an irreparable wreck. The seemingly impossible drove Caretaker Paul to immediate action. He found enough place inside the shed and stored all of the boats, which would have severe consequences for me. First we dragged the damaged speedboat into the far corner of the shed. All other boats he piled up as a protective wall around it. For his efforts he received praise. I, on the other hand blamed, myself for all that had happened. In any case Mr. Maque thought of me as the devil incarnate. He could never make me out, as he could not understand my way of thinking. Everyone of a religious nature seemed suspect to him, and to his lady housekeeper who would never permit him to return to his own wife in the evenings. Although both of us were politically interested people, we talked little. He did not like me. According to him, a real man needed at least 10 glasses of cognac to prove that he was a man. To be a Mormon in those super-modern days was surely pure stupidity.
A corpulent young lady Philosophy lecturer arrived and became a staff member. Aware of the differences between Mr. Maque and me, she talked to me, and told me that someone had informed her that I would attend Church meetings on Sundays. Perhaps she was curious as to how I would respond, or perhaps she wanted to help include me in the mainstream of the establishment. Thus she started to speak about beliefs, and told me she had read the letters of Paul. I felt that she was not speaking the whole truth. She might have read small sections of it. But one evening at the close of the lectures she approached me again, looking deep into my eyes she whispered: “Come and tell me about your theology.” Her voice vibrating, she asked me to come up to her room: “Or could it be that you are afraid?” She felt my disapproval and then asked me an interesting question, but did not wait for me to give her an answer. Instead she began to complain about her fate with a man who had never understood her. He had left her for another woman and thus destroyed her faith in all other men. Whilst she thus talked away, I again had the strong feeling that she was lying. Her eyes rested pleasantly upon me. She looked at the clock on the wall and asked: “Shall I make us a cup of coffee?” This seemed to be the magic spell for which so many poor men fell. “Oh, please no coffee”, I replied, but wishing to prove myself of correct behaviour, I started to talk of my beloved wife, my son Hartmut and my life. She asked me to sit down, and I did, but only for 10 minutes, because the atmosphere had changed. That was the moment to go and I did.
Didn’t I know that Mr. Maque had installed new microphones in his office? How could I forget that such a device would help him to have constant control over what his lecturers were teaching in the classrooms? And yes, he could listen to what the students said, because the dining room was right beside them. “They have overheard every spoken word.” My head felt dizzy. I had promised Erika to be on my guard all times. Instantly I moved myself into the timeframe of the conversation with K., to the moment when we had reproached Ulbricht – the head of the communist party in East Germany – a man without a heart, a man beyond all human striving, except for his power, his work and glory: the GDR his beloved child, created with Joseph Stalin. Most people hated this damned system of soul slavery. Little by little I would remember every word spoken. Pure fear poked at my brain. Without any respect, we had ridiculed the Philosophy lecturer. Then we had arrived at Lenin, who, in 1921, had dared to kill the young marines of Kronstadt, who had the courage to revolt against the unbelievable inhumanity of the current communist government. Three years after the October Revolution, they had taken it upon themselves to rebel from their battleships ‘Sevastopol’ and ‘Petropawlowsk’. Loud were their objections: that the laborers under the Bolsheviks were treated far worse than prisoners in the time of the czars. My partner, K., told me that General Trotsky, on Lenin’s order, had moved his special troops over the ice towards the warships and had imprisoned or killed all of those young marines. For that crime alone Lenin deserved to be laid in irons for the reminder of his life. With artistic strokes this stranger had painted the events, how the troops of the Red Army and the “Tscheka” (Russian secret police) had moved over the frozen bay, clothed in white to camouflage their advance on the ships.
After the lady lecturer had hissed at me like a snake, I made my way to the dining room with one quest in mind: to locate the position of the loudspeaker. To my horror I found it above the table at which we had conversed. Knowing that within it was also a microphone, no amount of denial could save me this time, especially as I remembered that I had placed a trump on top of it all by saying: “Not only to lay Lenin in chains, but to give him a thorough whipping as well!” All he (Lenin) could ever do was well-formulated speeches: “Soviet power and the development of electrification will bless his nation to accomplish communism.” The reality of the Soviet state, however, was a totally different one. We had learned by sad experience that the whole Bolshevist power game was no more than domination of their subjects and mass executions of innocent people. No sooner had I reformulated these sentences in my mind than Mr. Braun entered the dining room. He was one of the teachers recently employed at the school. He placed his arm around the shoulder of the Philosophy lecturer, and gave me a sly grin. It did not matter - I had already lost my appetite. After dinner I saw Mr. Maque outside. He came towards me. I tried my best to hide my emotional state. With a grim look written all over his face, he approached me, looked at me, said nothing and left. But then he had done that lots of times before - it was just his way. This time I read all the worst possible results into his manner. I felt as though he had tightened his fist against me. Whatever should I do, if those 3 people knew what Mr. K. and I had been talking about, and if it was true that K. had already been arrested because of it? Surely nothing good lay in store for me. Shortly before breakup time Mr. Braun approached me again. I was just busy getting my bike up the stairs from the cellar. With his legs apart, arms crossed on his chest he blocked my way and said: “You know what subversive activities are.” He rolled his eyes and continued: “We shall report you!” His small face looked pale. Instead of staying calm to ask what for, I panicked. Uncertainty has the power to drive us crazy. He said no more, just took a long look at me and left. I was angry, accusing myself of being so unwise, so foolish. How could I have committed this unpardonable sin? “For this you will have to pay. Lenin can do as he pleases in the name of the Revolution even if millions of innocent people perish. Nobody has the right to blacken the icon. It’ll be all your own doing if they lock you in some jail to rot. And should you have not remembered that as a Mormon you have been taught not to judge others no matter what. Didn’t Jesus teach you to love your enemies? Do good unto them that persecute you? Judge not. God may judge. He may lay down a sentence, not you, Gerd, not you! What have you done?”
My legs moved quickly on the way back home - fear drove me forwards. I confessed everything to Erika and then told her: “We must pack our things. We must get away before they come for me. We must flee to the West.” The fear in her eyes caused my hands to shake. All she had begged me so often to forsake, all she had so often envisioned was about to become a stark reality. Had she not pleaded so many times to think about our little one? Often people would just disappear from their workplaces because of the smallest reason to do with defamation.
Before we left I thought that I should go to inform our branch president, Otto Krakow, that we were fleeing to the West, never to return. He listened, then simply replied: “Gerd, I can not let you go. I cannot continue without you. You must stay here!” His great and friendly face smiled and his hand moved over his bald head. He had been a soldier in Russia. He had always disliked Nazi politics, and was really a brother: “No one will touch one hair of your head. You have done nothing wrong. You have your job as a teacher in Sunday school you! Gerd!… Subversive. Are you a subversive person? What? Did you commit a crime? Tollenseheim is still intact, isn’t it? Don’t be afraid.”
“Yes!” I replied “In this country you don’t have to commit a crime to disappear forever …”
“Gerd, I have the feeling that nothing is going to happen to you or your family.”
“Shall I find comfort in your feelings?” I asked.
“No, Gerd, not in mine, not in yours. Just trust in God.”
“Oh it’s easy to talk,” I thought. Strange as it may seem, though, in the minutes following our conversation, a wonderful peace came over me. Again I rehearsed all that had proceeded that day. I had talked with only a few of the apprentices - some of them more critical then myself. And I had no proof that Mr. K. had been arrested at all. Perhaps he had vanished to the West. Day after day thousands of people just got up and left, leaving behind the oppressive might of the SED. In the end one thought prevailed: “If they had caught Mr. K. because of our conversation then surely I would have been next in line.” At the same time it would be totally reasonable to think that somewhere they were busy with their interrogation that very minute. Everything was possible in this crazy communist world. But I thought, “If it were not my remarks about Lenin, what else could it be? Just to scare me, was surely not Mr. Braun’s intention. There before me, I saw the burnt pine trees and the shed close by. Yes, I could recall all my sins. “They have found the damaged boat - the gig. I’ll bet, on Monday they will call on me to confess.” I imagined my arrival at Tollenseheim and Mr. Braun waiting for me, with his cheesy grin, waving: “Come to me!” It would be just another unpleasant event in the days of my life.
A week previously, on a very dry spring day I had needed to burn the long winter meadow grass behind the shed. Whilst endeavoring to do so, I lost control over the fire. Only by exerting my last shred of energy did I prevent the shed from burning down – the shed in which the boats were stored. I knew that 2 of my female helpers were watching me, laughing themselves silly over my flame-extinguishing tactics. I used my body repeatedly, rolling over new spots of burning grass. Clematis, which had grown into the Omorica trees at the end of that meadow, could still have rendered all my efforts in vain, for the shed stood beside it and would thus be beyond saving. To this day I can envision that huge hole in the gig. Could it be possible that Mr. Maque and Mr. Braun had discovered the damaged sports boat? The thought could be that perhaps I had intended to let the fire take care of the problem. But, then why did I fight the fire to the extent of putting my own safety at such risk? The questions from the community would therefore be: “Who damaged the gig?” and “Whose idea was it to burn the meadow grass? If they were to ask such questions, things would not look good for me. The verdict would be as follows: “This crazy head, called Skibbe, causes damage wherever he can. His activities are of a subversive nature.” Multiple thoughts span round in my head. But then, Mr. Maque would have to think twice about reporting me to the authorities because of such accusations. For then my case would also became his. His abuse of public money would ring from the big bell tower, taking with it many other people’s existence. Perhaps they all wanted me to learn a lesson. Perhaps that was the crux of the matter.
The weekend passed slowly. I was eager to get to work the next Monday morning. And nothing at all happened. I looked in the shed. There, well hidden behind the sport boats, lay the gig on its side, safeguarding her secret. All at once I knew nothing at all. Should I go to Mr. Maque to tell him that Paul had damaged the boat? No! That seemed to be the wrong thing to do. I needed to remove myself from that place. Three years under those conditions was enough. Surely there must be something I was capable of doing, work I would love to do, away from politics and all the constant conflicts it brought. We prayed earnestly for me to find good employment - Erika’s prayers were especially very intense.
In the summer of 1956
Walter Krause, our district president, again called me to be a district missionary. At the time the government released an atheist pamphlet regarding questions and answers about life after death. Their arguments against it were: “We have asked people who have died, and returned to life. Their answers in all cases have been “No! There is nothing. This we have to acknowledge and learn to live with.” To this day I see myself among our 5 priesthood holders talking positively about this theme. We didn’t know at the time that soon there would be new statements in regards to the state’s assumption. Some years later, with the advance in medical science and the increasing numbers of near-death patients, there were people who reported exactly the opposite to the state’s beliefs.
Still happily married, and eager to rescue my messed-up professional career, I longed for success and the material welfare of my family. I longed to escape the poverty we endured, so I followed my intuition. In the newspaper I found the following notice:
“Tollense – Fishing – Association looking for seasonal laborers.”
Instantly I took to this announcement. This was my chance to get away from my old job. But my beautiful wife cautioned me, “Think about what you’re doing. Even if they do take you, it will only be for a couple of weeks. Resolutely I replied, “An adventurer like me can’t be tied to a chair in an office, writing reports in a book. You know I would only go to sleep.” Erika insisted: “In this company you will be nothing more than a laborer, without any security at all. They will not keep you. You are a stranger to their trade. Don’t dismiss other opportunities that may come your way.” I could have worked as a statistical report writer for a factory producing medical equipment. But I was determined to become a fisherman. I thought it ideal to be out there on the beautiful Tollense Lake - to be free, on a boat on the water, away from all the quarrels of the world. They took me on, telling me that it would only be for 6 weeks, but my hopes and prayers were to double, or to make it a 100 times 6 weeks, to make it my life’s profession. Somehow I hoped to impress them, to show them that I had what it took. I needed this chance. But, on the very first day of my new adventures, the cloud of misfortune opened directly over my head. The “Old Communist” Hermann Goeck, chief of the district party commission of the SED, had undertaken the conversion of all local fishermen to the realms of communism. There we all sat, on our first afternoon, before going out on the boats to do the planned night’s fishing. Hermann Goeck talked and talked and talked propaganda - always the same stuff. Stuff we had heard a thousand times on the radios, in the newspaper, in the weekly movies, on the bill boards and banners hanging from rooftops and windows: “All happiness and blessings have to come from one source, namely the Kremlin of Moscow.” Goeck was a charming man, about 45 years old, white haired, always joking and laughing, very tall and well dressed. He was an old Nazi prisoner and a well-respected person. His eyes rested upon me. He was curious about me and full of hope… I could feel it. It was expected that all farmers, laborers and fishermen should support the government and the first leader, Walter Ulbricht. But all the people I knew hated Ulbricht, saying, that he was a rascal. All workers were supposed to show the clenched fist to the American warmongers. For this agreeable man, with whom I only became acquainted on that day, it was only natural that all the simple fishermen would agree with him. As long as we lived and worked in his beloved state, surely there could be no objections. After all it was our state, our home, our country! Didn’t this man realize that most of the people, yes, even simple laborers, held absolutely no regard for their new masters - that most of the people refused to be forced by the Party. Here we were, 11 years after the war, and we had seen not many changes in the standard of living. Everything was still controlled, decided, and run by the SED. The streets were filled with uniformed men. The constant fear of the ‘Cold War’ was felt by everyone. There were ceaseless propaganda, slogans, lies hanging from every wall, promising victory and socialism. “Here in the East all is well, there in the West all is hell.” We were neither blind nor stupid. We could all see the truth and the progress in the West. The RIAS (Radio in the American Sector) announced the daily exchange rate of the East to West mark at 1 to 5. That was the rule in those days. The workers in western Germany earned 5 times more. Reality spoke louder than banners, words or lies ever could.
Even years later we shouted: “No butter, no cream, no eggs, but on the moon the red flags.” Whatever our future held was all in Stalin’s hand writing, in the History of the KPdSU of Abbreviated Information. It was written that every time span had been planned. Yet everyone watched with horror. The government’s seizure of all industries would lead to a sorry end for the population.
Still, no one could stem the flow of the socialist influences. Whatever the ‘totally’ convinced party leaders ordered, with the backing of the Kremlin power machine, was pushed to the foreground. In all there were 70 stationed Russian army divisions in the GDR, on constant standby to support their every directive at any time. Socialism means the running of all initiative collectives’ standardization of all political thought. Many were afraid of such a brutal dismissal of their rights. Many, even farmers, chose to leave their homelands. We had lovely stretches of land whose owners had left to flee to the West. Many refused to bow to such dictatorship. Especially the middle class section of farmers and businessmen felt weighed down. In Ballwitz, close to Neubrandenburg, I had met a newly-married couple who told me: “Our family has plowed these fields for over 200 years, but now we will flee to the West.” The young mother carried a 1-year old in her arms, and held another child by the hand. She looked at me with helpless, wide eyes … Surely Hermann Goeck knew the truth: the awful truth that his party wished to dispossess all landowners.
In all that approached us we felt threatened and uneasy. There was an article in the press that reported the fight, which erupted between German Professor Stubbe and Soviet science. Great! At last there was a voice that dared to be different. Someone well known and undisputed like Dr. Stubbe could not act against his knowledge and conscience. Even he could see that Mr. Lyssenko (Soviet biologist in Leningrad) taught lies. Professor Stubbe made it his business to engage in open debate. He refused to be placed in the corner of ignorance and silence. The debate was over a simulation between plant growth and human life. The Russian insisted that if you plant rye among wheat, rye would become wheat in the 10th generation. What they endeavored to prove was the fact that humans, surrounded by special conditions, will eventually adapt to their environment; that the Russian science, especially in biology, had the ability to recreate a new society of people, to bend us to suit their purposes. Oh, how often we laughed at that. Everything had become so crooked, all to satisfy their ideology. Even Mendel’s laws of genetics had to move out of the way to make room for Mitschurin’s fancy new ideas. Professor Stubbe criticized and renounced their words. Sure knowledge in the field of genetics, called ‘Weissmanism-Morganism’ was defamed. In 1933 Morgan had received the Nobel Prize for his studies on genetics. The communists tried to tell us that it wasn’t the progressive growth of our organic being that decided our development, but the programs as prescribed by the Party’s leadership - in other words, as dictated by Suslow and Stalin. That was the reason why all those men and I had to endure the brainwashing lecture held in the 4x4 meter cultural room of the Fishermen’s Association. Thirteen men sat silent, each one holding up an unseen umbrella to repel the onslaught of lies being flung at them, each one with his own reasons to dislike those lectures. One of the young men, Otto Goerss, who was somewhat of a genius among the simple fishermen, teased old Goeck. He told Goeck that he was the only man in the whole GDR who had designed and built an underwater reed-cutting machine that worked. He added that in his years in the German army he had travelled through many towns and villages of the Russian imperial kingdom. He had seen the straw roofs of the wooden hovels and the poor people, seen the ‘cultural palaces.’
“I have seen the poverty of that nation after 20 years of communism! You do everything with force. To tell the truth, this stone-hard system sits ill in my stomach, because of the total indifference by which you endeavor to satisfy the needs of the world. All the laws and rules to which we are to submit ourselves are an open, bleeding wound to be seen by all.” Here was a man of my own making. Fearlessly he let go of his feelings, his emotions, and his perceptions. I must confess I would not have had the courage to burst out like that. But as a father of 6 children, he must have convinced himself long before that he had nothing to lose. Old comrade Goeck looked at me, to see if perhaps I would support him. It must have been a while since anyone dared to push him into a corner as had this angry young man. He had expected full applause and support, at least of all the younger men present. I returned his pleading look with a smile, failed to engage my brakes and said, “As I have just read and reread Khrushchev Unveiled of the XX Party congress of the KpdSU, I cannot deny myself the privilege of agreeing with comrade Otto Goerss.” I added quickly, “I have saved all the newspaper articles which reported on the ‘Neues Deutschland’ (New Germany) last February.” Goeck’s lips tightened, but it was still not enough. I needed to utter more sentences: “There will have to be a lot of changes.” Goeck swallowed hard. That information must have gone down the wrong way for him, however, after recovering, he bellowed, “Unveilings? What Unveilings?” He looked at me. No, he tried to look right through me. He was totally surprised that there would be 2 to oppose him, especially as one of them was someone who sprang from nothing, someone who was a nothing, someone who dared to tell him, the famous Hermann Goeck, the where and what of it all. Yes, it was all too much, and so he continued with a cracked voice, hoping that I would not come up with any other concrete facts. He was wrong, for I had slipped into my natural gears - I was in my element. Line by line I had memorized the key sentences of General Secretary Walter Ulbricht’s address. The truth had finally emerged: Stalin – his beloved one – was a mass murderer. He had pursued and killed his own communist comrades - his own people! Whom did Goeck wish to reprove? Me? It looked as though one would discern between the lines that Ulbricht had dissociated from Stalin his greatest teacher. Wasn’t he the big monster at whom all Westerners quaked and were warned about? In all things I could see the proof: all I had studied in the past years of my life - that the Marxists and Leninists had steered development in the wrong direction. Their foundations were weak. Their goals were to eliminate free agency, and to remodel the human soul. I shared my negative thoughts in a most careful way. This much was sure: that communism developed insufficient motives against lies. Hermann Goeck then asked me directly, “Who are you?” to which I replied outright: “I’m Gerd Skibbe. I’m an active Mormon.” I could feel his inner groaning, “That’s all I needed!” as he realized that I had come to an apt conclusion in regards to his goals.
What I found so fascinating in our Church is that we would always strive for the truth. My father had taught me that under no circumstances are Untruths and Lies a firm foundation. With the exception of my intermezzo with the married woman in Cammin, I had never diverted from the pursuit of truth. This of course, I kept to myself.
Everyone present looked at Goeck’s worn face, could feel his anger and his battle to come to terms with the situation. Raising his right arm and pointing his index finger at me, he yelled: “Not like that, not with me! This is no way to treat a government official. You dare to dance on the nose of the law!” He was very angry because his lecture had all gone astray. He summoned his firm desires and did all he could to save the situation, to at least appeal to all those who had never given politics much thought - all those who might not have too many problems. Disappointment was written all over his face when he left late in the afternoon. We readied our boats and ourselves for our night haul on the beautiful 18 square kilometer Tollense Lake. It is undoubtedly one of the most beautiful lakes in the whole of North Germany, nestling among forests and hills. Hours later we still talked and contemplated the events of the day, as we hauled in the huge draw net on that wet night. As we exchanged thoughts I could still hear the compelling voice of Hermann Goeck in my ears: “Either you stand on the left or the right. If you choose to stand between 2 fronts you will be crushed.” I told myself not to worry. “It’s just his way of persuading his fellowmen about all that on which believed himself to be an authority: human behavior. Could it possibly be true that he did not see the hopelessness of his “They” or “Us” policies, and how they filled the soul with alarm and fear? It was as though they were some common germ, which must be eliminated to survive. But what about the human fate? What about the needs of the human soul? Not one of the 13 men shared his ambitious ideals. Not one of them expressed the wish to be a member of his party. He had tried so earnestly to convert them to the wonder of Soviet socialism. With a promise that he would return, he left the room. Although I could not agree with him, I knew it was his right to have different opinions, just as I had a right to have mine own. It is a right that every catholic or evangelical priest, every Muslim, every person should have.
Almost everything I had suspected seemed to come to pass in the spring of 1956. News was made public through the press of the GDR Party. Forty years of terror in Russia could not longer be kept silent: the permanent pursuit of innocent people by a spoiled, crazy dictator, Stalin. His rages had General Field Marshal Tuchatschewskij murdered by the Tscheka because of jealousy, because the soldiers of the Red Army waved their arms more for their marshal than for Stalin. Millions were driven by naked fear, because the secret police (Tscheka) feared losing their power, whilst the big Party had to look on, doing nothing at all. Conditions were worse than those at the Roman slave markets. Life in the communist empire counted for absolutely nothing. There was not one single institution to ensure safety for the individual. Since the ‘secret speeches’ by Nikita Khrushchev at the XX Party congress of the KPdSU (and all knew about it), I could see the whole, ugly truth. It would have taken the voice of all humanity on earth to extinguish such great evil, and its name: total indoctrination.
It wasn’t any different for the Christians, after the Council of Nicea, as the spirit of Constantine changed everything. The ones who had been persecuted became the persecutors. Stalin called his system ‘The Equitable Society.’ Constantine’s Christians called their System ‘Piety.’ Both these ‘religions’ were governed by brutality and intolerance. In the 20th century it was Stalin’s ‘victorious working class’. In the 4th century it was the beginning of the ecclesia militans – the fighting Church. Whoever dared to stand against these systems was doomed. On the one hand there was communist practice, which became unscrupulous by following the ideology of Karl Marx and Lenin. On the other hand was Christian history, which followed the spirit of Constantine and the absolute commands of his dogma about God, called the Athanasian Creed (Not the Apostolic or Apostles’ Creed!)
Later on I read the words of Ezra Taft Benson: He was “passionately” opposed to communism. Benson denounced all forms of tyranny and compulsion. He spoke out frequently, advocating conservative positions and themes, and was mentioned as a possible presidential or vice presidential candidate. On one occasion he outlined his own political creed in the following words:
"I am for freedom and against slavery. I am for social progress and against socialism. I am for a dynamic economy and against waste. I am for the private competitive market and against unnecessary governmental intervention. I am for national security and against appeasement and capitulation to an obvious enemy." Utah History.”
All this convinced me more than ever, and made me so grateful to be a Mormon. Joseph Smith, whilst in Liberty Jail in 1838, wrote,“...the rights of the priesthood are inseparably connected with the powers of heaven, and the powers of heaven cannot be controlled nor handled only upon the principles of righteousness. That they may be conferred upon us, it is true; but when we undertake to cover our sins, or to gratify our pride, our vain ambition, or to exercise control or dominion or compulsion upon the souls of the children of men, in any degree of unrighteousness, behold, the heavens withdraw themselves; the spirit of the Lord is grieved; and when it is withdrawn, Amen to the priesthood or the authority of that man.” Doctrine and Covenants 121:36, 3
“We were afraid,” even Nikita Khrushchev admitted in one of his talks at the Congress: “Fear, yes, it is true. Even I had to dance the ‘Krakowiak’ (Ukrainian folk dance) to please Stalin.” In his party career as well, he had danced to the tunes played by the dictator Stalin. There were no smiles on his comrades’ faces as he spoke of those realities. Everyone did as they were commanded by satanic Stalin. Anything would surely be better than 10 years in the coalmines of Workuta, on the other side of the polar circle. Later on when Khrushchev divulged many of his experiences, all of them fell like a sledgehammer. All of them found listening ears like Luther’s Thesis which, in but a few weeks, had touched the heart of every German. All listeners received Nikita Khrushchev’s words with hope. He almost gave the old system the final kick of death. Too bad that he was not Luther. Fear can never be the tool for righteous leadership. In the Pearl of Great Price in Moses chapter 4, I found confirmation of the existence of the one causing this fear about which Nephi, Isaiah and other prophets have written. He, who according to Lehi’s word, seeks to make all creatures as unhappy as he is. This was another reason I decided to work as diligently as I could in our church. I longed to find people who would recognize the truth and become my fellow brothers and sisters - people who would understand that the only way to go was to love others in order for everyone to live without fear, and be able to choose to follow the dictates of their own conscience. I wanted to help others find the wonderful truth contained in The Book of Mormon, which in any case most people for more than a 100 reasons refused to do, as they convinced themselves that such a venture would lead to a dead end. Still, Kurt Meyer and I helped 4 people to join the Church.
I loved my work as a fisherman. It was interesting, as the changes were constant. Every morning the lake would show us a different face. The water would reflect the colors of the sky. There would be a storm or total calm. Sunset or sunrise would spread their special effects across the lake. There would be a good catch or an empty net, wages or an empty purse, depending on fate and on effort. All these hazards, including feelings and facts, one day as kings, the next as beggars, winners or losers, controlled the rhythm of each day. This finally was the joy of my life. I loved it, and yes, they let me stay to be one of their comrades. The men could tell that I gave all I had. I tried my best. At first they smiled: “He’s a nature boy alright.” Sometimes they would tease me a little, because I would read the Holy Bible on my way to our fishing grounds. Never did they entice me to drink with them. True, few of them were great readers as most of them knew little about books, but all of them knew the contents of one little handbook called: ‘Tolerance and Honesty.’ Never before had they had someone on board who could write poetry, but sometimes I would write things that would make them laugh and thus I won their hearts. When I was asked to write a report about the fishing cooperation for the newspaper, I took my small Adler printing machine to work. There, in the narrow cabin of the fishing trawler I found myself a spot next to the noisy, blackened, slow-running diesel motor. One of the men would sit opposite me and I would place my typewriter on his knees. In the winter the cabin offered protection from the elements and the old motor radiated warmth, so we huddled close together putting up with the unpleasantness of the surroundings. That was the beginning of a new adventure. As the hours of our daily journey to our fishing waters passed I started to write my first drama. Whole chapters fell into place in that blackened machine cabin of our little trawler. I named it King Philipp III and his Moors. On completing it I presented it to the Friedrich-Wolff Theatre of Neustrelitz. After reading it, both dramatic advisers (a friendly young man and a clever woman) noticed that I had absolutely no idea how to write for stage productions. They recommended that I should read and study a work called Der himmlische Garten (The Heavenly Garden which had a Chinese theme) - especially the notes in regards to the directions given by the author. Then they invited me to learn everything about stage management and all that was required for a successful production. They told me, “You have written some wonderful scenes, but on the whole they are impossible to play.” I had no idea that I had ended up with the newly-elected Chairman Horst Blume who had recently organized a group called the “Young Authors.” He was a super communist and invited me to join them in a seminar, which I accepted. Seated on the opposite side of my table were Alfred Wellm and Joachim Wohlgemuth, and to my surprise another fisherman comrade, Gerhard Diekelmann from Kummerow. The theme for our seminar was the evaluation of an address given by Comrade Shurkow on the XX Party Congress of the KPdSU. Shurkow demanded that individuals working in the field of literature should enlarge the significant ideology of the Marxist Aesthetic System. That was to be every author’s primary duty.
“Friends and comrades,” bellowed Horst Blume, - a man about 45, very clever with a full, interesting face. He had a bright, resolute expression, grey beard and walked with a little limp. “To build socialism must be our first concern - to do it with the skills you have been given and with all your hearts.” I sat in silence. “I’m here to learn,” I thought to myself: “So, Gerd, shut up!”
I prepared well for my first reading assignment. After 3 minutes I was interrupted: “You write good stuff,” one called: “What do we care about your old Spanish kings and nobles? Who do you think you’ll enlighten? How is it supposed to help us to reach the goal of socialism? Be so kind and read something more suitable next time. As for today, you’re out.”
I had hoped that the knowledge of a time recorded in human history, with similar events to ours, would lead my fellow students to some soul searching. My intentions were for them to see that then, as in our day; dictatorship has never been the answer. Then there was the dictatorship of the Roman Church, in the days before Luther. In our day there was the Kremlin and its force. Even though hundreds of years lay between these 2 events their motives had the same outcomes. I wanted to show them how the Arabic Spaniards had elevated their nation, and how we, in the land of the setting sun, could learn much from their example and the small amount of gratitude they would receive for their achievements. Spain, in spite of her good intentions to be Europe’s leading state, with all its stubbornness and cruelty, came to a sorry end. Even shiploads of gold from the New World could not save the power of King Philip II or his incapable son, Philip III - just as all the gold mines at Kolyma would not help the Soviets. Inasmuch as the Christian leaders of Spain persecuted and hunted their hard-working Muslim gardeners and farmers, they laid the foundation of their own destruction. Having convinced themselves that it was their duty to force the Muslims to become disciples of Christ, in the end they broke their own necks. Through centuries of Muslim reign, Christians, Jews and Muslims had lived together in harmony, each following the dictates of their own conscience, treating one another as equals. Once the flag of the victorious cross was hoisted in the Alhambra of Granada - and the Christians insisted on erecting it on the places of Muslim worship to consolidate the slavery of souls - burning balefires resulted. Common people, who had once been neighbors’ and friends, became traitors. Suddenly there was only one choice: “Our way! or death!” “If you refuse to be my brother, I’ll punch your brains out without any bother.” It was exactly the opposite of the teachings of Jesus Christ’ who taught: “Love one another.”
Note: In 2020 I published my historical novel: "Ordenspriester Dr. Jòse Carranza und sein Sohn" 740 p
No nation had ever been as powerful as Spain between 1500 and 1600 AD. Still, we must ask the question: What did they accomplish? A kingdom of Inquisition: total control of words, thoughts, lifestyle and worship overseen by the Church. In our day the same was true of our government. Everywhere I looked I could see the parallels. Even though the leaders of this literature group abruptly ended my readings, they realized that my plan was to convince them of our reality: that no matter how efficient the war machine was, there was never a guarantee of progress and safety; that no army, no matter how powerful, could ever replace wisdom and mercy, and the freedom of body and soul. As much as it was possible I had shared my message, even though much of it came shrouded in similes. In spite of being interrupted, I felt that most of them would help me to progress. In one of our morning breaks Mrs. Elisabeth Elten-Krause, one of the co-workers of the Working Group asked: “Your religion is important to you, but, tell me, why in the world would people of today need religion?” to which I replied, “Are you aware of the fact that my religion is righteousness. I’m a Mormon.” When I told her that Mormonism held the upper hand over communism she broke into laughter. Perhaps this inspired her to write a funny poem called Can do Man. (Moechtelmann), an article in one of the greatest comic newspapers in the GDR called Eulenspiegel. High-mindedly she replied: “It doesn’t matter how great your goals may be, if you do not have the power to pull them through.” With that she walked off. Nevertheless, because of my quiet manner at the Working Group I had for the moment found peace. Only book author, Alfred Wellm, pushed me. Gerd, you should write a book of how to overcome your faith. I think that would be interesting to read.” He was very friendly. True, I constantly proved my views in regards to my beliefs. The very circumstances and my personality demanded a permanent renewal of my foundations. I would often ask myself if I had the right to be so critical.
Elder Harald L. Gregory, mission president of the Church in Berlin in those days, sponsored a literature competition, in which I won the first prize for a drama called Asoka, about an Indian king in 300 BC. Asoka really was a king of peace. After his cruel experience of the reality of war, he converted to Buddhism.
the 23rd of October 1956 the student’ riots in Budapest,
Hungary, broke out. Most Hungarians were worn out - they felt like
The same propaganda as in our country was a mental bondage. Thousands of workers followed in a spontaneous movement. Disciplined, they gathered in Budapest’s Stalin Square, asking for more freedom. Imre Nagy who had been Minister President for the past 3 years had lost all rights of leadership. He listened to the voice of his nation, and, in doing so, had lost the confidence Moscow had bestowed upon him. The citizens of Budapest wanted him to regain his office. That was the will of the people. The days that followed left their verdict. The will of the people could never and would never be the will of Moscow. After they stormed the Party Centre and many members were killed, Nikita Khrushchev sent in his military forces. Giant tanks with the red star on them rolled over the demonstrators.
For hours we sat at our radios, listening to the reports, fearing how the weak could stand against the military might of the Soviet Union. For days we listened to their cries for help. Almost everyone I spoke to had been listening to the reports of the Austrian journalists. We reassured each other by sharing our feelings only to find that we were powerless, but so was the remainder of the world. There was nothing we could do to help these unhappy people of Hungary without risking our own welfare.
In autumn 1956, on an errand from our prophet, David O. McKay, his counselor, Henry D. Moyle, came to visit us in Leipzig. We numbered about 500 brethren to be instructed by him. We had seldom experienced such a pleasant and happy hour before. President Moyle related some of the events throughout his student days in Freiberg, where he studied at the turn of the century and how, in that monarchical old city, he had been arrested by the police.
Wikipedia: Henry D. Moyle (1889-1963)
We could not forget his remarks about his father, James H. Moyle. As a young man James went to the University of Michigan to study law. As he was finishing his studies, his father told him that David Whitmer, one of the witnesses of the Book of Mormon, was still alive. Henry D. Moyle’s grandfather suggested that his son stop on his way back to Salt Lake City to visit with David Whitmer face to face. Brother Moyle's purpose was to ask him about his testimony concerning the golden plates and The Book of Mormon. During that visit, Brother Moyle said to David Whitmer: "Sir, you are an old man, and I'm a young man. I have been studying about witnesses and testimonies. Please tell me the truth concerning your testimony as one of the witnesses of The Book of Mormon." David Whitmer then told this young man: "Yes, I held the golden plates in my hands, and they were shown to us by an angel. My testimony concerning The Book of Mormon is true."
Gravestone David Whitmer - Richmond City Cemetery - "The record of the Jews and the Nephites are one. Truth is eternal"
Notice: This tomb has never been owned by members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints
although David Whitmer had been excommunicated from the Church, he never denied
his testimony of the angel's visitation, nor of handling the golden plates, nor
of the truthfulness of The Book of Mormon. And he laid his arm
around the shoulder of my father: “Yes, I do not only believe it, I know it!”
My family 1963 Erika, Hartmut (Bishop in Berwick Ward Melbourne (2007-2012); Matthias (Ditrict Prs. 2002-2012 in Mecklenburg-Vorp.) me.
We felt that this was pure truth. It meant a lot to me, and I am sure it did to all my brethren. On leaving us, President Moyle clasped my hand with the comforting words: “May God bless you my dear brother.” These were not words alone. It was more the spiritual strength which emanated from him. It was the unspoken wish: “Stay on the path.”
In the summer of 1957
Erika and I received an invitation from my parents to travel to Zollikofen in Switzerland. There the Church had built the second temple in Europe, the London Temple being the first. I was able to take 10 days holiday and thus we were on the way to Zollikofen. First, however, we had to travel to Darmstadt to register as citizens of the Bundesrepublik Germany - but we were citizens of the GDR! What a detour! The Swiss authorities would have denied us entry to their country if we had travelled on a GDR passport. To our amazement everything happened without problems. Within 30 minutes I had become a citizen of another state! The basic law in Western Germany had insisted that the GDR people were also part of them. Sitting in the police station I had a good look around. On one of the billboards were pictures of wanted murderers. I counted them - there were 18 dangerous criminals, and I thought, “Dear heaven! What kind of a world is this? There are 3 or 10 times as many crimes, and some unnamed. Whatever will the future hold? The cities will keep increasing in size.” I recalled that Joseph Smith had said” that no city should be greater than 20 or 25 thousand people. Any more than that it would be better to build a new city. If people were pushed closer and closer together, it would bring problems. “
As we prepared ourselves for our journey the caretaker of the Darmstadt meeting house handed me a letter, written by Walter Roloff, Erika’s dear friend. They had grown up in the same building, in Neubrandenburg. It was Walter, who had served in the Bishopric in Darmstadt and later many years as bishop in Bountiful. Erika had been converted to the gospel and he baptized her in 1950. The letter stated: “Dear Erika, dear Gerd. The man who brings this letter to you has accepted a new place of employment. His position is open for you to take. You would have living quarters and livelihood for a year. Meantime we will see to all your paperwork in regards to your immigration to the States.” All that sounded so good. I felt like shouting, “Yes, yes!” The thought of living in the USA, being free in Zion, sounded like a message from heaven. Erika’s feelings to resist such an invitation were stronger than mine. And so we travelled towards the south, knowing that in 8 more days we would return to the unloved regions of the GDR.
We arrived at the Swiss Temple at midnight. Huge spotlights lit up the white building, which we had so often admired on postcards. In all its simplicity it left an everlasting impression upon our minds. Two sections of different sizes were placed on top of each other to form the main building. Spread in front of it was a variety of beautiful flowers, shrubs and trees, all set in huge areas of well-nourished lawn. In daylight I noticed how shapes and colors were woven into a harmonious scene. The mountains were hidden from view, as it had started to rain. I entered the temple like an illiterate person enters school. The interior of the entrance hall looked like the reception lobby at a luxury hotel. Beautiful flowers, thick, large, light-colored carpets stretched throughout most of the premises. All the friendly, white-clothed temple workers left a deep, peaceful impression upon us. Nothing escaped my attention...
As we left the endowment room I was perplexed. There was so much I could not understand. The Celestial Room was very elegant. I had never before seen anything as stunning. I asked myself, “How can I receive more knowledge?” The rituals gave Erika and me many questions to think about. As we are not permitted to relate such sacred experiences, it is necessary for everyone to gain their own understanding. Once more I was made aware of the grandeur of our Father’s Plan of Salvation - That our spirits were sent to gain wisdom, in order to return to him. We, the partakers of the holy Endowment, should never, under any circumstance, break our pledge to live the law of chastity. Some outsiders who cannot accept the fact that members will not talk about their experiences in the House of the Lord, and that we will not speak of the promises which we make, get the erroneous idea that it is all unholy.
A young man requested that I accompany a brother to change his Temple clothing.” Later I could see the reason for his request. As I led this elderly man he began to cry. When I asked him if he was feeling ill, he answered: “On the contrary. For the past 19 years I have looked into a deep, black ravine, but today, whilst in the Endowment session I beheld a picture in the most glowing colors.” As we left the temple in the afternoon the sun painted a most magical panorama of the Berner Alps to our left.
On our homeward train journey for a few seconds we could see the white gold outlines of the temple waving us goodbye. Twenty hours later we entered the reality of the GDR once again.
Shortly after coming home I wrote a poem against my unbalanced feelings caused by the ways of the world. Horst Blume, the leader of the Working Group read it and commended it. He said that it reminded him of Uhlands works and old German poets. We were on our way home, when suddenly he said: But we need poetry for the new era - we need singers to praise communism.” “Yes!” I thought, “I have heard about your own past. You were a great Nazi and now you are eager to become a great communist! Your friend told me, who you are. While you where intoxicated the real truth came out and you praised the Nazis.” I could not keep myself from asking him: “Horst, are you convinced that this kind of socialism is the correct way… are we on a sure course?” His word came as though fired from a gun: “Absolutely!” leaving me stunned, that someone who appeared to be so smart could be so shallow-minded. Openly I declared: “As long as we are humans, there is no certainty!” Then I added “I think I have good reasons to believe in God So beautiful this temple is, so great are the teachings of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints.
Back from Zollikofen, my Father Wilhelm Skibbe, left, in discussion with Brother Bruno Roloff (Father of Walter Rohloff), speaking about the beautiful book, Jesus the Christ by Talmage.
But I would not be truthful if I insisted that my convictions are ‘absolute’.” He looked at me somewhat vexed. I guess he could sense the criticism with which I responded, and he must have been aware that I could not be driven by his whims. Disgruntled, he must have considered the options of perhaps just dismissing me from my duties at the group. I was soon to learn that he had already prepared for this event. At the very next discussion, held at the ‘Volkshaus’ in Neubrandenburg, I could feel the animosity that radiated from Horst Blume. As he closed the meeting he added, “The Board has decided to divide our members into 2 groups, namely beginners and advanced. After all the names – about 25 – had been called, I knew that I had been expelled from both. “Well!” Horst added, looking at me, “You’re surprised that we have excluded you? We’re tired of constantly having to argue with your ideas.” Yes, I was prepared, nevertheless I felt disappointed at the boldness with which they condemned me. After all I had been invited by them. They not only teased me, they placed the branding irons on my back, pronouncing me unworthy to be in their company.
That was hard for me to swallow, but something that would repeat itself many times throughout my life. Later on an evangelical priests told me: “We do not wish to talk with a Mormon.” Was what I talked about too primitive, or was it the truth they needed to avoid? Was all that I conveyed just idle talk? Or was I was unworthy? In the very hour these authors of the future opened a door for me to express my concerns they dismissed me. I guess I must have suffered from a shock, because my tongue and my thoughts, did not cooperate, I should have told them in no uncertain dialogue, that the reason all 25 of them could not practice the necessary level of tolerance towards me was because their arguments stood on such a weak foundation. My discussion made it difficult to hide their self-deception. In vain I tried to find suitable words. Ten minutes later I found myself in the street. On my way home I saw the red posters: “The victory of communism is sure.” I read it, knowing exactly that the opposite was true.
In 1957 all my colleagues and I felt pursued by bad luck. It was our most unsuccessful year ever. Burdened by the struggle to survive, it became necessary to reduce our workforce. In October we were left without options. Our bookkeeper had no idea where to glean even the smallest of wages for us. Normally the funds to see us through the winter months were laid in reserve at the local bank. The decision regarding who would have to join the ranks of the unemployed lay on the shoulders of our leaders. It hit 4 of the oldest members in our troop. Innocently they protested that some of their comrades had been drinking all day, refusing to go out to fish. They blamed the cursed alcohol, excepting their bitter fate with gritted teeth, as they were blamed for others’ bad habits. The injustice of it all worked on Mr. Hermann Goeck’s conscience. In the meantime he had risen to be the honored member of the Tollense Fisherman Association. All his anger, and his ranting, “That in a socialist state there cannot be any dismissals of innocent workers,” could not save them. My offer to take on the leadership role in the Association found clear refusal but still I pledged myself to do my best. One thing I had realized from the beginning was that their excessive drinking was only 1 of 3 big problems. Our fishing nets were in poor condition, our fishing boats were not much better, and no one had ever bothered to calculate the amount of fish we needed to catch to earn a reasonable wage. So I started to record our daily hauls. One autumn day I looked over our efforts and discovered that we would soon be out of a job. It was of the utmost importance for us to achieve far greater results, before the season of strong winds arrived. That year they came early – oh, boy, how they blew! Without mercy the winds hit the lake from the southwest, week after week. The men pacified their worries with alcohol. I lay awake, night after endless night, trying to find a solution to our dilemma. Suddenly an idea entered into my head. Our huge hauling net could not be transported because of the storm conditions of the lake. But somehow such a maneuver should be possible. “Gerd! You have to tie the unsafe, rotten boats one behind another, not next one to another as you usually do. Otherwise the meter high waves could sink them by crushing them together - the nets and maybe the crew.”
As my boss witnessed what I did whilst still in the harbor, he became very anxious and yelled at me: “Gerd Skibbe, by any chance are you thinking of drowning the whole flotilla?”
1957: rotten wooden boats and nets. I am on the fare left
Picture from Neubrandenburger Zeitung, 11 March 1999
I was aware that the old motorboat could, at anytime, surrender its usefulness. This time, however, how I wished that it would not let us down. The 2 boats that transported the net were also in dismal condition. On top of that we had to take along a dinghy. “We are ready to leave,” I told the boss. He stood, drawing the thick smoke of his cigarillo into his weak lungs (as a prisoner of war in Russia he had exchanged his little bit of bread for tobacco), had one of his coughing attacks, then said: “I’m the boss here and you’re going nowhere!” His grey eyes lit up. But I insisted: “I will go!” He was a little man, even shorter than myself, but to make up for it he was twice as broad as I. My 4 comrades had all come out of the old boathouse. I had done my utmost to persuade them that I had thought everything through and that everything would be OK. Yes, among all those men I was the youngest, and, concerned about their survival, they had placed their trust in me. In any case they had their portions of soul medication and drunkenness allotted them - the courage to be fearless for action. The situation was simple: No fish, no money, troubled wives and children and no Vodka The huge pyramid poplars bent low in the fierce wind. The men untied the holding lines from the pier. In a final gesture our chairman lifted his index finger: “It’s my duty to remind you that I will hold you responsible. You will repay every penny should you destroy these boats!” He knew that it was not his place to stop us going out to work. My driver, Kurt, who had survived many life-threatening events throughout the last war, smiled and commented: “Let’s go!” No sooner had we left the harbor than the waves lifted our boats. Our motorboat slowly pulled forwards directly against the onslaught of the waves. I had left 5 meters of slack rope between the boats. Observing it all, it looked as though the 4 skiffs were performing a dance on the crest of the waves. After the first kilometer, we were happy to find that the waves became longer. We knew that soon 25 to 30 meters of water would be below us. I looked through the little window at the rear of the tugboat. Everything was fine. The 5 meters of line between the boats had done their task – there had been no hard jerks. It had a calming effect on me. The 10-kilometre stretch took us a full 2 hours. When we arrived at the opposite end of the Tollense Lake, the waters were calm. The huge poplar trees granted us the protection we needed to spread out our nets, at a distance of 400 meters from land. Two motor wings unrolled the steel-wire rope, which pulled our 2x300 meter broad nets. They were spread to the left and to the right, at a speed of 500 meters per hour. Approaching the shallow waters near the shore, we began to pull our net into the skiffs. Oh, what a surprise, what happiness! On the very top we could see huge pikes, perches and red-eyes. It started to get dark as we discovered that instead of the hoped-for 500 kilograms we had caught 10 times that amount. Many friendly slaps found their way onto my shoulder.
Without any problems we started our journey back home, leaving the dinghy and the skiffs tied securely on the wind-sheltered shore. In the darkness I could make out the light in the boathouse. No sooner had we arrived at the pier than our boss stormed out, as always, sucking on his cigarillo. When he found 3 of the boats missing, he bellowed: “Where are the skiffs?” His voice could not hide the fear he had endured throughout the day. I calmed him down by saying: “Wilhelm, all is well. We left the boats on the far side of the lake – it’s still too windy here.” Again he drew deeply on his cigarillo and almost burnt his finger. Just by looking at the closed belly of the motorboat he could not guess its contents, nor estimate the treasure held within the loading vaults. Wilhelm looked at me and I never uttered a word. All the men remained silent. He jumped carefully from the pier onto the deck and lifted the lid of the first fish container. It was filled to overflowing. In total shock he literally froze, because the biggest, strongest fish will always fight to escape and thus work their way to the top. Wilhelm swallowed hard, and immediately lifted the next lid and had the same shock. His hand shot to his throat, and then he opened the last: “Five tons!” He purred like a happy cat even though he felt a little embarrassed: “Five tons,” he reassured himself and us. Yes, there where exactly 5 tons of fish - most of them excellent quality. Wilhelm disappeared into the night, whilst we were kept busy unloading and sorting our harvest for long hours, putting them into wooden chests, and covering them with ice for shipment. That miracle repeated itself once in every forthcoming week throughout that wind-blown autumn. That 30-ton catch secured our existence, and I felt like sitting on top of the rainbow. We all longed to escape our circle of poverty. We wished to have some furniture, or perhaps a new bike, clothing and shoes for our families. Happiest of all was our bookkeeper, Mr. Voss - he had expected the worst. As the storms finally ceased raging, we still made excellent hauls. I thanked my God on bended knee for all of his blessings. Following that event no one would ever bother me again in regards to my religion.
In the spring of 1959
there were repeated dialogues similar to the ones held with “old” communist, Ernst Kay. Ernst belonged to the security personnel of the tank repair division in Neubrandenburg (which comprised nearly 2000 employees). Because of his experience and many years of membership in the communist party, he had become a member of the board of directors. As such he had the knowledge of an insider. One of his tasks was to accompany us whilst we fished in protected waters. On one particular morning I brought the newspaper, Neues Deutschland on board. The main headlines printed in red stated: “Nikita Sergejewitch Khrushchev: For a World without Weapons” I showed it to Ernst. His long tired, wrinkled face took one side ward’s glance towards the huge, party-formatted newspaper. Then with his even, matter-of-fact voice, he uttered: “He lies!” Ernst grinned at my surprise, then added: “For none of the Kremlin chiefs, including all of their counselors from Lenin to Trotsky, from Stalin to Tuchatschewskij, not to mention other Soviet leaders - even Khrushchev - have ever before concentrated on building up their military forces as much as they are now.” Every word of the almost 60 year-old with his hoarse voice and his pleasant manner entered deep into my consciousness. All he had said came to an abrupt end, including replies to my questions. Changing the subject, he confessed: “You know, women and the military - I don’t care for them!” Then he helped himself to a drink, which looked like water. Saddened, he glanced at the remainder of the contents in the small bottle; put it back inside the inner pocket of his coat whence he had retrieved it. Looking at me as though surely he knew it all, he commented: “The most important activity these days is to take my soul medication at regular intervals.”
I decided to let go of my illusions of writing about the anger and pain felt by millions of people - their sufferings and humiliation would have to be told in another, perhaps much better world.
One evening my wife told me: “I would like to have another child!” I was totally surprised, unable to comprehend her request. “Yes,” said Erika, “After our return from the temple I feel really well.” I learned that my mother, Julianne, had written Erika’s name on the temple prayer roll.…
On the 29th November 1959 Erika gave birth without problems to our second son, Matthias. Two years prior to this event I had seen the embryo of a miscarriage, which had caused me much distress. Three months before Matthias’ birth whilst the nets were being pulled from the depths of the lake, on a most beautiful starlit night, I raised my voice on high, pledging to do my utmost to prepare this child to be a worthy servant of God. The spirit entered my heart, reassuring me: “You will have a healthy child.” And it came to pass.
Every year my family would go on a 2-week holiday to Wolgast with my parents.
Time moved on, and still I tried to reach other souls through open discussion, always finding it a stifling paradox that so few would be moved to join The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Kurt Meyer and I worked very well together, as district missionaries. Responding to a referral, we visited a lady who was a member of the Seventh Day Adventists. She was happy to talk with us, but after 30 minutes she said, “Gentlemen, you must go immediately, please. I have forgotten that my son is coming to visit me. He hates all preachers. He’s a propaganda chief in the SED.” My first thought was: “Stay! Whatever happens, stay here.” So we did. Her son came in, a tall man with an intelligent expression on his face. He looked at us a little critically, but to my mind came the idea to speak to him about the models in his father’s showcase, in which there were all kinds of destroyers, battleships and other ships. I asked the good-looking male, “Why do you still have all these warships? Doesn’t your party advocate peace?” Following a long discussion, he asked us a lot of questions about Mormonism. After 3 hours he requested: “Friends, please do not leave - take the next train.” We spoke for 5 hours about the restored gospel. Then he, the head of the Potsdam Agitators, summing up the situation, said: “Why is it that you Mormons have so little success?” Kurt looked at me and questioned him: “And, what about yourself, sir, would you become a member of our Church?”
“I consider my profession to be a huge obstacle!”
“Yes,” I said, “I see, but I’m happy in feeling that you can understand what our mission is.” He nodded in a friendly way. I had heard it many times. My friend, the evangelical pastor in Sternberg, Mr. Schlettwein, had said the same thing.
Kurt and I helped 4 people to find their way into the Church. In spite of everything, between the years 1960 to 1980 there were 40 to 50 new converts every year in the Dresden Mission. My friend, Gerwin Baasch, and his coworker, Herbert Heidler, earned themselves the honor of being the most successful district missionaries by adding more than 15 souls to Heavenly Father’s kingdom. Often we felt the power of the Holy Spirit, but every time it was the same: “Yes, Joseph Smith is the prophet of God!” But we, the children of today, are beings of circumstances.
Professor Beier-Red, a down-to-earth communist, scribbled a drawing. The most critical observers of Soviet politics could not have displayed the power of the Kremlin in a more apt way. The drawing showed a young Soviet soldier sitting on the North Pole with flag in hand. The shaft of the flag had been securely driven into the stomach of Mother Earth, the bright red hammer and sickle flag fluttering in the wind. With a grin on his face the Soviet defender claimed the right to govern the whole world. Meanwhile, Uncle Sam stood nearby, scratching his head. His position in regards to the earth, had been rendered questionable by the young Russian soldier’s impudent victory. Soviet Russia would do anything to see the Yankee go under and vanish. The size of the globe sketched by Beier-Red clearly allowed only one seat for world power. The Americans had been advised to vacate the globe. A little later came the announcement by Khrushchev himself that Russia was in possession of a 20-mega ton hydrogen bomb. Reporters asked him: “What’s the purpose of this monster?” And the Kremlin boss gave the cool answer: “America!” We were shocked: “This is crazy!”
Besides my duties at work I turned my attention to the tasks required of me at Church. In 1960 spring brought with it an unusual flair for socialism. Ulbricht’s party comrades infiltrated the whole country in hordes to convince both the old and the young farmers by tricks, and force them to register in the Agrarian Production Associations (LPG). Even before they started, the party leaders had planned a 90% success rate. The loudspeakers blared their propaganda at full volume and at all hours throughout the villages: speeches of unity, prosperity and the great cause of socialism. The farmers, in spite of having received it in writing, were informed that their land would be taken from them and owned by the State. Ulbricht needed the full success of this kind of socialism and he obtained what he wanted. Many rebelled against such a move, but the answer of their party leaders was brief: “We, as a state, have new needs.” It’s sad to think that so great a request to move a nation had to be forced through such brutality. Still, the most calculated mathematics must conclude that forced happiness must cause an alarming rate of breakages. The amount of families leaving the GDR shot to unexpected numbers. Every day until the 13th of August, 10,000 to 14,000 people, not soulless robots, just packed their belongings, left everything behind, and moved to the West via West Berlin. That really hurt the SED, not to mention the economic tension that followed. Once again Walter Ulbricht lied. A week before the Wall was erected he promised: “No one wants a wall!” Well, had he told the bitter truth - that he would build a wall - half the population of the GDR would have left. As things stood there was no time to lose. Sandbags, cement blocks and barbed wire had to be put in place to keep the population in. Something needed to be done in a great hurry to stop this mass exodus. Often I caught myself balancing the options of the cons and pros. I too longed for opportunities to improve my prospects - the kind of freedom the West would permit - or at least as it played on the strings of our fantasies. Had it not been for my duties within the Church, I too would have taken my family and left.
On the 13th of August the GDR media announced:
“The borders are now closed!” It was too late to flee! Not only did I feel as though a massive trap door had closed above my head, but my soul also cried out: “Now you truly are a prisoner.” It took many weeks before I regained my balance. Autumn came and I comforted myself by thinking: “No one has robbed you of your family. Live for them - for your wife and your children, for your parents and friends, for your God and your church. These are the true blessings you own - don’t worry about the rest.” With these thoughts in mind we all withdrew into our own circle: the livable space, our comfort zone. Erika would often recite an old song: “In your thoughts you are free. For none may perceive them. Do all you can with the possibilities that are open.”
Among all the sadness there came a wonderful highlight in my fisherman’s career. The situation reminded me of the story told in Matthew when Jesus tells Peter to go out once more. He did, and so did I. Rich was the harvest brought in by the fleet.
Years later: all is better and new:
Many times we caught 3000 kg at once of this delicious kind of trouts (Coregonus alba). Me on the left.
In the years that followed, changes were gradually made in our fishing association. We progressed positively, and so did I, gaining extra schooling by attending Hubertushöohe, where I obtained my leaving certificate. Subsequently I passed my Engineering exam (breeding and rearing fish - Aufzucht von Fischbrütlingen)
Several times a year we would travel to Leipzig to be instructed by our local Church leaders, as well as meeting visiting priesthood leaders from Salt Lake City. Our government distrusted the Americans and often sent special agents to listen and observe us. They never found any fault with us: “These Mormons, well, they do not love the GDR, but they are faithful citizens.”
In 1962 Theodore Burton rendered a brilliant speech on the policy of Adoption into the Church (taking his ideas from scriptures found in John 1:12 and Mosiah 5:7 and correlating them with The Pearl of Great Price Moses 6:59-63). He related the process by which we become the children of Christ in our second estate. I felt as though scales had fallen from my eyes. Such teachings were not taught in any other church, but are close to our hearts. We felt the truth: our Almighty God loves us - he really is our Father in Heaven, far beyond this material world.
In 1962, we heard the words of German Titow (the second astronaut in Russia), who orbited the earth in a space shuttle. After his return he said, “I was in the heavens, but I have not seen God!”
a well known co-worker in the district division of the homicide squad, was a keen hobby-fisher and loved to accompany us on our fishing trips as often as time would permit. Looking back on it all, I wish he and I had never met. After we had gained trust in one another, he would often talk about the events that took place in his employment. I opened up to share my feelings on why I became a fisherman on the Tollense. Against my better judgment, I told him one of the running political jokes, which in those days traveled like wild fire. Unfortunately Jochen repeated them in a most inappropriate setting. As an officer candidate at the police school in Gera, it would have been wise for him to keep his mouth shut. One joke posed the fun question: “What is the difference between Walter Ulbricht and a rocket?” The reply was: “None, both are remote-controlled by Moscow.” Forty officer candidates listened to it, whilst working in one of the LPG fields, helping the local farmers to thin out sugar beet seedlings. Everyone burst out laughing, and gave the matter no further thought. After all, we had heard worse jokes than that one: “When asked who were his favorite composers, Khrushchev answered: Liszt, Haendel and Grieg.” (Krieg) which means: “Tricks, Quarrel and War.” One of the students reported Jochen and he was summoned to appear before the officer on duty. The latter counseled him sharply: “Comrade Appel, as a future officer of the People’s Police Force we expect your undivided loyalty to our cause, to the affairs of the working class and the farmers of our nation. I want you to tell me immediately the name of the person spreading such nonsense!” Jochen’s efforts to push the blame on some unknown person failed miserably - his eyes revealed that he was lying. Had he revealed my name, the inquisition would have ended there and then. Jochen could see the consequences of his revealing my name. For several minutes he wavered and fluctuated. After all, his entire future was at risk. But so was mine and that of my family. Five Years of penitentiary was the punishment for defaming the government. Would Erika or I ever have come to terms with it? He, on the contrary, would have been instantly rewarded for his loyalty. He would have been promoted to a higher position for having laid the name of an enemy of the State out in the open. I lived in false security. Some days later he told me all that had happened to him. My heart missed a beat. In his broad Mecklenburg slang he calmed my fears by saying: “Jung, ick kuenn di nich verroden!” (“Don’t worry, I could never betray you”) He said that throughout the interrogation he could see me, sitting at the end of the boat reading my Bible. Maybe, he saw a vision. I don’t know. The truth is, whilst travelling to and fro I preferred to read the works of Leon Feuchtwanger. But Jochen exclaimed, “Gerd, I just could not do it!” My heart would not permit it.
They ruthlessly tore Jochen from his bed in the middle of the night; they expelled him from school, and branded him a traitor. In hindsight I can’t help but wonder what his thoughts were, every time he returned home. His future with many financial advantages close enough to grasp, just melted like ice before the noonday sun. Suspicion was so great and bitterness so rife that this crazy story could never have a happy ending. I, however, felt the deepest gratitude. Many people would have been affected had a trial been conducted against me. The people responsible for me knew how close to one another the members of the Church stood. I remember one of the Stasi officers started to talk of things he knew because he had secretly read letters. It caused me to be even more aware of my surroundings. For the year that followed, every sentence coming from my pen was weighed most carefully. All the lives of this country’s citizens, especially people who still attended a church, were on the open stage. This constant position under the lamplight would have a positive outcome for the Church in the GDR some 10 years later. Years after the fall of the wall in Berlin (1989) I found out the truth: they had interrogated Jochen for 1 month. I, in my naivety had no idea whatsoever that they had tortured him constantly until he could take it anymore and drowned himself… when all he had to do was mention my name. Time and time again I find myself by his graveside in Carlshoehe, above which falls the shadow of a white birch tree. “I’m so sorry, Jochen. God will surely bless you.”
Having successfully completed intensive courses related to fishing, I was offered the job of Association director, by Hermann Goeck. Of course I would have to become a member of his party first. I declined the offer and Erika was happy. We took a train to the zoo (Tierpark) in Berlin, where we walked and talked, enjoyed the beauty of nature, and the laughter of the children. There was so much to be grateful for. We agreed that even without success or fame, as long as we had each other and the teachings of the gospel we could be happy.
After having served in many Church positions, in January 1965 I was called as district president of Mecklenburg. There were only 300 registered members in the whole northern area of the GDR. They were divided into 6 little branches.
At that time my father served as branch president in Wolgast. Never having come to terms with childhood experiences, or his stay in the prison camp, he suffered bouts of deep depression and ended his own life in November of the same year. A psychiatrist could have helped him by prescribing medication, which he most vigorous denied himself. In the end there was only me - no one else knew the reason for his sufferings, which were caused by one fixed idea that was always present to destroy him. However, I realized this only after he had passed on. I quarreled with myself and with God. Surely it should not have come to this. Oh, had I traveled to Wolgast more often to visit him, had I taken a holiday, had I talked more, had I…., had I…. Often I had been able to tear him from his concerns. Often the walks and the talks in the Park had dismissed his fears. My conclusion that he no longer needed my help had caused this preventable accident.
Laden with the burden of my father’s passing, I attended my evening classes to prepare myself for college. I found it difficult to concentrate as my thoughts often wandered off in different directions. In front of me sat a young sergeant. He came from a Methodist home. “Don’t tell anyone,” he said. I could not understand his shame. It downright irritated me that someone so tall, so intelligent would shirk every time the conversation as much as came close to the subject of religion. I concluded that at the very next opportune time (or inopportune time) I would start a discussion on the subject of the justification of faith in God. Faster than I could think the spark had developed into a raging fire. Our Physics lecturer, Mr. Lasse, jumped on the provocative question: ‘Is it a crime to educate our children in the matter of religion?’ “Of course, it is a crime!” he bellowed. “Good,” I thought, “he is already caught in the spider’s web.” The students who had long served in the NVA (People’s National Army) and sat in their officers’ uniforms, turned around, piercing me with their glances. Well, I just reminded them that Walter Ulbricht, their highest boss, encouraged us all to exchange our point of views. As there was not too much concern that our lesson time, and therefore our personal study time, would be shortened, the following 2 hours passed like a hot desert wind, ruffling the brains of the 25 people in that room. I just wanted to find out if I could trust my own logic. Moreover, I wished to show that young Methodist that his beliefs (well, at least the foundation of them) were in order. The attacks of Captain Honolka, my most outspoken rival, were far more severe than I had experienced in the past. After I had explained to him that I was a Mormon, he immediately came to the point. In a sharp tone he said: “Ah, yes. That sect from the USA.” Then he added: “And what does your church say about the terrible war in Vietnam?” America had just begun to increase the number of troops deployed, and had also started air strikes against North Vietnam. Eyes filled with hatred turned on me. For the first time in history the communists, and everyone of like conviction, had a valid reason to complain against exploitations by the imperialist USA. Strange as it all may seem I never lost my composure. I knew exactly what I needed to answer: Joseph Smith had told us, that Mormonism is the tool by which the world shall be united, that all of mankind should be friends and brothers. In our priesthood classes we had just discussed the Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith. I remembered the words Moroni had told his enemy, Zerahemnah:
“We do not desire to be men of blood, Ye know that ye are in our hands yet we do not desire to slay you... we have not come out to battle against you that we might shed your blood for power; neither do we desire to bring any one to the yoke of bondage. But this is the very cause for which ye have come against us; yea and ye are angry with us because of our religion.” Alma 44:2-3
“My religion wishes that all nations, and that each individual should have the right to choose his own beliefs. In The Book of Mormon it is called the Title of Liberty.” I recalled telling them: “My Church teaches implicitly that no one has the right to enslave another person.” And whilst my critics could have easily taken that as negative and offensive, somehow the mood turned into a mixture of warmth and goodwill. But, inevitably the following question came up: “You refuse the Theory of Evolution?” Captain Honolka insisted that the teaching of Evolution had long taken the guesswork out of such ideas as the belief in God. Every effort to defend such views was totally futile. It was just as well that I had recently read the work of Catholic scientist, Freiherr von Huene, entitled Phylogeny der niederen Tetrapoden. My brother, Helmut, had recommended it to me. The contents of that book furnished me with the necessary ammunition to defend my stance.
Freiherr von Huene explained that from the beginning of earthly time it was the aim of Gods to create a human body from the lowest forms of life. In his book, Freiherr von Huene displayed a number of skulls from the Saurians, and said, “Here you see primeval man, the physical building blocks of our body, making it perfectly clear that all the changes were part of God’s plan…”
Shortly before that I had read Joseph Fielding Smith’s Doctrines of Salvation, especially his explanation about the fall of Adam. To my mind came President Smith words: “Evolutionists ridicule God and religion. Now my good brethren and sisters, this damnable doctrine that is so prevalent in the world today, that is taught in the colleges throughout the country and has swept over the face of the earth like a destructive flood of evil, is striking at the fundamentals of your faith…” After reading this I lay without sleep and with wide-open eyes I asked God what I should do and believe. Suddenly there was a beautiful light and an inner voice telling me, that Joseph Fielding Smith was the prophet of God… I could understand that he was right, “For man is spirit!” D&C 93:33.
“We are not the product of Evolution. We are spirits in a fallen world, living in a tent, a temple, a house – as part of this world.”
The Captain turned towards me, deep wrinkles furrowing his brow. I could tell he was impressed. I asked the question: “Who tells us that we are the only intelligent beings of the universe? In my church we are taught that in far off galaxies there are many inhabited planets.”
Honolka shot from his seat. “No! No! This is your personal interpretation!” But I could prove that it was part of our scriptures (The Pearl of Great Price, Moses 1:35), and I added: “We believe that everything is planned to allow an eternal progression for all creation.” Luckily for me, an astrophysicist had recently released an article in the Party press about the possibility of receiving messages from outer space.
It became the next signpost to direct their view to the fact that science-founded atheism was really only 100 years old, a man-made idea. “Isn’t this evident by the way the idea is upheld? Can’t we see how easily most people will follow it? People don’t have to push themselves. Yet everyone knows that progress to go forward and upwards is only achieved by exerting our efforts and our strength.” This sentence held the approval of all, and slowly we closed the gap that had existed between us. They could see that together we believed it right to do good, that it took effort to achieve a higher grade of freedom and unity. We were on the path leading to a field of open discussions on many more subjects, which they agreed to. Suddenly there was a change from opposing to agreeing opinions that had turned 2 hours into moments.
The summary of the discussion was given by Physics teacher, Mr. Lasse from Neubrandenburg: “Comrades I had no idea that there is such a positive religion.” Calmly he declared: “I cannot find any fault with it. Do any of you have a different opinion?”
Again and again throughout the following years, tens of years later, old classmates would stop me in the street, telling me that they had never forgotten that day. I guess, it means they have never forgotten the hours where the Spirit of God touched their immortal souls. But it was the ex-catholic, Captain Honolka, who came to sit next to me at the close of the lecture. Tall and brisk he towered over me, and placing his hand on my knee, he laughed and said: “You know, Gerd, all you said was kind of crazy, to insist that God the Father is the God of Evolution - no one has ever told me that before. Even I can live with the things you have said this evening.” His young, yet wrinkled face shall always remain a treasured memory. Lost in my thoughts I wandered back home on that late November night: “Dear God, had I claimed too much?” Reassuringly the words found in the Gospel of John 1:1-3 flowed from my lips: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. The same was in the beginning with God. All things were made by him; and without him was not anything made that was made.” The stars above glistened, and in gratitude and praise, I lifted my head, even though a deep sorrow filled my heart because of the untimely death of my father. In spite of it all, I felt that I would see him again and that all would be well. I had always been close to him. I loved the teachings he had so freely imparted to me - teachings that rendered my soul free.
Several weeks later Fritz Biederstaedt, one of my fishing mates who was some 25 years my senior and enemy of the communist regimes, divulged his plan that he was going to join the SED - because he was determined to be somebody, and had many plans for the next 20 years of his life. He stated that there were good years before him. He just simply combined the one with the other. Not that his inner views had changed. He disliked all that political jargon - how often had he complained about Ulbricht and his iceberg politics - but he insisted, “This very evening Mrs. Helene Goeck will throw her arms around me to welcome me into the Party.” I tried to bring him to his senses: “Fritz, you cannot do this!” I argued.
“Yes, I can!” he answered, “If you want to get somewhere in life you have to do it.” So I questioned the 60-year old. “What in the world is it you want to be? Can a man be more than a man, especially if he has kept his honor - if he has lived for the truth?” Fritz tightened his grasp on the handle of the sickle with which he cut the tough stalks of the reeds, which grew in such abundance in our meadows. His high boots splashed in the black swamp. He came closer, his brown eyes sparkling with the expression of someone who was on the point of cutting down everything and everyone who dared to stand in his way. I shall not forget that moment, standing face to face in an ocean of countless reeds, surrounding us like walls, silently asking the most unlikely questions of each other. The blue sky above was the only witness. Breaking out in a grin Fritz said: “Surely you’re not so silly as to misunderstand me?” His big eyes looked peaceful, expressing a mixture of savvy, bitter experiences, mockery and youthful ‘what-do-I-care’, which had always been part of his character. Neither one of us saw it, the ghost, the angel of death which already stood behind him. How could we possibly know that for him life had reserved only 146 more days?
To learn more
Later on many of my fellow students admitted that they had joined the Party only because of the advantages it offered to further their standard of living.
All hearts, even the old ones, rejoiced over the fact that Alexander Dubcek was able to open the borders between Czechoslovakia and Austria. Excited, we followed the process of democratization in Czechoslovakia. In the summer of 1968 many of the citizens from neighboring communist countries sent a manifesto in favor of the reconstitution of the committee. They demanded human rights in the CSSR. Slowly Charta 77 moved into everyone’s consciousness. With undivided approval and surprise we followed the development of the fulfillment of their demand at our own front doors. For many people in the GDR also longed for more freedom. Was this model of socialism, which played such fantasies before our eyes, which sounded like sweet music in our ears, acceptable? Could this endless dark night be followed by the radiance of a sunny day? Would borders be opened? Would we be able to travel wherever we wanted to? Would we be able to speak, to write the thoughts of our hearts without harassment, without the fear of death? Many who had lost all their hope, once again lifted their weary heads.
To this very day we shall never know how many of the communist party members really wished to engage in military intervention - perhaps only a few. The main leaders for the work force in the large cities of Moscow, Sofia and Berlin were always the extremists. They were looking for a reason to push the lever of destruction. The military forces would execute their orders, even as the Jesuits of old obeyed their generals - even when white was undeniably black. It was the message with which their officers and soldiers were indoctrinated: never question the decisions of the Party. Then the heads of the Kremlin thought of a saving idea: They needed an invitation from Prague
From thought to deed: the Kremlin, knowing that they could count on some loyal supporters, issued a statement - a call for help for international support against the ‘Counterrevolution’. They found 2 percent of extreme loyalists to play their game. Of 5000 workers at the SKODA factory they found 97 people who agreed to sign a petition warranting Russian involvement, to calm down the movement for democracy and freedom. Still, 2 percent would be sufficient to drag the devil from hell and place him on the throne, even though the Czechoslovakian parliament announced to Moscow and the world that they were able to manage their own internal affairs. But the communist power players prepared all their military might to intervene. Whilst the reformers in Prague promised a peaceful solution, the aggressors moved their air force to the Prague Airport. On the night of the 20th to the 21rst of August 1968, they gained access by trickery. At the head of the parade 2 flying radar stations, which entered the Prague airspace, stated that they had motor failure and asked for permission to land. Then the aggressors were able to lead the remainder of their fleet, without any help from a landing tower, to overrun the city.
The 7tharmoured division and 11th motorized infantry division of the GDR Army (NVA) stood prepared for this peaceful uprising 3 months prior to the event. The border troops were moved into position in the Ore Mountains (Erzgebirge). For this reason the political leaders of the Dresden Area informed our mission president, Henry Burkhardt, to cancel the imminent youth convention in the Ore Mountains near the Czechoslovakian border. In blind obedience 10,000 elite trained Russian; Bulgarian and Hungarian soldiers were moved into the land and the city of Prague. Their goal was the elimination of the only reformed communist government in the world, a government that had been voted in by the people of Czechoslovakia. Radio Prague sent out their news in which we all - and I believe 100 percent GDR citizens – took part with much fear in our hearts for our neighbors.
The final words of the female newsreader that day were: “They are coming!” Those words left us breathless and filled with sorrow. “They had stormed the Radio station.” Tanks rolled through the streets, mowing down innocent people, in summary, 98 people. That was the straw that broke the camel’s back. People who had longed for freedom and fairness would never be able to reconcile themselves to such treatment.
I could never understand that, even after all that had occurred, there were still human beings of my generation who chose to become members of the communist party. One can only assume that it is easier to push the existence of evil aside, than to actively labor to overcome it. At times we live as though we are flies, alive for only a day.
The members of the Church knew all the more that the teachings of our Church were true. It is never good to oppress any person, not to mention a whole nation. We showed one another the scripture in 2 Nephi 24:12 –17:
“How art thou fallen from heaven, O Lucifer, son of the morning! Art thou cut down to the ground, which did weaken the nations! For thou hast said in thy heart: I will ascend into heaven, I will exalt my throne above the stars of God; I will sit also upon the mount of the congregation, in the sides of the north; I will ascend above the heights of the clouds, I will be like the Most High. Yet thou shalt be brought down to hell, to the sides of the pit. They that see thee shall narrowly look upon thee, and shall consider thee, and shall say: Is this the man that made the earth to tremble, that did shake kingdoms? And made the world as a wilderness, and destroyed the cities thereof, and opened not the house of his prisoners?”
Whilst the Russians celebrated their victory over democracy, I was astonished by the negative effects it had upon my own soul. For I thought that as long as I partook of the sweet fruits of the gospel I would be invulnerable to the power of forceful feelings of hatred. Didn’t I know the teachings of Jesus? Still my anger over our helplessness against such aggressions would daily sink my soul into a bottomless chasm of pain.
The following spring it was time for me to learn yet another lesson in life.
The insanity of my father reached out to overpower me. In any case after having had those negative experiences the fear of perhaps not being sufficiently strong, the fear of being a failure pressed down my whole being. For wherever I turned it seemed that my life was doomed by a series of misfortunes, whilst others enjoyed the sweet victories of success.
Then came the day that 2 of the racing canoes capsized in a storm on the icy Tollense Lake. Both of the canoeists belonged to the same team as the world-title holders at the Olympic Games: Ruediger Helm and Alexander Slatnow. Their trainer had forbidden them to cross the lake while the rough east wind raged upon the waters. They did not obey this counsel. The might of the waves capsized the boats. Now they had to swim to save their lives. There were 300 meters between them and the banks of the lake. One of them started screaming: “I cannot do it! I cannot do it!” The other, just as lame from the coldness of the water as his friend was almost at the point of giving up the fight, but despite that he called out: “I can do it! I can, I can!”
A few days later the survivor told me of his struggle and his words seemed to strike an unseen cord in my head. As he spoke I learned a valuable principle: we must never give up, for in the moment of deepest despair comes the greatest growth of the soul.
One week later I stood in the only sale centre for cars in Neubrandenburg, a city of 80,000 residents. There the cars stood before me, in all their glory. All 3 of them were exactly the same. Well, at least choosing one was easy. They were wonderful! Wonderful plastic cars, made in the German Democratic Republic.
After driving for 50,000 km, 1 of the 2 connecting rods broke and disengaged the motor. That was not the worst of it. In August 1977 we were returning from a meeting with President Spencer W. Kimball in Dresden. Having attended a wonderful uplifting session, 2 of my brethren from Wolgast, my son Hartmut and I contemplated our return journey. Shortly after we had started, an explosion rocked our little car. The front silencer had exploded! Well, at least it wasn’t dangerous, just noisy. Now we needed a new one, and we obtained it at the next garage. After having travelled a further 100 km, I noticed that 1 of the tyres was flat because of a nail. I was happy to know that there was a spare in the boot. A further 30 km down the highway, 1 of the red control lights started to glow. I knew that the drive belt was damaged. (Without the drive belt the motor gets overheated and the battery does not charge.) We found a garage, so at least we could get back onto the highway. We were on our final stretch back home when the car pulled towards the opposite lane. Oh, no! Not again! Not another flat tyre I lamented. We stopped, after a while a stranger separated himself from the flow of the traffic and asked if he could help us. I just pointed to the flat tyre and told him what had happened. Without saying another word, he walked back to his Trabant, took the spare tyre and brought it to us, wrote his address on a slip of paper and left. Seldom does one encounter such blind trust.
With a renewed hope that the streak of bad luck had come to an end, we travelled another 150 km when once more the red control light began to glow. The mechanic at the garage had made a mistake – yes, he had! The protective cover over the belt had not been fastened properly and this had damaged the brand new drive belt. What luck for I had brought a spare! The hours passed and it was 2am before the problem was finally fixed - after all it takes 17 steps to install a drive belt in a Trabant –oh, we all had to agree, what a beautiful car is the Trabant made in the GDR! Once more we laughed about this whole journey which none of us will ever forget. But our spirits were buoyed up. Nothing and nobody could rob us of the wonderful feelings we had experienced in the presence of our prophet, Spencer W. Kimball. Our wives and mothers were happy that we had returned safe and sound.
Back to 1970
My request to the members of the co op not to partake of alcoholic beverages before our labors on the Lake was at length accepted by all. The money thus saved was deposited in a special bank account, allowing us to take a 5- day vacation each year with our spouses. The 6th of these was to Moscow.
A new chain of negative events began with our landing in Sheremetjewo near Moscow and the subsequent journey through the city to Ostankino to where our hotel was for the night. As though we were watching a movie, we had an open view into the endless numbers of living quarters of this world metropolis. There were no shutters, no curtains of any kind for a little privacy. The rooms all looked exactly the same: 14 to 16 square meters, containing 1 table, 4 chairs, 1 cupboard and 1 TV. The rooms were illuminated by 1 very plain, dim light fitting hanging from the ceiling. All those rooms looked exactly the same they were even smaller than ours in the GDR. Surely those miserable mass human quarters could not be the height of communist achievement! I could not help comparing those scenes with the city of Nauvoo – the beautiful. The city of the prophet, Joseph, was so vastly different. Oh, here again I was enticed to see the difference between Communism and Mormonism. It was like looking at the blueprint of opposing worlds.
The following day we viewed the huge housing blocks on the grey brown River Moscwa, in which an individual amongst the milling masses of mankind seemed to drown. Was that the only result of 2 generations of struggle, blood and tears?
Towards the end of our second day we were told to vacate the hotel as the rooms were needed to accommodate a gathering of doctors for a congress. We were told that surely we could understand there was a shortage of beds and restaurant space. On the day of our departure I had breakfast with a Dutchman whose acquaintance I had made on the previous day. I told him of our misfortune to which he answered: “Oh well, you will just have to go on a strike.” One of my younger co-workers, - I give him here the name of Werner H. – a newcomer with a big mouth and even bigger muscles, the mind of a little child, passed our table and overheard the Dutchman’s comment. I could tell by the razor-sharp way my co-worker looked at me. He always looked like that when there was a bee in his bonnet. Straight away he ran to our nominated tour guide, Herman Goeck (my old friend and rival), to tell him all that he had overheard: that I had talked to a person from the West and how I planned to strike in the GDR. I saw them stand close to each other, whispering into one another’s ears, throwing me fiery looks. Hermann Goeck for the time being kept it to himself, even though he was boiling inside. Oh dear, and he had promised himself so many positive experiences from this trip. He had hoped that we would be excited to see his Moscow, but for the time being he stewed over his feelings and frustration. Once we returned home I would cross his path sooner or later. For the time being he announced that our visit and luncheon at the very high Ostankino TV tower would go according to plan. In the escalator we ascended to the 500-metre high tower restaurant. We were very impressed and astonished, especially as throughout the meal our restaurant turned twice on the axis of the building - a big compliment to the engineers. Having satisfied our appetites we visited Red Square. Passing a 2-kilometre-long queue of visitors we were given the special privilege of entering the Lenin Mausoleum – they had transported Stalin’s body outside to the wall of the Kremlin. I would have liked to see the ‘Generalissimos’, but whilst looking at Lenin, as he lay there, I had seen enough. As I viewed that dressed-up mummy in its glass sarcophagus, the remainder of my sympathy for Vladimir Iljitsch Lenin came to an end. All I could feel was the iron fist of the brutal, merciless Asiatic despot. That was the man whom, in 1917, the Germans had sealed into a train carriage from Switzerland back to his native Russia, hoping that his arrival and interference would cause more chaos and thus relieve the fighting on the Eastern front. (The German Army stood helplessly near collapse, deep in Russia.) Still I knew what I knew. Let him rest in peace and let other people love him, but I certainly wanted no part of him. I knew that the ideas, which grow in the hard skulls of dictators, will never satisfy a world that needs love. To prepare the nations for the effects those sorts of men would bring into the world, God called Joseph Smith. I quoted Doctrine and Covenants 1:17 for Erika and myself: “Wherefore, I the Lord, knowing the calamity which should come upon the inhabitants of the earth, called upon my servant Joseph Smith, and spake unto him from heaven, and gave him commandments.”
No sooner had we arrived back in Neubrandenburg, than the more than usually furious Mr. Hermann Goeck ordered all members of the Association into our ‘cultural’ room. There he sat with a dismal look upon his face. Large patches of reddened skin made it evident that he was an unhappy man. At first he just grumbled to let off some of the steam that had accumulated in the depth of his soul, by accusing H. Witte, an original character who would seldom place a guard over his mouth. He had learned the fishing trade in the household of a Mormon, and had a lot of insider know-how - well, enough to give me a hard time now and then. Whilst coming down on my friend, I could feel that Hermann Goeck was actually aiming for me. As I wanted to bring all that to an end, I asked him to just tell us the real reason for his aggression. My conscience was clear. That, however must have increased his anger. All at once it welled up in him like the mighty eruption of a volcano. There was nothing to hold him back any longer. Unrestrained, he accused me for 3-4 minutes, fuming, spitting boiling lava all over me: “… an insult to all the people of the Soviet Union, you dare speak of a strike, … Provocation … arrogance…if you … I’ll throw you out of our association, detractor…boycott, smear … travel prohibition for all times!... never again Soviet Union, criminal…millions of people have lost their lives… we will lock you away… endless sacrifices … burned Earth by bad Germans and you, you…” Little of it made any sense. Had I hidden a bomb among the showcases of the Lenin Mausoleum? Had I stolen the treasures of the czars? I did not feel well at all. He felt so vulnerable regarding every hurt, every offence I had put him through in the past years - there were so many painful memories begging to be released. My colleagues all sat with their heads sinking lower into their collars by the minute. I had heard enough! I was in a dangerous situation for many people had lost their freedom over far fewer things than these. Nobody would defend me - no one dared to open their mouth or come to my defense. They were too afraid. So I yelled back, just as loudly as Goeck, as though both of us were deaf, and as though the gathering was some 300 meters away: “I’m well aware of your unreliable informants!” I told him the names: Werner H. and S. Sch., my other rival. Werner H. was not among us on that eventful day - he was sick. That was my luck! At least that way the odds were one on one. Quivering with excitement I spat out the words: “I will not tolerate being spoken to in that kind of manner.” Then I told him the name of the second man, S. Sch., the only one I had spoken to on our journey back home in regards to the poor conditions and how sorry I felt for the people of Moscow.
S. Sch. was my neighbor, and held a high position in the State. I had told him my experiences. In the words of Hermann Goeck came the accusation that I had defamed the rulers of the Soviet Union. I could distinguish. I could understand. Now I knew he was a traitor! He had telephoned Hermann.
In my wild exchange of opinions with Hermann Goeck I remembered all the words that had been spoken at breakfast in Russia. The same words Werner H. had overheard and told Hermann. The naming of both these men, especially the second one had not failed to be effective, and while I was at it, I continued to set a couple of facts straight. “I personally have never mentioned a strike in the GDR, but here and now I must tell you how disappointed I am, for all that we have witnessed, all that we have seen and experienced. The whole substance of 60 years of communism has left me feeling high and dry. I feel sorry for the endless masses of people who, because of intended interventions into their lives, have suffered beyond human endurance. It makes me feel ill to know that in times of war as in times of peace, millions have laid down their lives in order to improve their standard of living. I carry these scenes around with me, perhaps a lot clearer then you - you may believe me or not! With all the things we know and have learned, I ask myself, I ask you why? For what? For that?” The men all sat with bowed heads.
“Yes, the damned war!” Hermann started anew in a more relaxed fashion, but I was still in full swing: “The 3 times damned war is not at fault. It’s all planned that, in the world called Moscow, people exist who are oppressed!” Back and forth the words flew. He would hit me and I would retaliate. In the end, both totally exhausted we gave up and he left.
The men slapped me on the shoulder supportively: “Boy, did you let him have it!” Perhaps I seemed contained on the outside, but it was just as well they could not see my shaking knees and my quivering heart. I was afraid, knowing that the power and the far greater anger lay on Goeck’s side. I would have preferred a peaceful solution, but how in the name of the truth could I go on, with all these false accusations covering me like a dirty garment? How could I leave anyone with the thought that I was an enemy of humanity? It was all too much. Goeck should never have provoked me to that extent. Fear and uncertainty stayed with me. The question of what he could do was ever before me.
Six weeks later we passed each other in the street. From a distance I sensed that something was wrong by his gait, his hunched body and bowed head. Whatever had happened to that giant of a man? He approached from the direction of the hospital situated at Külz-Street. I did not avoid him, but walked towards him, to talk to him. We stopped beneath the weeping branches of an autumn-clad birch tree. “My wife, Helene, has slipped into a coma,” he whispered. The signs of a deep shock lay written upon his face. There before me stood a broken man. The knowledge that there are limits to human power must have come like a sad awakening. A heartfelt sorrow prevailed. He and I were glad that we had taken no offence over harsh words spoken in the past. However, my old enemy, Werner, still plotted against me. Month after month he would give me a hard time. Roaring like a hungry lion, he longed to rule over me, because he was a communist and I wasn’t.
Percy K. Fetzer
One year later I received my patriarchal blessing from Percy K. Fetzer who was from Salt Lake City. He revealed some totally surprising facts that I had never considered before. After receiving my patriarchal blessing he asked me to stay behind, as he still needed to talk to me. In a calm voice he stated: “What I explain to you now is not part of your blessing. You have an enemy. Go home, shake his hand and he will become a friend.” Now Patriarch Fetzer had never seen me before, nor was he aware of any of my problems.
“Is it that easy?” I asked. He nodded.
As I came out of Patriarch Fetzer’s room the brethren started to laugh: “Gerd, you look like a very sick man, what is the matter? Was it that bad?” I shook my head, was silent and thoughtful. For 7 years Werner had tried to take precedence. In his endeavor to gain a hunting permit he joined the communist party, even though he did not believe their philosophies.
The following Monday morning, Werner as usual, stood full height with flaring eyes, his dark hair going in all directions. He was a choleric man, with a big, reddened face. I approached him, stretched out my hand, smiled and greeted him: “Good Morning, Werner.” Unbelievably, he smiled back and never spoke another hurtful word against my religion or me for the next 30 years!
People would ask me repeatedly, “What is the difference between other churches and yours?” Most of the time I answered: “Although we have the same foundations, everything is different.” Against the trend of other churches we believe in a personal God whose spirit offspring we are. Every person is in reality older than the earth (but don’t forget time is another thing in eternity).
It is interesting to note that on the 11th of March 1832, in a conversation with Eckermann, Goethe stated: “When one listens to people talk one would almost believe they are of the opinion that God, since the days of old, has quietly withdrawn and left mankind to stand on their own feet. To think that this big world was put together from mere elements, on which the sun shines year in, year out, would surely have afforded him little pleasure were it not part of his plan to use this basis of elements to create a nursery for his offspring. Thus he is active in the higher realms of nature to draw the lesser or weaker to a higher level of existence.”
Goethe’s statements came 2 years after the newly-revealed scriptures of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. It is the reason that all humans are blessed with a godly potential, the end result being that no man may think himself above another (Mosiah 23:7). The reason for our sojourn on earth is to gain our own experiences, as we are endowed with free agency and intelligence. We are capable of charting our own destiny, according to our individual understanding and responsibility, according to the set plan. God may not intervene to force us to do good. However, he helps us when we ask him to.
In The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints we do not have professional priests, ordinance, or liturgy - except the administration of the sacramental bread and water. We believe in the possibility of an eternal progression for our souls. We believe that it is possible to establish eternal family relationships, and that in the next sphere everyone will obtain a place of happiness. Even evil people will come to the awareness that their behavior, which has caused pain to others, has only brought pain to themselves.
Mormonism is an optimistic religion - without question the most positive of all religions on the earth. However, to prove it takes far more than mere words. Only if you know the spirit that accompanies this great work, only when you realize how important you are in God’s great plan, can you feel it.
The words of the Pearl Song (Perlenlied) taken from the writings of the Apostle Thomas enlightens our view increasingly: “When I was a little child I lived in the kingdom of my father and found delight in the pomp and glory of those who taught me. My parents decided to send me away from the east, of our homeland with provision for the journey.” For this special journey the king’s son is well endowed, but his robe of light must be left behind. His order is to travel to Egypt, to recover a precious pearl, which is to be found at the bottom of the ocean, guarded by a dreadful, ferocious dragon. After he has successfully completed his journey, he may array himself in the robe of light, and his toga (which lies above the robe), and become a joint heir in the kingdom of the Father. On arrival in Egypt he forgets that he is of royal birth, and his heritage and mission. For that reason his parents write a letter to him: “Awake! Awake from your slumber! Remember, that you are the son of a king. Behold your labor and whom you serve…” Then he thinks: “Am I not the son of a king? Does not my freedom demand that I should follow my nature? I gained magic power over the terrible dragon by saying my father’s and brother’s names, and the name of my mother, the queen of the East. I caught the pearl quickly and returned to my Father’s house. As the son of the king I regained my robe of light and began to recognize many wonderful truths. Little did I remember my dignity for I had left it behind in my Father’s house. Now as I beheld it, it had become a mirror image of myself. Although they were 2 separate identities yet they were one in stature. I bowed my head and prayed to the glory of my Father, who had given me the robe of light.”
K. Beyer one of the great (non-Mormon) exegetes of the 20th century has our heart. For his voice commended, even as the voice of the prophet J. Smith, the beauty of the Pearl Song (Perlenlied):
“For it is the message contained within the song which deliberates a beautiful truth: that the eternal soul of man is of godly origin; that this soul may only be reunited with his eternal body which is also of godly origin and will always abide in God the Father. Only after they have been to earth and lived in a mortal body, in adverse conditions, with godly influence, self-recognition and personal effort, do they succeed in fulfilling their god-given assignments.
It is easy to follow Plato’s ideas for they merge with Christian ideologies. They correlate their ideals with the Gnosis and other ancient teachings about redemption. It is unsure who adopted these teachings from whom? But this must lead us to the question: “If the part which the Gnostics played in the late syncretism was as high as many suspect, the fact that humans often feel that we are strangers on the earth is a common occurrence.”
Walter Rebell has written: “A historic view of the early Christians must not be limited to the borders of New Testament writings only…On the one hand there seems to be much knowledge among today’s theologians, in spite of the fact that they find themselves surrounded by incomplete biblical statements. On the other hand they are frustrated whenever new ideas arise, which, in any case are not new.” Neutestamentliche Apokryphen und Apostolische Väter 1992, p. 11, Chr. Kaiser Verlag, München
It is little wonder that theologians should object to new ideas! For therein lie enormous differences. If in fact the history of the human soul has its beginning in a pre-mortal world that began with God, we come to a completely different conclusion, a total different philosophy: then he is a son of God – then all of us are literally the children of God, or gods in embryo. If this is the case then no one would ever have the right to meddle with our freedom of choice or to break this special, god-given gift as it has been practiced for hundreds of years, despite the fact that forced indoctrination has ruled much of humanity.
True, it will take eternities before we reach our full potential. But life on earth is the beginning. Here we need to learn to be obedient. Our greatest asset, our character and all we have learned on earth will be the only things to go with us. Depending on the direction in which we are heading, we are on the way to become gods or devils. Our direction depends on the efforts we make to choose to obtain more truth and light, the desires we have to improve our knowledge and wisdom, or the closure of our minds to the acceptable things of God. That a just God would take only part of his children to be saved and leave others to eternal punishment - that some through predestination are favoured - is a Calvinistic or Lutheran ideology based on Augustine (354-430 AD). Such fables have nothing to do with the restored gospel. The allegation that innocent, un christened children are doomed to hell is an invention of the Fathers of the Catholic Church, like Augustine.
The truth is: “God commandeth all men that they must repent, and be baptized in his name, having a perfect faith in the Holy One of Israel, or they cannot be saved in the Kingdom of God.” 2 Nephi 9:23. This is the reason that Mormons are engaged in temple work. To us the free agency of man is important.
We are accused of polygamy, but many who lay this charge on us, have to deal first with the sad truth that their churches are largely responsible for World Wars I and II. Through their sermons they have supported the war efforts, which, from 1914 to 1945, sentenced more than 25 million European women never to be married or have children, because of the lack of men who were murdered in senseless battles. Remember that the protestant pastor and author of the Encyclopaedia Religion for Youth, Hartwig Weber, describes the situation of the events proceeding the World War I: “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 revelation of the Holy Spirit (from Constantine, transl. G. Sk.) In the name of the Lord, you shall destroy our enemies.” Rowohlt Verlag.
The Anglican priests were no better!
‘You are a Mormon?’ he said and took two steps
back. ‘Yes, sir, I’m a Mormon!’
“…Then he explained to me the advantages I could have, if I would leave the Mormons and became a Nazi. When he saw my negative stance towards his proposal, he told me my religion was changing its doctrines and he told me: ‘Polygamy.’ I always liked a discussion. When he said this, I bent over, planted my hands on his desk, looked him straight in the eyes and said: ‘Polygamy,’ Major, is what you see around here: married men taking out and having sex with other women. Mormons who had more than one wife were married to them and honored that marriage covenant…”
Throughout the critical years of the persecution of the early Saints, every woman was given the chance of a legitimate marriage and motherhood. Most of my associates were surprised. Even those I could not convince now had a new perspective on the subject. The pious, however, are never surprised or thoughtful. They just remain judgmental because of their stubbornness. Many are united against The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. On the other hand of course, they are also against one another.
Munich 1973 General Conference
There were 6 of us permitted - That means that the communist government of the GDR only allowed six of us - to attend the 3rd Area General Conference in Munich in the summer of 1973: Mission President Henry Burkhardt, Walter Krause and Gottfried Richter, both counselors in the mission presidency, Walter Schiele, Leipzig District President, Lothar Ebisch, Karl-Marx Stadt District President, and myself.
We listened to President Harold B. Lee and the Tabernacle Choir. It was great to listen to Apostle Gordon B. Hinckley speaking, especially to the single members, seizing their hearts. It reminded me so much of the wonderful conference in Berlin in 1938, with Heber J. Grant, and the jubilant fanfare sounding from the balcony. I will always remember the missionaries on the rostrum downstairs, because several of them just wept. Their tears flowed freely, and I, at just 8 years old could not understand how it was possible to cry at such a joyful occasion.
I almost did not make it to Munich at all. Ten hours before the last train was to depart, I still had not received a green light from government officials. Shortly before midnight, we brought the boats in from the darkness of the lake and I went to the nearest phone. Thus I found out that I would be permitted to go.
On our return journey the Eastern Police controlled us on our re-entry to the GDR. The uniformed lady, with her determined face, found my little hymnbook – it had been printed especially for the international conference. She opened it to read the first verse of More Holiness Give Me. Her sharp eyes just rolled and she winked at me in a derisive way. I just shrugged my shoulders and laughed at her: “Yes, we try!” “Oh, well,” she replied, “Maybe you try in vain!” Then she asked quietly “And what did the lot of you find so amusing just then?”
“Oh we were just having a little fun.” Lothar had told a political joke that, of course, she didn’t need to know. Should we have told her how happy we were to be placed in our cage once more? We were people with an irresistible desire to be free.
Five days in Budapest
As our establishment undertook its yearly vacation to Hungary in the summer of 1974, I remembered anew the sad events of the people’s past, the sad fate of the premier Minister Imre Nagy, the scenes of tanks rolling through the streets of Budapest - rolling over young men and women in their peaceful protest march for human rights. All those scenes from 1956 still evoked bitter emotions. Surely that was one of the deeds for which communism cannot lightly be forgiven. Eighteen years had passed since those days and weeks full of violation, blood and horror and it looked as though all had been forgotten. On one summer day in1974, as tourists from the GDR, we arrived at Nation Square, Budapest. We were welcomed by a spirited, charming, noticeable, well-dressed lady of about 50. In perfect German she introduced us to the 12 statues: Austrian, German and Hungarian rulers. Most of them were Habsburg kings, and emperors from the past. Every sentence fell from her lips, well-rehearsed and word perfect. I was interested in one of the rulers, called Matthias. I asked our guide a question: “Had Matthias been more careful in his decisions, could the 30-year war (1618-1648) engulfing half of Europe have been prevented, and endless misery avoided?” Indignantly, our lady guide, who had introduced herself as “Dolly,” turned on me: “If you had listened to me in the first place you would not have to ask me again! I have already talked about him.” With a quick turn on her high-heeled shoes, she hurried towards our bright blue bus. I was faster, however. Her behavior had already warned me: ‘Don’t talk to me!’ I could feel the thoughts that bothered her. It simply was below her dignity to talk to primitive fishermen, instead of being admired by artists and college teachers. It wasn’t perhaps so much the unpleasant smell that usually is part of our profession as the thought of having to be in the company of uneducated men that put her off. I smiled to myself. Did she really think that her rudeness would deter me? “Excuse me, but I have noticed that the 13th of your national heroes is missing!”
She gazed at me suspiciously, held her breath, raised her eyebrows and then asked: “And who may that be?”
“Imre Nagy!” I answered.
Hungary's Prime Minister Imre Nagy was later shot by the Russians. He had given his people too much freedom.
“Dear God!” her facial expression changed, she grasped for my sleeve, fearfully she looked about, her grey eyes filled with light, as she uttered: “Luckily, no one is near to have overheard you.” She turned her head: “The Redaction!” she whispered. The ‘Redaction.’ that was her way of describing the Hungarian people’s security police force and all who labored under their orders. “Oh, if one of the Redactors had heard you…!” No sooner had I boarded the bus and made myself comfortable next to Erika, than Dolly approached us: “May I enquire of the wellbeing of your spouse? Are the seats satisfactory? Is there anything I can do for you?” I grinned to myself, of course, only on the inside. Never in her dreams would Dolly have normally given such attention to a simple fisherman and his wife. But, to meet someone so unexpected, so like-minded, someone German - now! Yes even now, when all had been left behind in the corridors of history. Now, when none of the present generation even knew about Imre Nagy - it had been a pleasant event for her. However, I showed no expression at all: “Thank you very much, all is well.” Pretending to be far more humble than in reality I felt, I just nodded my head, rejoicing within. “There you go, Gerd Skibbe. Now and then, there are people on the same wavelength.”
I joined in the activities of our evening farewell dinner for only 1 hour. Erika was not feeling too well, because of the extreme heat. As our interpreter, Mrs. ‘Dolly’ noticed that I was about to leave, she waved to the girl selling flowers. Faster than I could comprehend, she bought a bunch of roses and handed them to me, saying: “With the best of wishes for your wife and you!”
No we had not forgotten Imre Nagy, nor Alexander Dubcek, nor the massacre of Budapest, nor the violence committed in Prague. The little man who makes the kingdoms of the earth shake, who would not open the prison doors to the captives, that model of fate who had designed the fall of all nations, that black power which followed us into our dreams as long as fighting and terrible plans of oppression remained in the drawers of Moscow’s military might, will endeavor to destroy the enemy on his own territory. As would be seen after the fall of the wall, the Russians would place their men throughout Western Europe to explore all transit traffic main roads, so that they could remain informed of their future operational territory.
In the summer of 1978 my branch president called on me to visit Gustav Briel. He was an elderly gent who had joined the church 2 years earlier. After being away for 50 years he had returned from West Germany to his home village to marry Martha Pfaffenberg, and remained in Penzlin.
It was obvious that Brother Briel could not stand his ground against his 70-year old wife, and even less against his stone cold mother-in-law. That old woman would sit in her lounge chair, and every time I opened my mouth she would intervene: “Don’t you know that it’s bad manners to speak until you have permission to do so? I am the lady of the house!” She would dismiss us in a haughty manner.
After that word-perfect old lady had passed away I tried to converse with Brother Briel once more, but to no avail. His wife Martha, with a face like an army general, drove us from the front door. “Mormons are a terrible sect.” She did not want anything to do with us. Brother Briel bowed his bald head in concern and followed us outside, requesting: “Please, don’t come here ever again.”
Seldom before had I desired to succeed at a task more than at this one. One month later, whilst on my journey back home from a fishing convention in Waren, I had to pass through the village of Penzlin. About 10 kilometers away from Penzlin, in a somewhat childlike, primitive, loud manner I started to call out: “Dear Heavenly Father, would you please help me to open the door to Martha and Gustav Briel’s home!” After that I mentioned every detail I could remember: the name, the street, the house number, the circumstances, and with all the strength of heart and soul I focused on my intent. I could see my companion and myself in the street some 2 years earlier, and the old man with a broomstick, cleaning the pavement: “Brethren, please, you have visited me. Please leave, before my wife comes. You have no idea how clever and extremely bitter about our Church she is.”
As I arrived at Bahnhofstrasse 19, I left my little plastic car, climbed the stairs, hopeful but not as rushed as usual. I knocked, and Martha opened the door. Her face told volumes. Through a small opening in the door I saw a picture on the wall. She followed my gaze, and looked at me. “Well,” she could have asked: “Why do you stick your stupid face in other people’s affairs?” But to my surprise she said: “That is my first husband. Come in.”
In the 2 hours of conversation that followed I gathered all the information I deemed important. The man in the photo, who she had loved in her youth, had left her to join the forces in August 1918, a week after their marriage, like millions of others, he had never returned. He had been killed in the final weeks of combat in World War I, on the Western front. Martha had waited for 50 years to marry her old friend Gustav. Just as they married she discovered that he had joined a horrid organization with which she would have to share the remainder of her life - whose aim it was to tear her husband from her side. The teachings and structure of the ‘sect’ are all in place for that function. All people connecting themselves to the Mormons stood under condemnation.
I could not help nodding my head in approval, which at times surprised Martha. That is how things stood - those concepts of all or nothing. Of course she was totally off track in many of her views. Still who knows where she had gathered all her information about the Mormons? From her perspective the philosophy as far as she understood it seemed to be erroneous .
Martha continued her complaints: “Why did my husband refuse to talk with me about the temple ceremonies? Why did he wear special undergarments? What secret did he keep from me?”
To conduct myself correctly I had to cut a wide circle. I asked her: “Do you really believe that every secret must be bad?” She looked at me silently for a long time, her eyes revealing that now she could perhaps understand. Then she uttered: “Yes, you’re right.”
In the 30s Martha had been principal of a girls’ high school. She had an amazing wealth of vocabulary, and a rare gift of speech. She told me that in the beginning she had been a Nazi. “Yes, for a short time I supported it. This is the reason I’m worried about my husband. He is too trusting and far too naive!”
I replied, “Jesus once said: “Except you become like a little child ye can in no way inherit the kingdom of heaven.”
“You know the Holy Bible?”
I nodded silently.
“Dear Mr Skibbe, in the summer of 1945, shortly after the war, I, Martha Pfaffenberg, stood as a Nazi party member before the Anti-Nazi-Commission (Entnazifizierungskommission) in our area. It was a very hot day and I was number 146. All attendants in charge were sleepy. The big boss was an old communist, and looked at me in a somewhat scornful way, “Well, Mrs. Pfaffenberg,” he insisted, “I assume, that you too were forced to join the Nazi Party.”
“It made me very angry,” said Martha, “I interrupted him. “If you please, sir, I will not be spoken too in that tone of voice! If you must know, I was totally convinced of National-Socialism and Hitler. I, Martha Pfaffenberg, have always known what I do. The Fuehrer was my hero! – I was, kind gentlemen. I wish you to take note of it!” “I said this with all the force of my personality. All the dozing members of the commission sat up straight, looking at me with wide eyes. “Indeed I was one of Hitler’s faithful followers, that is, until he started his assault on the Jews. I did not mind that some of them had to be placed within certain limits of their status, but - hear me out - never to be persecuted. When I saw what he did I threw my party book at his feet. The interviewing personnel looked at me with abiding respect. Too many of the Nazi men appeared like whimpering dogs, mourning that they had no choice in the matter - that they had joined against their free will…”
I had to promise Martha that I would come to visit her again. On my way home I became aware of the fact that not only had I won Martha’s ear, but also a little of the affections of a prominent member of our society. She had told me how, in the Hitler years, she had lost her faith in God. What moved her was the fact that God permitted weak individuals to invoke so much hardship and pain on the world. That and the fact that even among the professional priests there was nothing but contention and fighting. She had told me of how, as the third member in a housing complex, she lived with 2 theologians who would quarrel in the most hostile manner. “After listening to them, I found that in the end I had lost my faith. Today I only believe a small portion of the Christian faith.”
From that time on I visited Martha and her husband every month. Each visit would last 4 to 5 hours. As I took my sons as my home teaching companions, they would take along their homework or write letters to their friends. For years our relationship improved from good to better. After my attempts to leave at the end of the first hour, Martha insisted: “You are my only friend, please stay to talk with me.” Her husband, Gustav, seldom received her permission to speak. But he was an old machine engineer, clever and very tolerant.
I was eager to speak about history and faith. Her ability to remember dates was enormous. She invited Erika and the family, and would sing and write for us. She no longer found anything wrong with the Mormons, until her husband, not I took the next step. Martha gave in and allowed her husband to attend Church meetings. In his naivety he told her of how good he felt to have been to our meetings. Then he confessed that even though he had not been to any meetings through all the years that she had denied him that pleasure, his heart had always been there. Martha felt totally overwhelmed. She, who never forgot anything at all that was of significance to her, found it all too much. The thought that I had tricked her, robbed her of her sleep. She ordered me to come to Penzlin. The relationship we had built so slowly, so carefully over the years - the friendship we had treasured - was torn apart, left in ruins. She forbade her husband and me to ever speak to one another. As for me, she ordered me to leave her house and never return. She forced Gustav to take his name off our Church records. From the first day to the last, ever since the beginning of our friendship she showed, from the top of her head to the soles of her feet, the kind of person she had always been: the immovable principal of the past. It was sad to see my friend, Martha, slipping back into her old ways. How many people would go to her funeral now? Often she had told me that because of her imposing character she had scared off all her friends and family members - even her own brother wanted nothing to do with her. And I lacked the energy to start all over again.
Among the most beautiful discoveries I have made throughout my life is Raphael’s Sistine Madonna. Isn’t it strange that a Soviet Russian called Alpatow, an art historian, confirmed the feelings of my soul? Whenever I stood to admire this painting in the Dresden Gallery, which I would do often whilst on Church duties to attend our meetings with the members of the mission presidency, I could see, “Here is the truth, but not the Pope Sixtus, not the angels - it was Jesus and all of us!”
There in Alpatow’s book, Dresdner Gemaeldegalerie, he wrote: “Some of the pictures on display in this gallery are pure inspiration - works of the highest form of art. One of these is Raphael’s Sistine Madonna. Even Gogol has said, “One needs to see it with one’s own eyes. In the 19th century this picture was the most prized, most viewed possession of the gallery. Many visitors would only come because of it. Since then, however, it seems that the taste of the art lover has changed. It takes some soul searching to recognize the message being transmitted. Modern men can no longer appreciate the true value of this painting.
It was easy to understand Gogol’s opinion, because people’s way of thinking had changed in regards to spiritual matters. Most things in life have become surface events. Modern living has pushed our deep feelings into the background.
The expression on the Christ child’s face left me breathless. I asked myself, “How is it possible that a little paint put to canvas by an artist could create such a deep impression on my soul?” It filled me with extreme joy. How could that be? All in all there are only several square centimeters of oil paint, and those eyes are only a little umber pigment. But I could feel it with every fiber of my being: this picture painted by Raphael contained all the teachings of the original gospel as taught by Jesus Christ. It is a shame that such a precious truth was dismissed in the confusions of apostasy in the 4th and 5th centuries AD, namely that our souls are of a godly heritage.
It is a dramatic scene in which long forgotten memories are brought to our remembrance: an endless sea of faces fills the background of a parting curtain through which Mary carries the most important being ever to dwell on the earth. Numberless faces – our faces – witness the entry of the Christ into our world, knowing that he would rescue us from the pit into which we would all fall. He would heal us from the effects that we so longed for. With burning expectations we longed to experience the most exciting span of our existence. We longed to be independent, like children having outgrown the home of our parents, ready to start our own destiny - like grown-ups no longer happy to wait another moment to explore a world of endless possibilities, a world in which our dreams would became true. We were no longer happy to be surrounded by the glory of God, much like our children on earth who cannot appreciate the comforts of their home.
Now we are here on earth, with the veil of forgetfulness drawn across our minds. From the sphere of pre-existence, Mary carries Christ from the realm of the spirit into this physical world, to lift us up, to bring us back after all we have done. This, then, is the reason for such depth of feeling. Only Christ can bring us out of the cage of mortality. He knew we would not do as he taught us, that we would shift our disobedience onto his shoulders, blaming him for our misery. I realized that people find many reasons not to think that way, nevertheless we are dual beings! What is wrong with the fact that we (descendants of Adam) existed before we came to earth?
Nephi must have seen the same scene as Raphael in a vision: “And I beheld the city of Nazareth; and in the city of Nazareth I beheld a virgin and she was exceedingly fair and white, and it came to pass, that I saw the heavens open and an angel came down and stood before me and he said to me: Nephi, what beholdest thou? And I said to him: A virgin, most beautiful and fair above all other virgins. And he said unto me: Knowest thou the condescension of God? And I said unto him: I know that he loveth his children; nevertheless, I do not know the meaning of all things. And he said unto me: Behold the virgin whom thou seest is the mother of the Son of God, after the manner of the flesh…. And I looked and beheld the virgin again, bearing a child in her arms…” 1 Nephi 11:1
Alpatow was correct in stating, “…modern man needs to make an effort to understand this painting. The lack of understanding causes it to be of little value.” I was aware that all I needed to do was to search, and that if I did, I would find it. I had already received the well-known thread of Ariadne that would lead me out of the labyrinth. Joseph Smith had received threads through revelation and passed them to me. Often he stated that he had the tools from God. However he did not make them. Had he done so, he would most likely have become a famous personality. I guess that’s just how we humans are - always walking the easy road. But to say that he had received them from heaven cost Joseph his life.
In Salt Lake City
In 1982 I received an invitation from the First Presidency of the Church to visit the April General Conference with Erika. It was a time of political tension, in Gdansk, Poland. Lech Walensa started a strike that led to the founding of the Solidarnocz Union. Soviet Russia was not happy about it, and planned to bring this revolution against the exploitation to the same bitter end as in Czechoslovakia and Hungary years before. We all expected an intervention by the Red Army, because dictators have no other ideas than to rule by military force.
GDR authorities gave me permission to travel to America, but Erika was not allowed to leave. I could stay for 3 weeks. For the past 18 years I had served as a district president in Mecklenburg. Erika comforted me: “Don’t be upset. I’ll be alright. You go.” She had to stay behind as security in East Germany to make sure that I would return. What foolishness! Wouldn’t we have walked back across the Bering Strait to return to our children? Even whilst on the terminal of Schoenefelder Airport looking at the KLM aircraft the thoughts returned, “As long as you are on German ground there could still be an announcement: ‘Mr. Skibbe, return to the control desk, we regret but there has been a slight misconception!’” The dreaded call never came, and, unbelievably, I sat in the plane as it rolled down the runw
We almost flew over Neubrandenburg. As the door to the KLM cockpit was left open I concentrated on the flight panel and the co-pilot noticed my interest. In the final stages of my Hitler Youth era I received my first lessons in flying a glider, and on my first flight I flew a distance of 60 meters, at the height of 5 meters, in a ‘SG 38’. How proud I was!
The time I spent in the cockpit of the Boeing 737 was the first time in my life that I felt free. The officer explained patiently all I wanted to know. Our first touchdown was in Amsterdam - what an exciting experience that was! And so was the fee of 200 Deutsche Mark I needed to pay at the Hilton Hotel to stay for the night! I was lucky that I did not have to pay for it. The Church had done that for me! My leader, Mission President Henry Burkhardt, had opened his purse: “Our Church has given you $100 US for your world journey. It’s your pocket money!” I had been so surprised. “Pocket money - that’s what you think! I swear I will bring every penny back home. Should I pay 4 West German Marks for 1 bottle of mineral water? I went to the restroom and filled up my mouth with beautiful clear water - free water from a free, western tap and I was western, free and happy.
In Washington Airport, having planted my feet on American soil, I just walked around looking at everything, taking in all the sights and smells of my new environment. Oh, what a world this was! Recorded in my journal I find the following entry: “America is fascinating, maybe because everything around here is so new, so different - the way people treat one another, the behavior of the shopkeeper towards his customers. He smiles, whilst observing a tall man over there. Instead of buying he is looking, touching, and proofing everything on the shelves. He leafs through every magazine within sight, feels every sweet to figure out its contents, and then places it back in the container, leaving it all behind. The most amazing thing about it all is that these ladies and gents never lose their temper…”
As our journey continued, our plane followed the sun a little more slowly than the rotation of the earth. Gradually it began to get dark. From a height of 11 kilometers I viewed the endless plains of Nebraska glide past me. Could that be the Platte River, where some 140 years previously, the Mormon pioneers with their covered wagons had headed towards an unknown goal somewhere in the Rocky Mountains? 60,000 members had walked across the American continent before the first railroad had been built. The first lot of pioneers who had built the lovely city of Nauvoo had been driven like cattle across the frozen Mississippi in the middle of winter 1847, because many evangelical preachers and believers would not accept the fact that people have the right to be different. Pioneer experiences provided rich material for future generations to produce documentaries and epic movies, in order to share our point of view in regard to tolerance and faith.
Throughout the ages the story seems to have repeated itself. In the early days of Christianity the Athanasians persecuted the Arians. Even as the newly-founded Church of Constantine, the ecclesia militans, thought to destroy its sister religion, the Arians. So the American orthodox Christians endeavored to vitiate the ‘Mormons’. To this very hour they declare themselves to be our enemies.
In September of 2007, I discovered the statement of Dr R. Albert Mohlers, 9th president of the Southern Baptists (One of the leading representatives of about 16 millions followers of that faith) in one of his Theological Seminars, on the Internet. He argued against our Church: “Mormons are not Christians because Mormonism has rejected the traditional Christian orthodoxy.” Is Mohler aware upon which foundation orthodox Christianity is built? Let us not forget, it was the Catholic (the athanasian, the orthodox) clergy who persuaded the Emperor Justinian of Byzance (482- 565) to engage in a holy war, to eliminate all of the Arian faith. Thus in AD 534 the North African kingdom of the Vandals was eliminated. Shortly after that in a most cruel war, AD 535-555, all gothic tribes living in Italy were exterminated, (and with them ended all temple work! See mosaics in Ravenna.)
It was in the years of Emperor Justinian that the teachings of Origen were damned. Ever since that time the Vandals as well the eastern gothic tribes (most of them Christians after Arius) were extinguished. In AD 381 to be an Arian Christian or to be a believer in Paganism was definitively forbidden, by decree of Emperor Theodosius. (Cunctos populos) Approximately 90% of all early Christians – except in the metropolis - were followers of Arius and Origen and remained so for hundreds of years even after the Council of Nicea, (the Cathars a.o.)
Traditional Christian Orthodoxy means: compulsion and intolerance. Isn’t it true that the pilgrims especially made America "the sweet land of liberty?" That prompted millions upon millions of Americans to sing, "Land where my father’s died, land of the pilgrims’ pride, from every mountain side, let freedom ring!" The Pilgrim Fathers - passengers of the Mayflower - deliberately separated themselves from orthodox Christianity.
On the Internet, Professor Gottfried Wolmeringer states the following in regards to Constantine: “Constantine is responsible for the establishment of both catholic and orthodox Christianity.
But, Constantine’s new church was not focused on Jesus! The historian, Heinz Kraft, wrote: “Inasmuch as Constantine does not mention the name of Christ is the church he founded not orientated on the teachings of Christ...” Habilitationsskript Konstantins religioese Entwicklung, Universitaet Greifswald 1954, p. 86
Did Constantine ever become a Christian? According to the Church historian, Eusebius, it appears that Constantine became a Christian in AD 312. At least that is what catholic students of theology are taught. Church historian Eusebius wrote: “After Emperor Constantine had become a Christian he implored God to support him in the forthcoming battle against Emperor Maximus, the Tyrant of Rome (27 October 312). Whilst Constantine put forth his petition to God he received a heavenly sign.” But, is this true?
According to the report of Eusebius, Raphael painted the following picture about 1525. Now once more, we must question which God he really prayed to? Especially as we know that 3 years later, in AD 315, Constantine celebrated sol invictus as his protector, as testified by the Victory Gate into Rome. Were Constantine and all his legions astonished to see such manifestations?
Wikipedia: Raffael Santi: October 312: The Battle of the Milvian Bridge
Constantine's modern biographer, the western-European historian, Ramsey MacMullen, doubtfully comments: "If the sky writing was witnessed by 40,000 men, the true miracle lies in their unbroken silence about it" (Constantine, 1969), see Google, Labarum, Wikipedia
Heinz Kraft told us: “L’Orange proved, that Sol invictus is shown to be the God of the Emperor.” Konstantins religiöse Entwicklung, Heidelberg – Universität Greifswald, 1954 p. 65
The only God that ever existed for Constantine was Sol invictus. Scientist, Heinz Kraft, confirmed this: “On the 21rst of July 315 (after his victory over Maximian, his father-in-law!) Constantine celebrated his victorious entrance into Rome. This occasion was held with the usual pomp. All citizens were presented with gifts and included in the festivities. In remembrance of the battle at the Ponte Molle the Senate erected the impressive Victory Gate. However, no mention at all is made of Constantine’s conversion to Christianity - (as claimed by Eusebius)”. But Eusebius insisted: “At the sight he was struck with amazement, as was his whole army, which followed him on this expedition, witnessing the miracle.”
“In the many reports written by Constantine he has never mentioned this miracle...But from the very beginning Constantine attributed the magical Sign (X) of the cross to his victory at the Milvische Bridge (Ponte Molle)” says Vittinghoff, “Konstantin der Grosse”.
I repeat: The only God that ever existed for church founder Constantine was sol invictus.
Surely Dr. Mohler knows that, still he rejects Mormonism: “The orthodox consensus of the Christian church is defined in terms of its historic creeds and doctrinal affirmations… Throughout the centuries, the doctrines concerning the Trinity and the nature of Christ have constituted that foundation, and the church has used these definitional doctrines as the standard for identifying true Christianity.”
Mohler knows that Constantine, not the Church, contributed this part of the Nicene Creed (325 AD): “…Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God, begotten of the Father [the only-begotten; that is, of the essence of the Father, God of God], Light of Light, very God of very God, begotten, not made, being of one substance with the Father;…” But those who say: 'There was a time when he was not;' and 'He was not before he was made;' and 'He was made out of nothing,' or 'He is of another substance' or 'essence,' … they are condemned by the holy catholic and apostolic Church.”
Constantine "never acquired a solid theological knowledge" and "depended heavily on his advisers in religious questions." Catholic Encyclopedia, New Edition, vol XII, p. 576, passim
“The Council became a representative for the state, but the state is a church directed by Constantine, the kingdom of the future.…..at the Nicene Council the Church followed the wishes of Constantine even though they disapproved. Constantine had new ideas about the Church and implemented his ideas to create a new reality. His imagination of his kingdom, - his church: the priests and clergyman of the church are to support the emperor, who is the chosen servant of God. Together they would establish this new united empire of peace.” Habilitationsskript, Konstantins religiöse Entwicklung, Universität Greifswald 1954, pp. 106, 89 – 99.
Dr. Mohler knows what fruits this ‘traditional Christianity’ has brought to pass and he also knows that Jesus has taught: “By their fruits ye shall know them.”
On Wednesday 25th of July 2007, in his article Mormonism is a Sincerely False Gospel, Dr. Mohler wrote in Blogalogue, “As an evangelical Christian – a Christian who holds to the ‘traditional Christian orthodoxy’ of the Church – I do not believe that Mormonism leads to salvation. On the contrary, I believe that it is a false gospel that, however sincere and kind its adherents may be, leads to eternal death rather than to eternal life. Indeed, I believe that Mormonism is a prime example of what the Apostle Paul warned the Church to reject – “a gospel contrary to the one we preached to you” Galatians 1:8-9.”
Indeed, do you, Dr. Mohler, believe that Paul’s authority is higher than that of an angel sent from the presence of the Almighty?
Dr. Mohler said:
“Mormonism rejects traditional Christian orthodoxy at the onset – this rejection is the very logic of Mormonism’s existence. A contemporary observer of Mormon public relations is not going to hear this logic presented directly, but it is the very logic and message of The Book of Mormon and the structure of Mormon thought. Mormonism rejects Christian orthodoxy as the very argument for its own existence and it clearly identifies historic Christianity as a false faith… Two great doctrines stand as the central substance of that consensus. The Mormon doctrine of God does not correspond with the Christian doctrine of the Trinity. Mormonism rejects the central logic of this doctrine (1 God in 3 eternal persons) and develops its own doctrine of God – a doctrine that bears practically no resemblance to Trinitarian theology. The Mormon doctrine of God includes many gods, not one. Furthermore, Mormonism teaches that we are what God once was and are becoming what He now is. That is in direct conflict with Christian orthodoxy.”
But, at first it is in conflict with Constantine, dear Brother Mohler. Remember what Pope Benedict XVI. taught in his General Audience on 20 June 2007:
!The most famous paper of the holy Bishop of Alexandria is his treatise, On how the Word became a human being (i.e.), the divine Logos that came into the flesh and became like us for our salvation. In this opus Athanasius wrote a sentence that has rightfully become famous. He says that the Word of God (God Jesus) “became a human being so that we may become Gods.”
Furthermore Dr. Mohler knows what the primitive Church and Origen taught us:
“The Trinity of the Godhead actually depicts three individual beings working for one identical cause - that is why they are looked upon as one God.” Handwörterbuch für Theologie und Religionswissenschaft, 3rd edition, 1960 J.C.B. Mohr (Paul Siebeck) Tübingen, Author F.H. Kettler, pp. 1692 – 1702.
Mormons have no problem with the Nicene Creed, except the words: “Lord Jesus Christ a …being of one substance with the Father.” Dr. Mohler has further stated: “Normative Christianity is defined by the Apostles’ Creed, the Nicene Creed, and the other formulas of the doctrinal consensus. These doctrines are understood by Christians to be rooted directly within the Bible and rightly affirmed by all true believers in all places and throughout all time… The major divisions within Christian history (Roman Catholicism, Eastern Orthodoxy, and Protestantism) disagree over important issues of doctrine, but all affirm the early church’s consensus concerning the nature of Christ and the Trinitarian faith. These are precisely what Mormonism rejects… Mormonism is not Christianity by definition or description.”
But Dr. Mohler knows that at the Nicene Council, Constantine, who was a believer in sol invictus and monotheism, should have said: “Arius was wrong, because according to the Holy Bible Athanasius was right.” But where is that documentation? It’s all a big lie! Constantine made his decision, because he wanted to be the God of this world.
In 330 AD - 5 years after Nicea – Constantine
represents himself arrayed in the robe of the sun-god, sol invictus, supported
by the local Christian leaders.
William Seston in his report “Verfall des Römischen Reiches im Westen”, p. 535, describes this adoration of the God, sol invictus, at the beginning of the era of Constantine’s new-founded city and church:
“…on the day of the festivities, the dedication of the city of Constantinople on 11 May 330, soldiers bearing candles accompanied the statue of Constantine which was clothed in the robes of the sun-god (sol invictus) through a passage of kneeling citizens. At the foot of the porphyry pillar on which the statue was to be placed, they burned incense… In the base of the statue, they stored the palladium of the priestesses (vestal virgins) of the Roman goddess of hearth and home, Vesta.
A gold multiple of "Unconquered Constantine" with Sol Invictus (not Jesus Christ) struck in 313
The same: the Emperor dedicated 315 ( 3 years after his "conversion") the "Arch of Constantine" praising Sol Invictus:
Arch of Constantine in Rome, Italy
Wikipedia: " The words instinctu divinitatis ("inspired by the divine") have been greatly commented on. They are usually read as sign of Constantine's shifting religious affiliation: The Christian tradition, most notably Lactantius and Eusebius of Caesarea relate the story of a vision of God to Constantine during the campaign, and that he was victorious in tghe sign of the cross at the Milvian Bridge . The official documents (esp. coins) still prominently display the Sun God until 324.
General Conference (Continued)
Friends who had migrated to Salt Lake City picked me up from the airport. Among them were Walter and Edith Roloff, and Siegfried Meyer, the son of Kurt and Helga Meyer (owner of Siegfried’s Delicatessen).
Out of the 3 weeks in America I would have 2 weeks to myself.
“What would you like to do? What do you want to see? Shall we fly to California? Would you like to go fishing at the Pacific Ocean?”
“No! No, thank you! I wish to see Brigham Young University in Provo and maybe I would like to talk to Professor Nibley. He speaks German and I have read several of his articles.” I was interested to glean his point of view on several Church-related concerns. The North German radio had once again broadcast negative information about our Church: 3 Mormon students had come to the conclusion that the facsimiles in The Pearl of Great Price were taken from the Egyptian Book of the Dead and that Joseph Smith had translated them incorrectly.
Siegfried took me to Provo, where I saw Professor Hugh Nibley, a small, rather thin man of about 70. He rose quickly as I related my concern. He advised me that he had written about that subject in his 300-page book about documents in Provo that had been made public: “That is not true - not 3 students but a high school English language and literature teacher, stuck in the middle of Church proceedings - excommunicated for adultery - released such statements, in order to avenge Himself.”
Nibley explained to me that Egyptian historians had already confirmed that facsimile 1, taken from The Pearl of Great Price, had several different interpretations. It was one of the customs of the ancient Egyptians to explain religious matters in more than one form: “Look here!” said Nibley as he illustrated on the blackboard, “It is important to us to know that God is a God of revelation. Again and again he has communicated with certain people on the earth: Confucius, Buddha, Moses, Lehi … the same is stated by the Egyptians, the Hebrews and Joseph Smith, you and me. That is the reason why ancient writings have a common foundation.”
Nibley, who had literally overslept for my first appointment, livened up with every passing minute, his small, narrow head bobbing to and fro. He told me of the oldest interpretation of the “Shabako Stone” on which important details of the plan of redemption are recorded. “See here,” he said walking again to the blackboard, chalk in hand: “The findings of different cultures throughout Asia, America and Africa harmonize with and confirm each other. They point to the fact that the religion of ancient Egypt is the foundation of all shared religious teachings. They know of a God of creation, all of them with the command to worship him, all of them directing mankind to be obedient to his laws. God does not need the burning of candles, nor incense, nor does he need an endless array of liturgy. He requires that the hearts and intelligence of his children are turned towards him.”
The 4th commandment of the famous 10 is recorded in the Egyptian papyri and is called Eber, one of the oldest documents. It describes the thought that a son giving heed to his father’s advice is a blessing, and in return God promises him a long life. These days we have solid proofs that religion is far older than believed in the past. “In the Book of Abraham which Joseph Smith has translated, 1: 26 states:…..” Professor Nibley quoted from memory then he continued: “This statement cannot be taken lightly. Not only does it hold, indirectly, a lot of practical information or hints for all temple insiders, but it also shows that many religions have temple rites, for example, the Masons, Schikaneder, and Mozart in his work, The Magic Flute.” The roots all lead back to Egypt. This makes it clear that the accusations that our temple rites are taken from the Masons are false. The differences between them are too vast. The original rites lead us to a pre-Egyptian source. This is of significance as it can easily be overlooked.” Nibley explained to me that temple historians from the Catholic Church and others acknowledge the fact that Mormon temple rites are genuine. I was most grateful for the precious 2 hours that very busy man had spent with me. Thankful, I left his office.
Later we drove to Immigration Canyon. There stands the monument in commemoration of the enormous sacrifices of the early pioneers who crossed the endless plains between New York and the Salt Lake Valley. Many pushed their handcarts along the Oregon Trail to settle in this unfertile plain, to make it fruitful.
My eyes gazed upon the thousands of individual family homes of that metropolitan city with its million inhabitants, and found it somewhat difficult to envision their humble beginnings - before the irrigation channels would bring the life-giving water to the dry desert soil. However, Temple Square held the greatest of all attractions for me. The whole atmosphere lifted my soul. Repeatedly I thought, “I hope that in 1000 years from now there will still be people like this in places like this.” I looked forward to the daily organ recitals that were a free treat at lunchtime. Whilst sitting and listening, my mind would drift back to home, back to my feelings whilst visiting Moscow. No, there was no question at all about who had the genuine article. Salt Lake seemed like paradise to me.
“Sorry,” I wrote in my journal “sorry, Erika, that you are not here by my side to experience all these things with me.”
Suddenly I was engulfed by the wonderful sounds of a flute. Lovely chords filled the air. They were followed by the soul-calming Prelude and Fugue in G major by Johann Sebastian Bach, and H. Mullet’s Toccata in F minor. Then once again there was Bach: Christ lay in the bonds of death. I wish it were possible to transcribe beautiful music into appropriate words, for 30 minutes, in the middle of the wild American West, I listened to the most heavenly music. I ask myself, “How is all this possible, that you, Gerd, search for more happiness with all that is within you, often against all odds, and now the good and the beautiful come to you for very little effort?”
As I left the great Tabernacle the world was arrayed in her many shades of green, and the brilliant blue sky, above the pleasant warmth of the sun. It seemed almost impossible to think that there are people who hate their fellow beings.
A day later, my ex-Neubrandenburger friend, Siegfried Meyer, arrived with his 4-wheel drive and invited me to go skiing with him. Snow had fallen throughout the night and lay on the yellow blossoms of the Forsythia bushes: “We’ll drive to Brighton and go to the beginners’ run.” Well, I remembered myself as a boy, standing on 2 primitive boards in Wolgast, but I had never been to the mountains. “It doesn’t matter,” Siegfried assured me, “you will see, it’s not difficult. We take the lift up; hire our gear and then just slide down the hill.” He was right. The smooth things beneath my feet did the job all by themselves, taking me along for the ride. I just had to be careful not to lose my balance. It was sort of like standing in the boat on a windy day. Still, Siegfried ought to have explained to me how to stop once I was in full swing. All of a sudden there was a group of children in my way! I remembered the story of Siegfried’s father, Kurt, standing in Norway as a German Soldier in World War II. He was skiing and found himself in the same situation, namely, trying to stop. He immediately stuck the sticks into the ground, and lost all of his front teeth! As I found my legs again on the boards, I practiced for such an emergency before landing head over heels in a snowdrift!
I also took notice of anything I could learn from the Church meetings. I became aware of the huge number of small children and the level of noise they caused. It must have been the same at the times of Christ. I cannot envision him losing his temper to direct their mothers to keep them absolutely silent. The opposite seems to be the case, as Matthew tells us in his gospel: Jesus asked the little children to come unto him.
Three days before General Conference I moved to the Hotel Utah, as it was close to the daily events. In the special lectures given by Elder Ezra Taft Benson for regional representatives and mission presidents (in which Henry Burkhardt and I, plus many others from around the world, took part), among other things, we found out that many members had spent 50% of their earnings on Church affairs. However, such amounts were not in order. The Law of Tithing said 10% only, except that once a month the Saints should fast and give the resulting proceeds to feed and house the needy of the world. The expenses for their children’s or their own missions were mainly found by family or friends. There should not be any other demands made upon them. The Church would be responsible for building chapels and temples for purchasing and maintaining sports equipment, educational institutions, world disasters relief; ect.
To my left sat Elder Dieter Berndt, a professor at the Technical University of Berlin. To my right sat the Mayor of Las Vegas.
From our lectures we ventured to have lunch at the Lion House, which had been the residence of Brigham Young and his large family, hence the many rooms. I started to converse with a Philippino man who had studied Economy in Cologne, Germany. It is the same - members of the Church are involved 100% or not at all. The statistics prove that there are about 50% hot and 50% cold Mormons. It is a rare phenomenon to be half-hearted.
A day later we found ourselves in Elder Monson’s office. As Elder Burkhardt and I entered the room, President Monson rose to the height of almost 2 meters and walked around his desk to shake our hands. After a few minutes, Elder Monson turned to ask me if I had a wish. I was most surprised as I had not come to make demands. I was just happy that he would give us 30 minutes of his precious time. My view fell upon the death mask of the Prophet Joseph Smith and I stared at the young, beardless face as though an electric shock had gone through me. The face of one of the most important men of the past 200 years confirmed it to me anew: “This is the Lord’s anointed.” In my mind I asked myself, “Why do so many people say that you’re a liar?” There had never been a third option. Either 11 other people had seen and handled the golden plates, or they had not. Either 12 men had lied or they had told the truth. I remembered the words of Hermann Kant, president of the GDR Authors’ Club, who had returned from a visit to one of the General Conferences of the Church and who had given a special invitation to Elder Monson. I repeated it to our host. He nodded. It could be that I come to East Germany to counsel with the people there. He called for his secretary and said to her: “Please make a notice of it.
For some moments everything seemed strange. Henry Burkhardt and I did not belong here - we were strangers from another world. Let’s face it: the eastern Moloch also held property rights. We belonged to those who would always say: “Our people, our people!” They had very graciously permitted us to come here - well, they could have denied us such a privilege. Somehow I must have given my thoughts a voice, because Erika was on my mind, and ‘they’ had forbidden it. There were the flight tickets for her, but the comrades of the Moloch had said: “No!” Elder Monson shook his head: “Do not look at it so negatively. The Church is working on it. Be patient and conditions will get better for you.” But I could not really believe it, never having the faintest idea of how far the plans had been prepared for such an event.
On our return flight Henry Burkhardt informed me that the Church would build a Temple in the GDR, in Freiberg. He admitted this as we were in the middle, over the Atlantic Ocean. It was still to be considered hush hush. He had awakened me from my sleep to show me the beautiful sky. A new day was dawning and the sunrise was just minutes away. What a symbolic scene for the future: to the left the dark night, and to the right the deep violet firmament giving way to a growing light which rose like a stage light in density.
I remembered the words spoken by President Thomas S. Monson in his benediction prayer on Sunday 27 April 1975 on the hills by Radebeul: “..that people would come and inquire about the gospel….”
With the speed of the aircraft we were flying towards the sun. Henry Burkhardt’s news was indeed a wonderful, big surprise, somehow contradicting all my expectations. How could I possibly sleep after that? It meant that the talks between our Church and our Honnecker Government must have had a positive outcome. My first thought was: GDR boss, Honnecker, and his adviser, Günter Mittag, need money. My second thought: “Surely for the sake of $5 or $8 million they would not put fleas in their fur. My logic began to waver. Shortly thereafter, in a conference held in Leipzig, Elder Tom Hales officially announced that a temple was to be built in Freiberg. My astonishment continued. I would have thought the communists would do all they could to keep the influences of this American Church at arm’s length. Why they gave their approval I was yet to discover. In Utah I had witnessed a piece of a new, better land, which, by all means was not perfect, but, all in all, held the best prospects for human growth and development. But then, I had heard it several times that Utah was not representative of America. Utah did not have the slums of the industrial cities, nor the misery associated with them. One can only hope that, at least as far as the Church has spread her wings, poverty will never exist. Of course, we will have to be vigilant. Wherever people, through their industry and foresight, have achieved a high standard of living, it must be defended by the same efforts. There is never any time to rely on the good works of yesterday. Nothing will ever remain as it is - not even love. We have to rebuild it over and over again - not even every cart will go downhill by itself.
One day, whilst driving in my friend Walter’s car, I took a wrong turn and came to the little Mormon town of Orem. Of course, I did not know that this place had twice won the prize as the most livable town in the state. But whoever was lucky enough to have been born into that flower-graced paradise (who has never experienced Leipzig in the 80’s), could never appreciate it. This will most likely be an eternal lecture: we do not know what we have until we have lost it. That is what Hartmut, my oldest son told me: after finishing his leaving certificate and being away from home for 7 years, he had learned to live in adverse conditions: “Only now am I beginning to appreciate how valuable my home was.” How much it meant to him, to know that his family would always be there for him. First he served 3 years for his placement at a university, and then he studied Engineering at the Karl-Marx-Stadt. I shall never forget when, almost towards the end of Hartmut’s time away from home, we were driving down the highway between Dresden and Freiberg, I asked him: “Well Hartmut, what do you think about our shared faith?” Without thinking much about it, his answer came spontaneously: “It is the best thing we have!” His answer touched the depth of my soul and I felt blessed. As soon as he had completed his final examination he took all the files which were under the heading Scientific Communism and threw them in the waste bin with the comment: “None of this rubbish is worth keeping.”
I must admit that at times I had experienced my share of concerns, fearing that surely Hartmut must often have felt the pressure of his surroundings the way I had. How happy and thankful I was to know that he had gained a testimony of the truthfulness and satisfaction of the restored gospel teachings and that he too had the desire to serve in so noble a cause, a cause that held all the promises for uniting the families of the earth in peace and harmony. It was a task that communism tried to accomplish, but would never be able to achieve, because in their choice of becoming the Proletariat of all the earth, they would view a large section of their fellow beings as their enemies. Meanwhile, Church members are taught: all people are the children of God. This then is the reason why all endeavors, political, holy or unholy, depend on whether we include all of human society despite their differences, or whether we just consider ourselves.
In the autumn of 1983, a year after my release as district president, Klaus Nikol and I were called to serve as ward missionaries. One day, while walking down a street in Neubrandenburg, I met the local evangelical pastor, Fritz Rabe, from Saint George, and I told him about our mission. He looked at me, wondering at how freely I spoke. “Yes, our message is beautiful for all people.” His eyes searched my eyes, then suddenly he said, “Come and visit my church. You can give my youth group and me a report of your trip to America and the Mormons.”
Klaus and I, equipped with a lot of coloured slides, entered the little church room. Thirty girls and boys were sitting around a long table. Pastor Rabe opened a letter, which he had received. I looked at it and I could feel it was pertinent to our assignment. I observed him, whilst he was reading - there were things that upset him. Near-sighted as he was, he held the letter close to his face, nodded and then he shook his head. The official opening of the meeting was delayed by some minutes.
Later on Pastor Rabe told me that he had been informed by his synod, that all contacts with the Mormons were not appreciated. According to the advice given in this official letter, he should have asked us to leave the hall immediately, but he let us proceed, and by so doing, he laid his own welfare on the line. As things stood, we were considered a dangerous sect. He took it upon himself and let himself be guided by his own feelings. Our first slide showed the Mormon Tabernacle Choir. One more move to the tape recorder and the full swell of A Mighty Fortress is our God, that well-known, old Lutheran hymn filled the room. Soon Pastor Rabe, a thin, unmarried man in his 40s, thought that we posed no danger to his congregation. Klaus Nikol answered the first question: “How do you differ from other Churches” by quoting Joseph Smith: “We are not so distant from one another, as not to drink from the same source of love.”
“Are these words of Joseph Smith?” asked Pastor Rabe.
“Yes, word for word.” I could prove it. Sometime later a boisterous discussion broke out. Two young deacons voiced their disapproval of The Book of Mormon: “It is wrong to place any other book next to the Bible,” they bellowed. “Don’t you guys know what it says at the end of the Book of Revelation? It is forbidden to add anything to it.”
I picked up the Bible and showed it to the young people: “How much of this book was accepted by the Jews?” They looked a little lost. One of the 2 accusers cried out: “The Jews upheld only the Old Testament as holy scripture!” I completed my point: “That means that, in the eyes of a Jew, the New Testament is a not authorized extension of holy writings. Does that prove that this truth as believed by the Jews is correct?”
Pastor Rabe let our discussion continue although he knew that more and more facts about the scriptures would be made known. He knew that the New Testament was not combined in a chronological order. He gave a thoughtful explanation now and then. Our main accusers found it uncomfortable to follow our logic or to answer our question, and insisted that they believed that Joseph Smith was a liar and a fraud. We replied: “Of course, we must ask about the possibility that The Book of Mormon is a product of Joseph Smith’s fantasy. The only thing wrong with that is that once our mind has decided upon a negative verdict before an investigation. All logic is laid to rest.” No sooner had we given this reply than our accusers broke into a rage. Pastor Rabe intervened and settled the 2 young hot heads, Then he dismissed us in a most friendly manner - he felt embarrassed by the deacons’ unruly behavior. Surprisingly, those 2 young men visited me at my home 1 hour later to apologize for their rudeness.
“Please come in. Take a seat.”
They looked around, but could not spy any evidence to suggest that I was a fanatical person. The main accuser, Thorsten, confessed that he felt threatened that we wanted to rob them of the joy of life - that they could never live like Mormons do. They wanted some fun - the kind that was to be had with beautiful girls. Their frankness left me somewhat speechless. I assured them that people never have the right, at any time, to force their opinions upon others. I regret that at that time I did not know the famous words of the American Baptist preacher, Martin Luther King, which coincide with words found in Doctrine and Covenants 130:20-21: “There is a law, irrevocably decreed in heaven before the foundations of this world, upon which all blessings are predicated and when we obtain any blessing from God, it is by obedience to that law upon which it is predicated.”
Perhaps it would have helped Thorsten and his friend to understand that it was not a particular religion that stood as centre point; rather that it is a matter of a basic truth. In his own way Martin Luther King said it: “God has placed immovable moral laws into his universe which we cannot alter. If we choose to break them, they will break us.” Those 2 sentences encompass the complete philosophy of Mormon moral teachings.
A few days later I met Pastor Rabe in the street. As we walked together he said: “Had I not had the chance to get to know you and your friend, Did I not known of the doctrines of your faith and its fundamental teachings, then I’m sure I would think and believe as all other priests and pastors: that Mormons are a lot of dangerous fanatics.” In 1983 neither of us had any idea that our friendship would hold much anxiety for him. For Fritz many a warning came loud and clear from the superiors of his church. Twenty years later our friendship still as strong as before, we joined forces to present a weekly program on 88.0 Neubrandenburg Radio. Our theme: Loss of Values.
In the summer of 1985 it finally happened:
the first LDS temple on German soil was presented to the public. During 14 days of open house, many members volunteered to usher thousands of guests, answering their many questions, through the hallowed halls. For this purpose I had taken 8 days vacation. One hour before opening the large gates, Holger Bellmann, who was responsible for the first session of entries, handed me the keys: “Gerd, be so kind as to open the gate.” I took the key, walked out of the chapel, past the glowing white temple building and was astonished that, in the past 2 hours of our preparations, the queue had increased from 20 to several hundred people.
Two young ladies with dark eyes stood at the very front of the queue, looking at me with a questioning gaze. I took their looks as expected curiosity: “Who are you? What is this here? What will you show and tell us? Do you really believe it? Are you real? What is this great building that has been erected with the sanctions of the communist party? Are you socialist Christians? Is the SED changing its political views? Does Honnecker want to annoy other churches? How much did this beautiful building on top of the hill cost?”
The temple was a total mystery to all. For 14 days it continued, for 10 or more hours per day. Again and again our visitors asked the same questions. Then they shrugged their shoulders and admired the simple yet lovely scene. Almost 92,000 people came to look – for many it was only a sight-seeing adventure, each one with their own annotation to which we responded as far as we could. We tried to help them feel the Spirit. We endeavored to give precise and short explanations. One usher would take 50 people at the time. But there were times I had as many as 100 per group in the chapel. All of us felt how the looks of our visitors searched us. It was always connected to one thought: “Could it possibly be that you’re not lying? Too many colorful soap bubbles have already drifted past us.”
Many of the people with positive comments admitted that they had never heard of such modern religious and motivated opinions. Actually what they had heard was not modern at all. To be precise it was ancient, more than 200 years before Christ. Alma a Book of Mormon prophet verbalized the following: “…the Lord saith; ye shall not esteem one flesh above another, nor that one man shall think himself above another…”
I told my listeners that Joseph Smith had said that nobody can remain as he is, but should endeavor to develop wholesome trades, and take heed of the wisdom of the ages, “Man cannot be saved in ignorance.” Often I encouraged people to read from The Book of Mormon, copies of which we had placed throughout the chapel.
I could see, how surprised they were, if I showed them the words in Mosiah 23:17:
“And it came to pass that none received authority to preach or to teach except it were by him from God. Therefore he consecrated all their priests and all their teachers, and none were consecrated except they were just men.”
A mother and her adult daughter both felt the spirit - I could see how good they felt, however, I have never seen them again. When I spoke like that I could see how people were moved in their souls. It was pure light shining in their eyes. Six hours of constant talk left me exhausted. My friend, Wolfgang Zwirner, from Dresden, a university librarian, managed to go on for 10 hours - unbelievable but true!
On the evening of the third day a little man with an intelligent face told me without any hesitation: “If I had a bomb I would hide it beneath this pretty white temple.” He turned and started to talk in a boastful way to the bystanders. My friend, Lothar Ebisch, district president of Karl-Marx-Stadt approached me and whispered in my ear: “Don’t worry, whatever he may say. I know him. He’s a Stasi spy!”
“No!” I answered, “He told me he is a pastor of the Lutheran Church.” Lothar shrugged his shoulders: “I know!” His eyes spoke volumes. He smiled to encourage me.
The most frequent-asked question: “What is the main difference between other churches and yours?” And the next was:” Have you any proof?” How could I give an answer in only 3 sentences?
Of what benefit would it be to have absolute proof of the reality of God, or the authenticity of The Book of Mormon? Or any of the other questions to which mankind has not been given the answers. Would such knowledge not rest upon our souls like a mighty iceberg, instead of warming our hearts? The indispensable art of numbers and statistics is of little worth when compared with the joy and power of love. Our souls feel peace, but only when they surrounded by truth and love. Regarding the differences I told my visitors: “In the centuries after Christ there was an apostasy.” On the blackboard I drew a diagram: “Jesus taught that his way would be a narrow path, and Alma said: “Blessed be the name of our God…for He doth work righteousness forever.” The Book of Mormon, Alma 26:8. Then I drew a straight line across the top and showed what happened as time passed. There was a step-by-step decline until total darkness and evil was induced by force and superstition.
Third: Members of the Church of Jesus Christ have new revelation and The Book of Mormon. We have temple work – this means that we are responsible for bringing the blessings of the gospel to our ancestors in the spirit world.
Fourth: We are a Church of 100 percent laymen - all labors are voluntary. Whenever a person’s material existence is dependent upon his religion he will not search for more light. This is dangerous and will in time lead to torpidity and misuse.
Fifth: Like the early Christians in the first 300 years we have no crosses. The cross was the symbol of forced Christianity, Inquisition and intolerance - we believe in tolerance and the right to free agency.
Many visitors asked: “If you do not have the cross, are you Christians at all?” I could have given many answers, but thought it wise to simply state: “Like all other Christians we are diligent in keeping the commandments Jesus Christ has taught us,” and I quoted from John 14:21: “He that hath my commandments and keepeth them, he it is that loveth me and he that loved me shall be loved of my father, and I will love him, and will manifest myself to him.”
Later on in the courtyard, a red-haired student, who had brought a number of guests with him, swung his long arms and addressed his group: “Mormons are a pest! They have stolen Utah from the Indians. They have committed murders and they have covered their crimes with hypocrisy.” I saw the angry look on his face, and fiery sparks flying from his green eyes. As I listened to the untrue, overeducated view of historical events this fanatic so boldly declared, I approached him. He told me, to be quiet. I answered him by saying: “Well, that is not the truth! There may have been some Mormons who did wrong things, but these events were exceptions, committed against the laws of our Church, against the admonitions of Church leaders. Most people in Utah were faithful. Yes, there were Mormons who used the gun, after they had been provoked. But it is also true that such individuals were excommunicated from the Church.”
As a German I wished the Catholic Church and other denominations had excommunicated the persecutors of all Jewish people and Anti-Hitler supporters. They should have to accuse, as far as they were members of their churches. The young man stared at me and told me where to go. He knew far more facts than I ever could. He left and told his group to follow him. They took no notice of me whatsoever, lost themselves in the surrounding crowd. Only by the name tags on our backs could we be told apart.
Repeatedly we experienced the same scene. People would come in and pose as learned instructors. One bus driver had already been 3 or 4 times. He would bring a busload of people and then tell them fables that would make our hair stand on end. I don’t know how many of these tales may be of our own making. It was late in the evening and only a few visitors were still to be seen as Dietmar Hirsch, a 30 year-old member from Zwickau, came to talk to me. He told me that he had become a witness of a conversation between a cleric and a friendly SED man.
Arguments broke out by the baptismal font: “Look at this! How much more old-fashioned can you get than this theology! This is how the Christians of the first centuries baptized. Only old Italian basilicas and baptisteries in San Giovanni, Fonte, Naples or the baptistery in Ravenna still have such fonts. That’s where they actually baptized people by immersion. But it’s no longer necessary to include such fonts.” My friend, Dietmar, could not understand how an ordinance prescribed by Jesus Christ himself could ever be old fashioned. The cleric became very upset and then the man with the SED sign on his collar included himself in the conversation: “Mr. Pastor, I’m not a Mormon and do not intend of ever becoming one, and you may believe or think whatever you like. But, if there’s anything that’s old fashioned, then I’m sure it must be your Evangelical Church. You have had more than 400 years to change the world. The Catholics had almost 2000 years. Now tell me exactly what have you achieved? How have you made a difference to our world? On the other hand here we see a totally different scene, the organization of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Looking at it from my point of view, it will satisfy the needs of a modern world. Your churches do not have the kind of foundation nor the structure to fill the demands of today’s society. You will see that which was good for Martin Luther’s day is not sufficient for our times. This Church however is perfect in its organization. It requires the support of all its members, is tailored to fit all the people, and, what is more important than everything else, it has teachings that will uphold it, and a first rate social structure. To me it is perfectly clear that if there is a God, then Mormonism is the religion of the future.” The pastor, who was by now fuming, snapped at him: “And how would you know all this things?”
“It’s my pleasure to tell you, sir! As the SED authorities deliberated whether or not this building should be erected, my orders came from the GDR government to investigate the teachings and organization of this Church. I have written my diploma thesis on it.” The conversation ended abruptly. The difference between the 2 men was the fact that one of them had studied the subject and was therefore able to judge the matter in a fair light.
I was able to show further interested people via pictures that the early Church (between the third and sixth centuries) had changed its theology. Liturgy and special innovations came into it, denying a great and important truth: that all people are children of God, and have had a pre-existence.
A lot of variances changed the face of the Church. On the very top of the list we find the Athanasian Creed; this was especially against the original teachings and scriptures of the early Christian Fathers such as Origen, Arius and others.
As written in the German Handwörterbuch für Theologie und Religionswissenschaft, 3rd edition, 1960. F.H. KETTLER Die Religion in Geschichte und Gegenwart, p. 1695ff
Every Christian should know that Emperor Constantine “the Great” was the founder of the imperial Church, later known as the Orthodox and Catholic Church.
Even if there were and are Christians who have written the name of Jesus Christ on his tombstone, it was never Jesus Christ whom Constantine worshipped. Constantine throughout his life adored the enemy of Jesus, namely the sun god, sol invictus. The only god that ever existed for him was sol invictus.
One Sunday morning, a month after the open house, I noticed a well-dressed elderly gent, deeply immersed in thought, sitting on one of the benches in our temple garden. I approached him, and bade him a ‘good morning.’ He was in his 50s and looked at me strangely. Although I could feel his disapproval, I could not free myself from the impression that he needed help. I asked if I could be of assistance. His answer came, cold and decisive: “No!” Then, looking at me again he added: “I know everything I need to know about this building.”
I perceived that something was wrong. What was I to do? The man did not wish to be instructed. I felt bad knowing that there he was, unhappy, dissatisfied with questions left unanswered. I would have loved to have sat down, but he was not willing to give me a chance. When I returned 30 minutes later, he still sat frozen like a statue on that bench, so I gathered all my courage, approached him again, excused myself and begged his forgiveness for being so bold as to disturb him again. “Didn’t I tell you that I’m already informed?”
However, I could feel that he had not drunk from the pure fountain. So I asked him what was causing him so much thought. I knew that I had been quite forward. He gave into my petition and then started to talk. I didn’t know whether I should laugh or cry. Everything the clever gent told me about our church was wrong. It was the same nonsense with which the well-known Schreiber writers had made public their book, Mystic, Masons and Mormons, which was a mixture of mere fables and lies. All he knew was false information. As our conversation opened up the corridor of communication, he told me that he was a university lecturer from Cologne and that he taught natural science. I asked him to allow me to read him 3 sentences of the revelations recorded by Joseph Smith. Struggling with himself he replied, “But only 3, please.” I opened my Doctrine and Covenants to section 88:67 and began to read:
“And if your eye be single to my glory, your whole bodies shall be filled with light, and there shall be no darkness in you; and that body which is filled with light comprehendeth all things.”
“Read that again!” said the man, looking past me into some far unknown sphere. So I read it again. “Is there another verse, please?” Now I took the words of Alma in Mosiah 23: 14. “And also trust no one to be your teacher or your minister, except he be a man of God, walking in his ways and keeping his commandments.”
His voice vibrated a little: “From what book did you read that?”
“These words are from The Book of Mormon!” He stood up, looked straight into my face and studied me with a great intensity. However, it did not feel unpleasant. I guess he asked himself: “Who is this guy?” I noticed how his gaze wandered to the books in the black leather binding. “Here!” I passed the book to him, “Read for yourself! There are sentences from the letters written by Joseph Smith whilst imprisoned in Liberty Jail.” He actually took the book and read what I had showed him:
“...the rights of the priesthood are inseparably connected with the power of heaven, and the powers of heaven cannot be controlled nor handled only upon the principles of righteousness. That they may be conferred upon us, it is true; but when we undertake to cover our sins, or to gratify our pride, our vain ambition, or to exercise control or dominion or compulsion upon the souls of the children of men, in any degree of unrighteousness, behold, the heavens withdraw themselves; the spirit of the Lord is grieved; and when it is withdrawn, Amen to the priesthood or the authority of that man.” Doctrine and Covenants 121:36-37.
The elderly gent’s head shot up as he thought about what he had read. For about 20 seconds his breathing became slow and deep: “I will distance myself from my source of information!” It sounded like the ripping of paper.
“Yes Sir! I think you should. I’m most grateful to have had the opportunity to speak to you.”
“Oh no, not at all, I’m the one to be grateful.”
Once back in my hometown of Neubrandenburg the story was much the same as before, People would rather ask their local clergy for advice then petition their father in heaven? Pastors that earn money by preaching the word of God. This is the reason we have little success. The main tenet of their doctrine is the “justification of sinful human beings by God’s grace through faith” Romans 3:23-25.
According to Luthers teachings, human beings are incapable of cooperating in their salvation, because, as sinners, they actively oppose God and his salvation. They intend rather to express that salvation remains free from human cooperation…” see Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification by the Lutheran World Federation and the Catholic Church.
He gave the principles of Salvation:
“Before him shall be gathered all nations; and he shall separate them… as a shepherd divided his sheep from the goats, … then shall the righteous answer him, saying Lord, when saw we thee an hungered, and fed thee? Or thirsty, and gave thee drink? When saw we thee a stranger, and took thee in? Or naked, and clothed thee? Or when saw we thee sick, or in prison, and came unto thee? And the King shall answer and say unto them, Verily I say unto you, inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it to me.” Matthew 25:32-40
So taught Joseph Smith, according to the revelation he received from God:
“Verily I say, men should be anxiously engaged in a good cause, and do many things of their own free will, and bring to pass much righteousness. For the power is in them, wherein they are agents unto themselves. And inasmuch as men do good they shall in nowise lose their reward.” Doctrine and Covenants 58:27-28
Years have passed, and I have never heard from him again. Still I hold the hope, that perhaps I may meet him once more in the eternities.
Shortly before Christmas 1986 I suffered my first stroke. I believe there were several reasons for it: Juergen, one of the young men at our fishing association, a very tall, good-looking man of a strong character, started directing his attacks against his co-workers and me, whilst I was conducting a work meeting with 18 co-workers. A violent argument erupted between him and another man. My eardrums were humming - but not just mine! As if that was not enough, those 2 German warriors started attacking each other over an old, unsettled matter. I arose and unwisely placed myself between the pair of wrangling giants. At that moment an unseen hand reached for my throat. Never had I known that hatred could make itself manifest in a physical sense. I felt as though my whole body was being wrapped in cold wet bandages. The bottomless hatred between the 2 rivals was paralyzing. Like black snow, it settled on my bare skin. Shocked, I withdrew, and moments later, I collapsed. As they saw me lying on the floor, they stopped their fighting and summoned an ambulance. The medics took me to the clinic. I could not open my eyes nor move my legs. They examined me: “It’s not food poisoning,” said one of the doctors. I diagnosed myself: “Then it is a blockade in the main section of my brain.” The doctors laughed: “Yes, you’re right, it is a blockade in the cerebellum.” Every time I tried to turn my head, the carousel surrounding me just turned in ceaseless motion. The days seemed endless. Dr von Suchodolitz, a physician in charge, deliberated that my blood vessels, because of years of faulty nutrition and my age, were not responding to the treatments he had prescribed for me. Five long days had already passed and I still could not open my eyes. When my legs began to work again, I was able to slide my hands painstakingly along the walls to get to the bathroom. My fears increased as the hours passed. Then I remembered that it would be wise to have the priesthood blessing my sons had offered me. Erika called my sons Hartmut and Matthias to the clinic. Weeks later Matthias talked of this experience. He said that he felt that this task was his duty to perform, however he felt concerned about the words that he should speak in this priesthood blessing and anointing : “What should I, what could I promise you in regards to the future?” But then, he confessed: “As soon as my hands lay on your head there was no doubt at all that your health would be restored as in former days.” And thus it was. Even though the doctors told me, I would never drive a car again, I have since that day, accident free for more than half a million kilometers, many of them in heavy traffic (and I still drive our car in Australia). I will never forget, our patriarch, Walter Krause, told me the same thing: “Gerd, you will still be needed.”
Yes, I love my Church. Except for ones during my youth, I have never ever criticized any priesthood leaders, since my Father, Wilhelm, admonished me: “Do it better, my son!” I was 16 years old, laughing at an older brother - I can see it now: we were sitting around the table for dinner, when Father pointed his index finger at me, and with an earnest face, he looked at me: “Do it better, my son!”
I found it fascinating to listen to the lectures given at an opening seminar of a Marxist philosopher and scientist regarding the creation of the universe. He said: “Besides the endless energy in an endless small space, just before the big bang there must have been one more event, namely the creation of a law-package!” Unbelievable! This was uttered by a communist? Everything started to fall into place, and a scene of deep admiration filled my mind. God gave a set of laws, which resulted in the forthcoming beauty of creation. Step by step, I remembered the important scripture in The Pearl of Great Price: Abraham 4:18 “And the Gods watched those things which they had ordered until they obeyed.” What a cue in the direction of evolution!
The following summer the little peninsula of the Tollense Lake was full of army deep-sea divers. They hoisted their tents and practiced their daily training schedules, their goal being to dive without any air bubbles showing on the surface of the water. For that purpose they had special breathing apparatus. Their orders may well have been: “There are 2 cruisers in the harbor of Kiel or Southampton. Go and send them to the bottom of the ocean!
The Cold War was ready to develop into a bitter hot war: “Combat mission of the working class!” What a big lie! The working classes were unable to speak - they were without a voice. That is the reason why, even on still, wind-free days the army’s deep-sea divers could appear unnoticed next to our boats. One day 5 of those guys in their black suits suddenly surrounded our boats. They had climbed silently onto our motorboat anchored next to our skiffs. They wanted to watch the hauling in of the net in the last and most interesting phase. My co-worker in the opposite boat, Hermann Witte, had spied them before me and he was unique joker in a big way, but harmless. He recognized his chance to tell one of his common jokes with the intention of playing the big man. He was motivated by the presence of the other men and started to humiliate me, by clamorously telling me not to forget to pray to God before going on my journey the following day. Momentarily I became the centre point of their conversation. The boss of the troop – a doctor and mayor – looked as though he had just fallen from the clouds: “Don’t tell me you pray to and believe in God?” I turned toward, him with a twinkle in my eye and asked him: “And you? Don’t you believe in God?”
“Of course not!” he replied”
“Of course, you do - you believe in Karl Marx and Vladimir Iljitsch Lenin.”
His comrades laughed. With a somewhat sheepish grin he reaffirmed, but only through clenched teeth: “Well sort of…” and he added “At least I don’t pray to them! I never bend my knees,” to which I answered: “You know, I have seen men like you on bended knee, begging some beautiful woman, to hear their petitions.” Again there was a roar of laughter at our volley of words. But, oh boy, how their heads flew up as I confessed that I was a Mormon. After the dedication of the Freiberg Temple and all the publicity that had accompanied it, there were not too many people in the GDR who had not heard about it. True, none of these men had traveled to visit it at the time of the open house, but most people knew enough to form an opinion.
The divers demanded that I tell them the basis and core of my beliefs. If I had answered their questions in a quick, rational way, this encounter would only have been a small episode among many others. They would have cut it to suit their needs like a number game. I did not allow them the pleasure of cutting me off. I thought, “If only you knew how wonderfully broad this stream of Mormonism is - how deep, how high. But ye know not. Perhaps, God willing, somehow, somewhere you shall feel the pleasantness of its warmth, the power of its current, like waters that penetrate a wooden wedge expanding it to break the solid rock. Like the Gulf Stream, which changes all that it touches whilst travelling through the Atlantic?” I asked the troop leader if he thought it fair that I should have just 5 minutes in which to elaborate a whole new life philosophy to him. “Good,” he replied, “tomorrow I will take 10 minutes - I don’t think it will take any longer.”
The following morning, I could see them from afar, standing in their black suits on the shoreline at Rheser corner. We helped the soldiers to load all their diving gear into the motorboat, and within minutes I was surrounded by 8 tall men with happy faces. We stood on the wooden planks that covered the large storage containers as the men wished to swim back. They asked us to take them to the fishing island some 3 kilometers away. It would take a little under 15 minutes, and that was the time they had set aside for me, curious to find out how I would fare under their arguments, which their boss would whip around my ears. “Otschen karascho!” (Very good!). Manfred, the doctor started: “We have already taken the first positive steps towards creating man ‘in vitro.’ Soon we will do even much more. Then where is there place for a God?”
I ask him: “What is a human being, in case you really produce such by more science and organic matters?” In disbelief he looked at me, and his friends began to laugh. However, he could not understand at all. A little man by his side rephrased the sentence: “Manfred, this fisherman’s question is: “Is there no creator? Because there are creators.
The doctor stared at me and after a while he nodded as if to say: “Look at that little fisherman…” Manfred stayed on the motorboat with me, whilst the others sank below the surface of the lake, and guided by a small compass they returned to the mainland.
In the meantime my colleagues lifted and emptied the nets that we had laid on the adjoining lake, the Lieps, which is connected to the greater lake by a channel. Manfred and I sat and talked. I made myself useful by steering the boat. Manfred had freed himself from his black diving suit, and sat in his shorts and tee-shirt enjoying the sun. Then he asked, “Tell me, and how is it that you stand against all that we know?” He was interested to find out the reasons why an individual like me would choose to be different from most people. So I told him the events surrounding Joseph Smith. Manfred rocked his head forth and back, but did not laugh. There was no reason to laugh, even if he could not comprehend all that I had told him so earnestly, he found my words pleasant. I was like a pine tree that had been planted in an alley of birches. Then he talked about himself, that his life had never given him any cause to dance outside the prescribed line. His course lay straight before him, and his life had thus far all gone according to plan: leaving school exam, university medical studies, member of the SED, the military academy, certificate. He was the son of a laborer. “Surely it all has to do with where we came from,” I admitted. “I was never meant to follow in the footsteps of my father, who could never stop me from choosing my own destiny. It’s a lifelong task and not easy to process the influence of our life into truth and error.” I tried to explain to him that since the age of 15, I had felt confronted by 2 major questions. The answers had come once I had placed myself on the right track. The first was directed at my former Nazi authorities and later on at some of my SED comrades: Why have you tried to fool yourselves and then tried to fool me?” The second was born of the first: why were the people who had proved to me how easy it was to be fooled, so sure that Joseph Smith was a liar?” Whilst I endeavored to prove to Manfred that I had never meant to be different, his mouse-grey eyes searched me.
“Manfred, I have never seen nor hoped for anything different than you, with one exception: I had reasons to search for the reality of God, whom I have found.”
As expected in conversations like this, Manfred brought up the theory of Evolution. I had just completed reading a book by Nobel Prize winner, Manfred Eigen, entitled the messages of the first Gene (Das Urgen). Eigen talks of a set goal - a directed evolution - and I told Manfred about this subject. How important it is to see the way of creation. It was all planned before! I told Manfred. Joseph Smith taught the same: “….all things were before created; but spiritually were they created and made according to my word.” The Pearl of Great Price, Moses 2: 7.
“Here, especially, the contradiction between scripture and science is dissolved: evolution is part of the creation. Eigen says: “There is in nature a director that tells the new mutations if they are right or wrong – if they are going in the desired direction. I asked him: “Who gave the direction? Later on I will show you a book called The Pearl of Great Price. In the book of Abraham 4:18: we read “And the Gods watched those things which they had ordered until they obeyed.”
Manfred was totally surprised and asked immediately: “Do you believe in Evolution and God? “
“Yes, we are literally children of God, as well as children of the earth. Only with those 2 facts in mind do the contradictions, which exist among the different views of men, diminish. The physical appearance of plants, animals and humans came to pass in the framework of God’s planned Evolution (and maybe they even came into existence with our personal contributions under the direction of an eternal God).
“Come on!” he cried, “Who in the world could believe all that?
I replayed: “We are free to have our own ideas, but there is a higher intelligence than us!” I had only shared my ideas with him “As soon as the human body resembled the prescribed plan, the chain events of the incarnation of our spirits began. This spirit, however, is not the product of evolution and I believe, for man is spirit, and his body is the temple, the house, the tent, a coat. Most people think that our body is everything we are. But we’re speaking about 2 different things. Manfred, have you ever heard the words of Goethe? In a conversation with Eckermann he stated: “that it was the plan of God to use this basis of elements to create a nursery for his offspring. Thus he is active in the higher realms of nature to draw the lesser or weaker to a higher level of existence.”
Manfred had never heard this and shook his head. I continued: “Yes, the coat is important, even though it ages, in contrast to the spirit of man which is eternal, forever young and beautiful except when our thoughts defile it. My religion is to encourage all people to be better today than yesterday, to be honest with themselves, because God longs for his children to be happy. We Mormons are not Lutherans or Catholics, we are optimists. We love our life and our body. My religion is pure optimism.
He looked at me: “Yes, you are a happy man!”
I nodded, yes I am. I felt harmony, and Manfred felt it too. We took a long break, and I thought that my friend no longer wished to touch on our previous subject. Our motorboat cut through the slightly rippled waters of the beautiful lake, and, with the pleasant south wind ruffling his hair, Manfred continued: “Well,” he commended, “so far, so good, but surely you know that all you’ve told me is not as other Christians believe. The traces in the sands of history are filled with millions of corpses butchered in the name of Christ. Where did Christianity ever accomplish any good in our world? There’s been only death, blood and tears.” With that comment Manfred had given me the lead into my next discussion... the remainder of the day passed in a trice.
We conversed for 7 hours and both enjoyed it. I closed it with the statement: “This is one of the reasons that I’m a Mormon! God brings his intentions to a good end, in creation and in developing our character, but we must give him our hand and accept his advice and live his commandments. God builds new things on old foundations - this is also evident in his philosophy. Every new thing, in order to be successful, is built upon the foundation of proven and tested truth. That’s how the whole world is connected. All life forms are related to one another, for they all share one and the same Father.” My co-workers were busy lifting the final fish traps from the surface of the water. As we watched the many splashing fishes being transported to the holding vats, my thoughts took flight to a time long before, and we drove back slowly, still talking. “But as I said, it would be the greatest catastrophe if scientists should, through their experiments, discover the existence of an almighty God.” In dismay, he shook. It would have been better if this last sentence had not been uttered at all: “Gerd, now you have broken all your own logic, I’m really disappointed about this last statement.”
“No way, No way!” I insisted, “Surely you’re aware that we have weaknesses, our desire to swim with the current, to keep a steady lookout to ensure everyone else is still there. Aren’t there sufficient people who don’t find any peace day and night until even the very last rival has crawled through the hoop?” In explanation, I instantly found some suitable examples, as my son, Hartmut, still attended school. At one of the parent evenings I had sat next to a police officer. The problem at hand was that the ruling political party insisted that our educational institutions produce more plumbers and heating installers. None of the students in that class wished to take that educational path. I witnessed the straight liner’s behaviour as he began to shake with indignation. He threatened: “Don’t you dare resist the Party!” This is what I meant: many of those who dared to uphold the law of the high and mighty, when it was made clear that it was the law, were sharp-eyed inquisitors. Even among our neighbours, every little wrong committed was reported. With the total proof of the existence of God we would submit our own conscience to a merciless critic, who could never bow down enough under the rules of a dictator. Surely then life would be unbearable. It’s our luck that our God is not a dictatorial ruler. He gives us plenty room to move.”
Manfred, by no means outworn, asked: “How do you know that?”
“Every person can find God if he searches, but not by force, not by science – that is not the way. We would lose our freedom and the happiness of discovery. If God were a dictator he would have subdued us long ago. All actors, whether visible or invisible, leave tracks behind them. I have always found that we are free to decide. That is exactly his plan: our development is to move according to our understanding and through our own efforts. Mormonism teaches us that we have the gift of free agency, because God wants to elevate us to his own status, just as a loving father would do here on earth.”
Slowly we were driven back and circled the Tollense Lake once more until the sun stood deep towards the southwest. Two of my fisherman had fallen asleep from a hard day’s labour, and lay stretched out on top of the motorboat over the holding vats. Manfred prepared himself for our landing and shook my hand to bid me farewell. He looked at me in a friendly way: “I would never have believed that there are such ideas as the ones you’ve spoken about. I really enjoyed today – I’ve had a great time.” He shook his young, imposing head and smiled. Then he laughed: “Yes, so positive, so bright!” We parted as friends.
A year later, in the summer of 1988, I discovered the silhouettes of a group of divers on the peninsula, but there were no waving hands. Disappointed, I passed by the peninsula. Two hours later, some men clothed in their black suits boat drove straight towards me in a high speed pneumatic. As they approached, I could see 5 earnest faces. They used their oars for the last 5 metres between us. I asked immediately: “Where is Manfred?”
“We have come to ask you,” came the reply, “what have you done with Manfred?” It shocked me. What had I done?
“Yes, he came back last year to our campfire and told us about you. He was totally confused! He kept on saying, “Unbelievable, unbelievable!” Yes, he was confused, but not unhappy. Later on, in Berlin, he went from one library to another, reading many books about Mormons.”
Has a man like Dr. Hauth ever seen the murals in St.Vitale, Italy?
Dear reader have you ever seen this beautiful picture from the 5th Century?
“Manfred is no longer a member of our crew! But he sends you his best wishes.”
I remember, after our first visit, the Greek professor guided us to the house library. At our friendly parting he presented us with a copy of the Theological Literature Periodical (Theologische Literaturzeitung, No. 2 February 1984). In it we were to find an article entitled Joseph Smith and the Bible, by Heikki Raeisaenen, Heikki explains that Joseph Smith changed some of the sentences of the Holy Bible, but not its contents. His reason for doing so was apparently to bend them to suit his own ideals. For instance, Heikki Raeisaenen mentions that, by changing the passage in Romans 7:25, Joseph Smith shows a surprising measure of insight in his observations, which, on the whole, correlate with modern exegeses. “In summary we can recognise,” states Raeisaenen, “that Joseph Smith detected real problems found in the Bible and pondered them. Seen through magnifying glasses, one can study the evident mechanics of the Bible. Modern translations demand the question of whether the original text has been represented correctly. With the many examples in the works of Joseph Smith, as in other Mormon literature, there are worthwhile pursuits of study and investigation, not only on a symbolic level but also to the theological scientist and private investigator.” The fact that outsiders (non-members) held such a positive opinion of Joseph Smith was a rare occurrence and touched me deeply. Sometime later I handed a copy of those writings to Dieter Bernd from Dahlem, and he gave it to Douglas Tobler, Professor of History at BYU.
In March 1989
the leaders of the SED confirmed that all GDR Mormon men and women would allow missionaries from other countries to serve in the DDR, and permit Latter-day Saints from the DDR to serve as missionaries in other countries. “This will strengthen friendships among nations," President Monson said.
I became friends with a fine young man by the name of Robby Schulz. He received a green passport like that of government officials, and thus the missionary program was initiated. US elders were permitted to proselyte in the GDR. As for us, we still had to live surrounded by socialism. We endeavoured not to mix our faith with the politics of the GDR. It was our goal to unite our society. We were as Jesus before Pilate, stating that his kingdom is not of this world (John 18:36). The accusations of our critics - that we were involved in secret contracts - were never more than sheer suspicion and mistrust. Our Church could survive all conditions, except the context in which it was considered illegal.
Such government decisions did not fit into my book at all. What was it with socialist leaders? Did they feel so strong or too weak to resist the wishes of our Church any longer? Was it senile decay in the house of SED Party’s Central Committee that had rendered them so mild and unexpectedly careful? Did Erich Honnecker, chairman of the State Council (chief government leader of the nation), hope that via the Mormon Church he might receive an invitation to the USA?
The negotiations started on 28 October 1988. Both Chairman Honnecker and Mr. Loeffler, state secretary for Religious Affairs, were very friendly – what a change! President Monson said that Mr. Loeffler expressed his conviction that Latter-day Saint missionaries traditionally become goodwill ambassadors, not only for their native countries, but also for the countries in which they serve their missions,
Mr. Loeffler also confirmed: "The experience of thousands of missionaries who have served throughout the world convinces us that President Monson’s assessment is correct. Latter-day Saints have the government's respect because they are law-abiding, loyal citizens who believe in strong families ties, have a strong work ethic and support the desire for world peace.”
"Obviously, there are differences of belief that separate us," President Monson said, "but there are many more things that unite us, including those which Mr. Loeffler mentioned." Joining President Monson for the meetings with the DDR officials were Elder Russell M. Nelson of the Council of the Twelve, Elder Hans B. Ringger, a member of the First Quorum of the Seventy and a counselor in the European area presidency of the Church, and local LDS officials such as my brother-in-law, Frank Apel.
Until the end of these developments I clung to the thought that only a massive worldwide effort could ever melt the Ice Palace. But it was not so. In a quick, silent, breathless motion it all fell apart, like winter snows surrendering to the sun. Whilst the frost of the Stalin dictatorship was the means that held the artificial apparatus together, the thaw after Leonid Brezhnev’s death made the meltdown possible.
At last the weather was changing, and the sun of reason began to shine once more. This event was brought to pass by a few individuals who had gathered around Mikhail Gorbachev. Perhaps Gorbachev had not anticipated the measure of the consequences, and did not feel the warmth of the East wind. Perhaps he thought that surely it could work without deploying force. He should never have uttered 2 key sentences spoken at the 19th conference of the KPdSU in 1988 (that is, if it was his wish to stay in the power game, those key words must have played on his mind for some time, as must have the consequences and risks which would automatically seek him out), but he did speak them, and with them the Ice Palace fell apart. The first of his sentences, which I read with the greatest of surprise and respect, was: “With the return of Truth and Justice….” The second sentence was ever so plain and simple: “Occupying a key position within the new ideology is the concept of free agency.” (Newspaper, Neues Deutschland, 29 June 1988)
Others may have cursed Gorbachev. I was convinced that he knew exactly what he was doing. He laid his hand on the holy of holies, namely the communist dictatorship, thus dismantling its lies and power of the past. Afterwards he traveled unexpectedly, appearing in many of his territory’s factories and workplaces where he found out how loudly the alarm sirens could ring. Everywhere statistics had been falsified and so were the people that had made them. They had not harvested grain, nor cotton in the fields of the southern republics as reported. Devotion to communism seldom comes from an honest heart and everything else stems from the latter.
On 30 October 1989 our GDR press released the statement that the East CDU had reached a decision to separate themselves from the SED Party. On that day I became an active member of that party, not because I wished to get even for wrongs of the past, but because it was my firm desire to help wherever, whenever, and however I could - to establish, step by step, a peaceful, democratic society. All the noisy demonstrations, the marches by the citizens of Leipzig and elsewhere, demanding changes as fast as they could possibly be achieved, scared me. I belonged to the pessimists, and I must admit that in as much as we had been granted increasingly more religious freedom since 1985, we, the older generation of Mormons felt greatly blessed. One other reason why I could not be persuaded to join in those marches was my concern for our fishing association. I said to our bookkeeper, who was one of the first protesters in Neubrandenburg, “You’re tearing down the whole building. I just hope none of the beams will fall on your head. However, they got the better of me: the fierce arm of communism left their canons in the arsenals! But it could well have turned out totally differently. Perhaps only in the future will we find out how closely we scraped past a catastrophe. I watched as large groups of party leaders and factory secretaries hurried through the streets of Neubrandenburg toward the city hall in the cultural park. They were all in an extraordinary state of anxiety. On 30 October there was a lot of excitement and unease. The business at hand, until 9 of November, was the settlement of damage minimization. Too bad, there was nothing to rescue. Starting at the Evangelical Johannes Church in Neubrandenburg, thousands of people took to the streets making their way to the Karl Marx Square. Happily they marched, carrying red posters adorned with political slogans which displayed their objections towards their government. In the midst of this massive rebellion I saw 2 of our 20-year old missionaries, Elder Craig and Elder Scofield, both dressed in light-colored coats. As I would have imagined, they were both so casual about what was such a great event for us.
The first to make a move were the admirable, brave, evangelical women of the Leipzig St. Nicolei Church. They set the wheels in motion with their cry: “All you who love democracy let your voice be heard! Come follow us to the streets!”
Stone hard men, who had sworn just days ago to be loyal communists, and who were willing to die in defense of the red flag, had to rise on the 31rst of October as “democrats.” Wonder upon wonder had just happened. I asked myself, “Is all this enough to call this a total turnabout a good thing?”
At the beginning of October
the leader for forest and land enterprises had promised me a trip to Sotchi on the Black Sea, as a special reward for having qualified in all sections of activities (filling schedules and plans) at the fishing association. It included the plane fares and hotel accommodation for 1 week. I had accepted the offer gratefully. Erika’s share of this trip had to be financed by us. On 5 December we boarded a plane in Dresden for our 4 and a half hour flight to the Black Sea. We stayed in a beautiful, modern, furnished room at the huge hotel in Dagomir, in the foothills of the Caucasian Mountains. The restaurants, which had been expecting visitors from around the world, stood empty. We felt totally isolated from the events back home, where everything was apparently collapsing. Information filtered through to us very slowly. On a huge blackboard in the dining room we could find key elements of news items from the GDR, however, there was nothing at all from Germany. We formed part of a group of about 50 people, all of whom had been working for many years in land economy. All were co-op or association leaders and I was surprised to meet so many friendly and enthusiastic fellow citizens expressing such happiness as they read the news that Egon Krenz, the new secretary general of the SED (since 18 October), had been dismissed by Hans Modrow. They shouted for joy, as though we just had won the lottery, even though most of them were still Egon Krenz comrades. In spite of the question, “What will happen when all the surprises are over?” I was happy.
In the extensive botanical gardens of that exclusive health resort I had the chance to chat with one of the ladies who served as an interpreter. She pleasantly answered my discrete questions: “Yes, Gorbachev has given his officers permission to leave their employment positions if they so wish. Much to his disappointment, the young pacifist-orientated officers left the Red Army. But no remorseless elderly gents picked up their hats to leave.
The interpreter told me that her brother had also left. “The doves flew away and the hawks stayed.” This important, enlightening confession of the young Russian woman would be a guideline for me, and I leant upon it in making future political decisions.
On our return home a meeting for all CDU members was held. It was at that meeting that I became acquainted with several fine young Catholic men. Among them were Rainer Prachtl, Dr. Paul Krueger and Guenter Jeske. These men would all hold positions of importance in our new democratic system.
I started to let my opinions be heard via newspaper articles and public speaking in diverse places, against the predominant atheism in our homeland. I explained to my fellow citizens that faith without reason makes fanatics and reason without faith produces machines. I always believed that faith and reason produced not only artists of life as long as they followed their ideals and remained true to love. In 1954 I bought myself a new Bible. I searched to find a theme to uphold and motivate myself, and on the inside of the binding I wrote: “Open thy mouth, judge righteously and plead the cause of the poor and needy.” (Proverbs 30: 8) Thus I endeavored, as much as possible, to bring my faith into politics. To me politics and religion have always been brothers. For me truth is like gold - it does not change. This is reflected in sentences such as that by Shakespeare’s Polonius in Hamlet: “….this above all, - to thine own self be true, and it must follow, as the night the day, thou canst not then be false to any man...”
At the end of January 1990
I accidentally met Pastor Fritz Rabe from the Church of St. Michael in front of the hospital in Pfaffenstreet. I told him that I intended to do my utmost to help build a sound foundation of democracy in our city. He nodded. He had already read some of my newspaper articles, which I had written under the title of Faith and Reason. He invited me to be the guest speaker at the forthcoming Prayers of Peace at the Church of St. John on 12 February. He took the theme from Psalm 97. I looked at him, baffled: “What will your church authorities have to say about that? If they see a “Mormon” is to speak in the biggest evangelical church in Neubrandenburg - a city of nearly 90,000 people? The thin man shrugged his shoulders: “Oh, I thought we had overcome the habit of making outcasts.”
The head pastor of the Church of St John, Mr. Martins, was, to say the least, somewhat dubious on hearing the news that a Mormon would speak in his church. He too had known me for many years. Sometime back in 1980 we had sat together in his large office, conversing about the doctrine of Justification, and, as with most of the talks I undertook with the clerics of other churches, we parted as friends. I was most surprised that this pastor notified me that he would decline any further appointments. I asked myself, “What is he afraid of?” I wanted to speak about the courage and faith of a Polish catholic monk. I had admired him, ever since I had first read his story.
Before I approached the microphone at the pulpit at the Church of St John, Pastor Martins came and whispered to me: “Be careful of the acoustics.” I found it unusual to have to speak slowly: “There is a man who has set us a wonderful example of how strong faith can be. His name is Maximilian Kolbe, a Franciscan monk. On the evening of 12 May 1941, the gates of the Auschwitz Concentration Camp closed behind him. He took with him nothing but his religious beliefs and his love for other people. He was never to leave those halls of death. Some weeks after his confinement, one of the Polish prisoners succeeded in escaping from that prison camp. His escape filled the camp wardens with rage. The SS-Officer in charge was fuming, and the punishment set to discourage others from attempting the same venture was that every 10th prisoner of the barrack in which Pater Kolbe stayed, would be shot. As the commandant, with his deadly order of selecting the men, counted to 10, the lot fell upon Frantisek Wlodarski, a father of 6 children. When he cried out in dismay, Maximilian Kolbe stepped in front of him, took his convict cap off his head and said: “I will take his place.” The shocked SS-man accepted his offer, planning to kill this do-gooder in some cruel manner. He was tortured for several days until he finally passed away. Many times he had to lie on the cold floor. However, he would rise, and not a sound of complaint (so often expressed by people under pressure), escaped his tongue. If there were a God surely he would intervene to stop all this suffering. He knew far more - he knew that only God can cover visible woe with invisible joy. The SS-men could not understand such a concept, and there are times that we cannot comprehend it either. We are human, and as such, have far more disposition to look at things on the surface whilst the important things in life are hidden. We may live, but do we choose to do the best for ourselves and our neighbors?”
As I returned to my seat, Pastor Rabe shook my hand. I believe it was the moment our friendship was sealed. Later on I gave him a Book of Mormon. Only 2 weeks later we spoke about it. He told me, “I did not find the reading disagreeable.” Consequently, he gave me another opportunity to speak at the same church, and I won the hearts of several people. However, for him it brought a lot of irritation from his pastor friends: “He is a Mormon!”
In many regards, my self-appointed duties - my job of running the Association - and taking part in the daily labours on the Lake took all my strength. Shortly after the members had voted me to be the new district secretary of the CDU I had to make an important decision. It became my duty to direct many of our political tasks in Neubrandenburg. Two days before Easter Thursday 1990 I received the information that Dr. Alfred Dregger, the head of the CDU/CSU lower house of Parliament fraction, wished to speak in Neubrandenburg Square. On the same day, whilst in an open roundtable meeting, I was made aware that a former high-ranking SED leader had hinted that the fanatical left party followers intended to conduct a march through our city. He thought it unwise that this rival group should be in the streets at the same time. The situation was still too unsettled. More time needed to elapse before things could settle down politically. Such circumstances did not look favourable. I asked myself seriously if indeed the appearance of Dr. Dregger, a right wing supporter, could cause the outbreak of riots in my domain. That he would never think that far was perfectly clear to me. Of course, his approval in this case was not essential. In my mind I could see perhaps 200 or more true blue SED followers meeting up with 50 or more youth, marching under the red flags, crying: “Down with the cold warriors!” What then? The visions of the potential development of such an encounter caused me much unease. In opposition to the leadership of the ‘Konrad-Adenauer-Haus’ (which meant the ‘leading voice’ of the CDU in Germany), I did not believe that the possibility of a final rebellion by the loyal National People’s Army supporters could be dismissed. All soldiers and officers were still under an oath of fidelity to the SED Party. There were enough hotheads who would not submit to the political changes, nor follow a new flag and ideology. Perhaps, against their own better judgment they could lose all self-control. All that what was needed was one signal from a red flag.
Back then I thought it foolish to exclude the possibility of left-wing uprising, especially as it would also be Adolf Hitler’s birthday on 20 April. It was an event that had most likely been totally overlooked by Dr. Dregger’s office staff. In the end I knew I had to follow my conscience. I asked Mrs. Zamzow, my agency leader, to contact Dr. Dregger’s office, to inform him that due to security reasons his public appearance was not desired in our city. However, Mrs. Zamzow could not relate to my concerns. I had to confront her with sharpness and then, to spite me she never made that call at all. When I found out I called all my advisers, including the Mayor, Peter Bolick, and his counselors to an emergency meeting, and informed them of the matter at hand. The 20 attendees agreed that, in order to satisfy individual wishes, we would not expose the people of our city to such a risk. On the 18th of April our final decision was transmitted to Dr. Dregger’s headquarters.
The next day Dr. Dregger’s co-workers arrived with the usual propaganda posters to be distributed all over town. I looked at them critically and stated my opinion. The clever young men looked at me as though I was an arrogant idiot. The person in charge shot up from his seat and left the office.
On the morning of 20 April Dr. Dregger arrived and asked me to talk privately with him. I explained my concerns to him, and then walked with his secretary and him towards our sports fields to the debate stages. He remained well controlled, but I could see his anger. I felt, however, that my decision was correct and thus did not waver. Perhaps he thought me to be a Red supporter. Let’s face it - there were people who would have told him, “No, Gerd Skibbe is not a communist, he is a Mormon”. That must have gone down his back like ice water. It could have been just another reason to dislike me; however it would have been undeserved. Even though I could not agree with his politics, I did not stand against him. There were no hidden reasons except the one made know to him: the market place was simply too dangerous for him. I did not wish to humiliate him.
To make matters worse I had to be the bearer of more unpleasant tidings for Dr. Dregger. The city clerics had told me to advise him that he was not permitted to erect a cross at Fünf-Eichen ( five Oaks) Concentration Camp near Neubrandenburg, in remembrance of Nazi butchery or communist slavery, because it was to be a community day of prayer and commemoration. Well, to be truthful, I would also have felt the sting of neglect. For better or worse I was able to save Dr. Dregger’s day when I suggested that there be a photo in the CDU press, showing us in the gardens of our office building. He smiled into the camera, hiding the bitter feelings within. In the end Dr. Dregger delivered his great talk in the safety of the town hall, of course to a limited audience.
That area was still GDR territory until 3 October 1990. At that time representatives of other political parties and I received an invitation to appear at the change of the pledge of allegiance of 700 air force officers and soldiers at the airport base in Trollenhagen. They stood before us, spick and span in their uniforms. Looking at them I remembered my hours with Dr. Dregger. What if these soldiers, including the other 10,000 stationed at our garrison city of Neubrandenburg, had intervened by waving their red flags to remind them of their pledge given to the communists? Surely my fears could have been an overreaction, because of an interim government. It was my conscience, not sheer logic that demanded caution. It was my feeling that, in the end, the responsibility for retaining the peace in our city rested upon my shoulders. I wished that all people could agree to the ideals of my party: humans are responsible for their own conscience and thus responsible, according to their Christian understanding, before God.
In public or private discussions I could never support the hurried efforts of German reunification. It was wrong to drown us in so many immediate changes - all good things take time. We were never given time to get things right. Besides, there was the eagerness of large sections of the public to gain extreme financial advantage. The grasp for the almighty West-German Mark was made easier by quick political fixes. Looking back at it all, we can now recognize that this was only possible for a short time, to lead the drift into the huge engine of development. Someone who is shipwrecked has no right to make demands, or to dictate the method of rescue. The how and when are totally in the hands of the rescuers.
Of course I was happy, and able to buy new kinds of luxuries with this new (undeserved!) money. The best thing of all, however, was the fact that from then on we were physically and spiritually free. To this day I’m most grateful for that gift.
At the beginning of July 1990
I was elected to be chairman of the fishing association. It was my goal that the association should prosper and that all of the men should retain full employment. At our first board meeting I announced that we would share 15 percent of our savings among ourselves, using the remainder to erect a new building. It was necessary to process our catches. I wished to install new fish-smoking facilities, plus a new shop for the public and a fish restaurant within the complex. That would mean that the association would incur a debt of 600,000 Marks. Everyone agreed, including Juergen, my rival. This seeming triviality should be the end of our 20 years of differences. Of course I took it for granted that he would know what such a debt entailed. His vote had bound him to our ventures, well at least to not taking any steps to prevent them.
As it happened, a few days later I found out that an unnamed person, by signing certain private arrangements had deprived us of several of our fishing lakes. That it was Juergen I could not, and would not believe. He had never uttered a single word about his intentions. He had not come to ask if it would be alright with the remainder of his friends and colleagues. How could it be that he would deliberately cross us that way? Not knowing what to do, I ignored it, and of course that was wrong - it was a big, big mistake. It was first-degree foolishness that would have tragic results. Four weeks passed, and, in spite of the warnings of my friends, I continued to pursue the existence and expansion of our association. Who in the world could take care of 30 square kilometers of waters alone? We had labored so long, so equally together, and it had become my goal to upgrade the association, to be productive, to drive it to a brighter future, to set it on a firm foundation, to give it a reliable structure, which would involve each and every man becoming a co-owner of the business. Was this not the plan, or the United Order, as taught by our prophets: to make people equal? Certainly it was not easy to realize this ideal, because people are immature - I learned that later.
On my desk I found more and more documents informing me of the cancellation of our best fishing territories - first the waters of the Kastorfer See, then the Moellner Lakes and others. I was advised that the self-ruling mayors in this new democracy of the different villages were able to let their waters to whomever they pleased. Who was our competitor? Until then we had been the legitimate users of this waters - we had the certificates and contracts! We had spent our money to set brut fishes into these lakes. We expected a harvest, and to have enough money to pay our mortgage. Who was this person? I picked up the phone to inquire. I felt shocked to the core. I drove to Rosenow, to find the office of Mr. K., the boss of the municipality association. He was an energetic, bearded 50-year old, sitting behind his desk. His glasses sparkled, and so did my anger. I told him of my concerns and was dismissed sharply. The decisions of the municipality representatives had fallen in favor of Juergen and I was told that the times for my Stalin-like views had elapsed. I gasped like a fish out of water: “Like you, I’m a new politician. I will not tolerate such inexcusable accusations.” Yes, there was the man who had caused my colleagues to get into trouble following my instructions to go to work as usual. I was very upset. I discovered that he had sent the police to confiscate our fishing equipment 2 weeks prior. I had to write a long protocol at the police station defending our rights. It cost me my time and nerves. How astonished the policemen had been, to see a little, grey-haired fisherman in Wellington boots, sitting at their typewriter with fingers moving in a flurry over the keyboard! I had typed nearly 2 pages in 25 minutes.
Then the words started flying with every sentence as the affronts became more substantial. I felt like a dog that had just undergone a hiding, and I removed myself from Mr. K.’s presence. Much faster than normal I found myself back at the association, where I bumped into one of my friends. “In there!” he pointed with his thumb over his shoulder. I guessed right. As I kicked open the door to the storage room with one hefty blow, there they sat: my rival, Juergen, and my predecessor, Reinhard Luedtke, counseling with one another. Reinhard, who was always friendly and helpful on the whole, was just about to tell Juergen that he could not really expect to persuade me to lend him the money to pay the rent on the lakes he had just taken from us. That was it, my collar finally busted. I called the men together, and they all appeared without delay and without getting upset. They already had an idea where the game was heading. It was my duty to ask Juergen for an explanation for taking our fishing grounds. He did not deny the fact that he had made plans to start his own business. I made him aware that he too had signed his name on our association agreement in regards to a bank loan. He shrugged his shoulders. I accused Juergen of foul play, and I even threatened him. If he would not undo the damage, we would, without any further notice, retrench him from our association.
Juergen would not admit to his deceitful conduct and from then on everything took its natural course. Most upset over the whole event, I gave him 2 hours to think about it. He would not give in, and thus, except for 2 votes, the 18 members expelled him. He rose angrily to his full height, as though he wanted to say something, but silently his head bowed as though it had dawned on him that his behavior could not simply be swept out of the way.
As I left to return to my family, Juergen confronted me in the street, stating that we would meet in a court, and that after the court proceedings were through, he would win the case. However, it all was beyond my understanding.
We were sent away with an order that all fishing on ‘his’ lakes had to cease. Our appeal of article 9 Uniform Agreement (Einheitsvertrag) was denied by the Judge of Altentreptow. We had no other option than to take our case to the higher law courts in Neubrandenburg.
Time passed - too much time. All of us began to be very nervous. Was this newfound democracy trying to prove its independence from the state? Where should we free lease contracts that had never before been deemed necessary to cultivate the lakes except in agreements with the state? Several times I was told that was not a court problem, but ours.
Juergen had hired an expensive attorney, and out of necessity so did I. Ice cold was our encounter in the court waiting hall. It took all my self-control to shake his hand. For some time we sat silently and separately with our attorneys. Then we were called to go in to court. Juergen did not tell the truth. The judge had asked him if he had the approval of his co-workers to leave our association. He answered: “Yes!” Spontaneously I jumped to my feet. “The exact opposite is the case. Mr. Juergen H. has never bothered to ask. He even voted to support our association. So how is it that he can just turn around and do his best to destroy it?”
Mr. Kurschuss, my attorney, pulled me by the sleeve and whispered in my ear: “If Juergen H. has lied to the court it will have bad consequences.” He told me that whatever happened I must control myself. If my rival had, as he had stated, asked our permission and we had refused his petition, he was already in trouble. That comforted me a little. For 6 weeks they kept us in suspense. In the meantime our financial situation had become questionable, because our architect had given us a bill that was more than expected. The building was going on and the builder needed more money. Everything would be a problem. I had reckoned on support from the European Union (EG), however the officer in charge had told me: “You are too late! Please come back next year.”
I answered: “Next year is too late!” But, the positive outcome of the court case would be the decisive factor. The bank needed security. We could not promise security without catching enough fish. If we had no lakes there would be no fish. I knew we needed 100 percent success.
At last the coveted letter arrived, and the final judgment lay on my desk. I opened it with some trepidation. “Thank you! Thank you!” No not Juergen, but our association had been granted the rights to all our previous fishing grounds. Juergen had not only lost this hearing, but he had taken out a large sum of money from the European Union (EG) and already spent it on equipment.
Two days later, late in the evening there was a knock at my door. I opened it. Juergen’s form filled the frame. I looked at him in surprise, as his hand reached out to greet me: “I have come to congratulate you on your success.” I thought: “What foolishness are you talking about? In your agonizing defeat you’ve come to wish me good luck?” The very idea was absurd: “Come in!” I said. Erika offered Juergen a place and left. With several heavy breaths he sank into one of the large armchairs. I stared at his mouth. How often had he envisioned this painful scene in the past 60 hours? A man like Juergen, who would never do anything without laying it on the balancing scales, had taken the risk of having the door slammed in his face. What was I do or to say?
“Why, Juergen? Why?” I asked. “Did it really all have to be like this?” Only a year previously there had been a similar situation. Then too, as a loser before all of his co-workers, a man had been dismissed because of his overbearing behavior. I had seen his pleading eyes, filled with submission and humility and even as they had touched me then, Juergen’s appealed to me now. “Yes,” he replied, “it had to be. The feeling of being bound, of not being free - I had to at least try to get away from that stranglehold in my life. I simply could not go on the way things were. I only wanted a part of the grounds.” He regretted that I would take it as a personal offence. Before I could find an intelligent suitable reply, he pushed out the words: “Will you take me back into the association?”
Yes, that was Juergen alright, as he breathed and lived. Once he understood that there was no way out he would give in. I knew, and saw it written in his eyes how much he hoped that we would overlook his error and give him another chance. He loved his labors, surrounded by the beauty of the land and seascapes. How he regretted the fact of wanting to ram his thick skull through the wall! I felt that in his look of hope, that stubborn male did not feel comfortable. He belonged to the kind of people who would not submit, yet here he was submitting himself. His words fell gently, as though spoken from the lips of a child, lips that in the past had so often showered me with words like crude gravel. For years he had been busy building a wall between himself and others - stone upon stone until the wall stood solid, high and wide. His wall had become insurmountable. For years he had convinced himself and taken upon himself that shield and armor which he had laid to be his natural defense as a heavy burden that hangs like a millstone around his neck. Because of his strong character and his powerful body Juergen had always tried to rule over his comrades. Yes, I must be honest; there were times I could not stand to be near him. It was never easy to conquer those feelings. However, I was not alone. All the other men harbored the same dislikes towards him. Once he had victimized an elderly co-worker. Because of a little misunderstanding, Juergen had grasped him around the neck and lifted him up.
Juergen was good at his job, yet at times he was an unbearable know it all. It would take great persuasion to convince the men to reinstate him. How was I to promise them that his behavior would change, that he would be more supportive and peaceful towards us all? Let’s face it: the 17 men who knew him did not call him ‘the iron rock’ for nothing.
“I know that,” he admitted “but I’m not really as tough as I always make out to be,” he insisted. “I only did it to protect my vulnerability. I shall go and visit them separately to apologize. I’ll change, you’ll see! My mistake and my pains have taught me a valuable lesson.” But I knew him. Just like always he would be pigheaded and stubborn … and he would try a hundred times until the wall of resistance broke down. Against all logic in the world, he always had to believe in the impossible, just to make his life worth living. Determined to take upon himself all criticism, he had come to me. Dispelling all doubt, he endeavored to pursue a return journey to please his wife, to secure the wellbeing of his children. Not one minute following his defeat would he have bothered to find another option? He had to try, and thus he begged for forgiveness.
What was I to do? Even if my heart was not in it wholly, it was my duty to help him. How many of our co-workers could be persuaded to allow him to come back? As we did everything by common consent, I needed at least 1 beyond the 50 percent of my co-workers’ voices. That day however never arrived for Juergen. After returning home he spoke with his wife for many hours, and after relating to her all we had discussed, he lay down to catch a few hours sleep. The very next morning he lost his life in a traffic accident on one of our highways. How grateful I was that at least I had done everything to show him my friendship. I often ask myself how I would have lived, had I sent him away as my enemy.
Never have I been to a funeral where the organist played a modern pop song: When, near Capri, the golden sun sinks into the sea. And never has such a song left such a lasting impression on my soul. I recognized the fact that many woeful events in life are not only the result of guilt, that much is set by coincidence.
Many times I was invited to speak to students about History and Philosophy and I always said the same: “Be careful with your own conscience!”
“Because of sad circumstances and general confusion it is held that no party in good standing may make unfounded promises. On the other hand, we are duty-bound to find our way through the passages of understanding if we wish to succeed. And to be a good example to our young people, we should uphold and love this democratic pluralism, which we have desired for so long. We must guard against defamation of people who are of a different persuasion. We must show them that this kind of freedom brings happiness into our lives; that it is a privilege to use our own minds and views to shape our lives, coupled with friendship and intelligence.” This was part of one of the speeches I shared with my fellow citizens at our party meetings.
As I held the position of district chairman of the CDU on 5 October 1990, it was my task to welcome the Chancellor of Germany, Dr. Helmut Kohl. He would speak in the market square of Neubrandenburg, and thus I stood with a large, beautiful bouquet of flowers in my hand at the foyer of the Four Gates-Hotel that afternoon, Whilst waiting, my gaze fell on the daily horoscope in the newspaper, which a heavily-built gentleman by my side was reading. The message for the day was: “Give your partner a chance.” I bit my tongue, as I awaited our very important guest with his legendary elephantine memory. He was still circling in his helicopter, looking down at the multitude of people waiting for him. Maybe he remembered the day when some 5 months earlier this same city had refused hospitality to his famous party member, Dr. Alfred Dregger. How angry and disappointed he must have been because somebody –this little Mormon Gerd Skibbe had dared to stand in his way, and had dared to ruin his plans. A little later I stood next to him on the rostrum.
A year later I was destined to meet Chancellor Kohl again, this time in Frankfurt/Oder. He had come to open the European University. Artists, cultural emissaries and politicians were invited to the festivities held at the City Congress Hotel. Again I stood, waiting at the entrance, and I was a little concerned. I could feel the tension in the air like the rattling of castanets. Finally, as Dr. Kohl’s limousine arrived, he had to pass through a corridor of angry, shouting people, waving their posters and placards. A large number of laborers had fought in vain to retain their jobs. Here they were to give him a humbling welcome. Every word on their posters shouted accusations at him. In their anger, these unemployed men, who branded Dr. Kohl guilty of their personal dilemmas, wished him to know just what they thought of him. I saw his huge face before me and was reminded of the many speeches he had made so easily in the GDR a month earlier. Had he not promised flowering landscapes? I guess, at that time, he had no idea that the economy in the GDR had declined to a state of almost total ruin. Like well-aimed stones from a slingshot. They threw his own words back at him. Nobody had made it known that the politicians of the West had been misled by the manipulation of clever men in the GDR, who, by falsifying statistics, had wittingly cheated the government for years on end. That was the reason for the downfall of the whole East: self-destruction by lies and falsehood.
The teachers at schools were of 2 opinions: the official state ideology and their own private views against all this rubbish of class enemies. Yes, there are 2 kinds (classes) of people: honest and dishonest, rich and poor, diligent and lazy, but every man should be responsible for his own affairs.
In the State of socialism we experienced too much lip service and not enough resistance against falsehoods Spencer W. Kimball a Mormon prophet, was right when he said: “Everybody’s doing it,’ is often given as an excuse. No society can be healthy without honesty, trust and self-restraint.” Ensign November 1976
Without foundation, many accused Helmut Kohl of breaking his word. They had little interest in the true circumstances. I repeat that in November 1989, Helmut Kohl had no idea of the rotten realities in the GDR. The latter had too many big plans and no hope of fulfilling them. They needed far too much money for Stasi and Army equipment. Party interests always came first and too little was left for progress and development. Helmut Kohl was not guilty of the GDR dilemma. However, those unemployed citizens thought it a crime. They had absolutely no idea what large sums of money the West had to invest in order to place the territory of East Germany back on its feet again. How can anyone build a paradise when there are imperfect humans on all levels? Moreover, how could such an Endeavour work on the basis of an economy that was unable to hold its own in the industries of a modern world?
Only a year earlier, the GDR leaders had held the view that somewhere in the future there would be an outbreak of another war that would take with it the results of their misuse, the abuse of decades and their attempts to hide their misguided economy. They also underestimated free research in every direction. Often I had reasons to believe this, especially when the question arose: Why was everything in our country so neglected, for example, cities like Leipzig? Of course, I realize that people who had painful personal experiences because of the changes of the political events held different views. Still, I feel free to harbor my own feeling towards Helmut Kohl. In spite of his failings and broken promises I did not dislike him. No amount of money could persuade me to carry the load that he had on his shoulders, nor do I know anyone who would have been able to accomplish more than he did under such trying circumstances. No, with all due respect for this man, not a Helmut Schmidt nor a Herbert Wehner (if they had still been alive) could have been a more successful wizard. Not only the magic box, but also the economy has its own laws.
After Chancellor Kohl had literally escaped being attacked, a little later he appeared on the rostrum in the hotel congress hall. One hour later a messenger informed him that his son had been seriously wounded in an accident. I watched him as he removed his glasses, leaning forward He bore both personal and political pain whilst around him the world kept on boiling. Next to him sat the head of Austrian TV, Mr. Bachler, who was responsible for moderation. To his side the Russian satirist, Popow and the well-known German lyric poetess, Ulla Hahn, and the Polish senator, Andre Szczypiorski.
I admired the words of the poem written by ex-communist, Ulla Hahn, entitled Loyalty, and looked forward to her address. She began by saying: “We need borders.” This was a thought I had often reviewed. She spoke freely and shared her feelings and thoughts of what happened when the boundaries of courtesy and political morals are disregarded. She held us in her spell, and my sympathy began to rise above the permitted boundaries. Not only was she clever, she had the most pleasant effect upon me.
Suddenly Andre Szczypiorski rose to his feet, looked at the 300 attendees and started to speak, turning his imposing head to one side to address not only the public, but also the speakers sitting on the stage. He shared a most important insight with all present: “Ladies and Gentlemen, the bandits are not among us.” Pausing for some time he then continued: “They are in us!” All faces were directed at him, even Helmut Kohl’s. Nobody raised a voice of protest. As far as I could tell his remark had definitely been spoken for me and I felt ashamed. For it was as though he had read my thoughts whilst on my journey to this event. Wasn’t this the 31rst of October also the 474th anniversary of Luther’s Reformation? It was precisely the first sentence of the 95 Thesis that had been fastened to the dome at Wittenberg: “Thus our Lord and Master Jesus Christ says ‘to repent.’ He meant that our lives should be in a permanent state of repentance.” In this lies the key to success. We must constantly improve ourselves. For this is our duty now and in eternity: our own self-perfection. Love your enemies, do not covet, be honest and fair to yourself and others, be merciful and forgiving toward others. It was this intense idea of repentance that I had harbored in my mind during my morning drive to Frankfurt. It was evidently clear that as humans we may well solve every technical problem ever to challenge us, but it could be that this technology created by us, unless watched carefully, may be the end of us all. It was clear that we needed to do more, besides inventing new techniques. I even knew the names and characteristics of my personal bandits which tried their utmost to hinder me from improving myself: pride with her crooked tempting smile, quick-footed brother flippancy, cranky old lady ingratitude, and the rest of her nasty brood.
Startled, I had given myself to repentance, by putting my thoughts of just minutes before in reverse. Whilst the appreciated Szczypiorski still spoke, I recalled all my previous thoughts. On my trip there, whilst listening to music, which was transmitted from an evangelical Church in Thueringen, I had gratefully remembered the many pictures of Martin Luther’s life. As a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints I had grown up listening to and knowing that Luther’s ideas of repentance were based on the words taken from an original text which meant: inner reverse (metanoia). I saw Luther as he appeared in the film, then a poor Augustine monk in a procession of the Wittenberger festival of Corpus Christi, shaking, following the monstrance, believing that on the inside, the literal body of Christ was present, visible as host. The real existence of this miracle and the gruesome Christ frightened him. He expected such cruel punishments - how severe would they be in heaven? Jerome’s unclear translation of the Greek word metanoia into Latin is Poenitentia, which means punishment.
What a difference there is in meaning between inner reverse and punishment! It’s an excessive difference. But thus it has been for hundreds of years, a typical catholic view with all its horrible results and misunderstandings: flagellations, whips, monastic life and celibacy. It is only a new word - one word - but its impact has been of immeasurable explosive force, almost as bad as the expression class enemy instead of owner.
As a 14-year-old boy in Magdeburg, Luther had witnessed such a ‘repentance’ (punishment) judgment of the nobleman, von Anhalt (the brother of the cathedral provost), barefoot and bent over, as he walked next to a grey donkey, his companion along the main street. Von Anhalt carried a heavy bag whilst the donkey carried no weight at all. The priests had that nobleman so brainwashed, that he would do all the work in the monastery. More than any other monk, he fasted, did not sleep, flagellated to the extent that he looked like a walking skeleton. He was skin and bones, ready for death - and thus he died.
In the time of Luther, the experience of hunger, freezing, praying without interruption, and self-torment were the expression of the highest religious exertion. These were the favored, acceptable deeds meant to please God. Luther’s study of the Holy Scriptures made him aware that Christ did not teach such justification before God. He considered the law of his order and the teachings rebelled against such deeds and said: “I have the right to ask: if ever a monk could enter heaven because of his sufferings, then I’m sure I would. All who know me will be my witnesses. I almost lost my life by fasting, prayers, suffering cold, reading, and lack of sleep.”
Later on he would say and sing: “All your good works avail you nothing.” Of course, from such works neither God nor others gain anything at all. Emanuel Kant knew better than many theologians: “No one can please God more than he who will keep God’s commandments.”
Thus I drove myself to Frankfurt with good thoughts. After I had listened to the sermon over the radio I asked myself, “Why is it that we, as humans, still suffer from the ability to fall from one extreme into another?” The things Luther originally said were easy and clear to everyone, until he overrode his own logic and taught that the visible deeds of men do not guarantee the saving power of God. Now what did they make of that statement? As recorded in the Magdeburger history, the Lutheran, Mathias Flacius, said: “Good works are harmful for your salvation.” Now honestly I ask myself: “Whatever was he thinking about?” By the better things within us we are encouraged to thoroughly seek for uplifting words, to replace every dark and sinister ideology. What good are formulae if they do not help us to be happy? If truth is not happiness then it does not deserve a good word. And to be sure there can be no happiness without being good. We can say it even more clearly than that, however, the knowledge of it comes mainly after we have had some sad, soul searching experiences, when many times it is almost too late.
Whilst the words of Andre Szczypiorski resounded in the hall, the awareness came more strongly than ever before: the first duty of man is always to be motivated to constantly improve himself. More light and love do not enter this world accidentally. Only when we are ready to recognize our own shortcomings comes the self-awareness that such as we are today, we must not remain. This then becomes the turning point and we step onto new, untried territory. Social orders may carry any name they choose - a name alone will never render them of value. If there is within them no power to develop our better selves, they will, as countless orders have done in the past and will in the future, be swept off the earth like chaff before the wind.
As stated by Pastor Ernst Ferdinand Klein, in the year of my birth: “Religions that cannot give moral strength for self-conquest and determination have no foundation.” Through such a statement he endorsed the teachings of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
During the interval I presented myself to Andre Szczypiorski, the man with the huge head, sitting comfortably in a soft armchair in the foyer. He saw my hand, which I offered in gratitude for his earnest words. He looked at me with a friendly nod and a smile as I confessed to him that I knew without any doubt that neither old age nor knowledge spared us from foolishness.
Dean was an airbus flight captain and a learned historian. As I arrived on the appointed Sunday afternoon, a young man standing at the chapel entrance placed a program of the day’s proceedings into my hand. I opened it and saw something that is not too often the norm: there was only one single speaker listed: me! I remembered the concerns of some 40 years earlier in that chapel, as I went there with a contrite spirit, filled with doubts, unhappy because of my inner condition following the communist world festival for youth. I remembered how all of my fears had been dispelled by a wonderful assurance that I was safe within those chapel walls. As the snows of winter flee before the rays of the spring sun, so had all my sorrows.
In 1995 dark clouds promised hail. August would prove to be the beginning of destruction for our missionary program in Mecklenburg-Vorpommern. Their right to live within the state would be rejected by the civil registration board. At that time I served in Berlin as high council member responsible for the groups of Schwedt and Prenzlau, which were both within the boundaries of Brandenburg, another federal state. As I heard about this problem, I tried to find out the reasons for such an embargo. Wherever I could I discussed this matter with my friends. Among these people was Carlo Hoffmann, a pietist, who did not approve of the Mormons at all. He was responsible for data protection and, as such, was one of the first to receive government information.
One day he asked me to visit him, at his office situated at the City hall. When
I entered, Carlo excused himself - he had an urgent errant to fulfill.
On his desk lay an open letter from the interior ministry. Carlo had placed it there for me. He left with a little smile. Whilst he was absent I read Circular no. 18. In it the mayors from Stralsund, Greifswald, Rostock, Schwerin and Neubrandenburg were informed to deny the Alien Registration Card (which permitted all rights of living and work activities) to voluntary missionaries of all churches. But, in reality it means “the Mormons”, us. It hit like a hammer on a nail. A while later I drove to my friend, Burkhard Raeuber, a faithful catholic, who had been my successor as CDU leader and was then elected as vice mayor of Neubrandenburg. As such, he was in contact with many of the high-ranking politicians. I complained bitterly to him: “Burkhard, except for the communists, no government in Europe, not even Adolf Hitler, has thought it necessary to ban our Elders from the country. Do you believe in this kind of democracy?” I was angry because I knew that the instigators of this decree were people who belonged to the new democratic movement. “I shall resign my duties as a city councilor with a personal explanation!” I gasped. Burkhard looked seriously at me. He knew that I had made it one of my priorities to have friends in all parties, as I longed for everyone to gain an inside view of what our newfound democracy should be aiming for.
For the past 5 years the newspaper reporters had written 2 or 3 statements per week that I had made at council meetings. With concern in his voice, Burkhard answered: “No, Gerd! Don’t shoot down the sparrows with a canon!” He tried to calm my distorted feelings with the following assurance: “I will call the Minister of the Interior.”
In passing I received an invitation to go to Schwerin, the capital of Mecklenburg-Vorpommern. I reported this to the area presidency Elder Dieter Uchtdorf who inquired, “Shall I come to support you?”
“Yes, please!” I replied, knowing that he would have to travel on the highway to Schwerin and back 12 hours.
“I would be pleased to do so,” he answered. So it was said, and so it was done.
On the morning of our appointment with the civil servants, I was not well - I had a heavy cold. In spite of it the 2 hours’ drive to Schwerin passed with a positive mood. On our arrival the first instruction given me by Elder Uchtdorf was: “Dear brother, stay in your political vocation, do not resign from it.”
As we entered the prestigious building, 2 most friendly undersecretaries received us. President Uchtdorf was given an opportunity to explain our concerns. For about 30 minutes he spoke under inspiration: “The worldwide mission of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is to persuade all people to live together as friends and brothers, and to develop character and tolerance in each person.” Impressed, the 2 men listened to President Uchtdorf’s message. One of them turned towards me: “Mr. Skibbe,” he said, “we have been ordered to inform you that the statements contained in Circular no. 18 have been withdrawn.”
Outside the building, Elder Uchtdorf took hold of my hand. “Together we have succeeded in the Church gaining more acknowledgement. The missionaries will now be able to continue in Mecklenburg and thus our Church can look forward to greater growth and acceptance among the people in your homeland.”
In the year of 1996 My Grandson Henning and I journeyed to Spain to investigate the History of the Moorish People. Their occupation and dispersion in 1609 as it was the Theme of one of my Books by the title of The Sons of Allah
The years between 1995 and 2001 were devoted to my ailing wife Erika, it was throughout that time that I returned to my love of the written word.
To further his prospects in business my first born son Hartmut immigrated to Australia in the year of 1999. One year later my Wife and I ventured to visit with the family.
Whilst in Australia Erika’s health deteriorated to the extent that we had to return to Germany. With the care of her local Physician and Morphine she endured the following 10 months. On the 26th of November 2001 in the company of all her Family she passed on to a better place.
Her death left me devastated and in debt. Once more I entertained the longing to visit the historical places of the church
Early in the year of 2002, registering Erika’s death somewhat too late I was informed that my Pension would be minimized. O well! I thought to myself there goes my journey to America.
Shortly thereafter I received a well filled envelope from the Government. In dismay I let it fall to the floor and laid down to have my afternoon nap. On awakening I took heart to read the bad news, to my astonishment the office advised me that Erica’s Pension had been miscalculated and thus they would forward a sum of 7000 Euro to rectify the oversight. I gasped like a fish out of water. A week later I received another Letter informing me that my Pension had also been miscalculated and therefore I received another 3500 Euros in back payments. But to make the miracle complete a little later they send 1000 Euro more, telling me that these were the interests owing to me. Now who insists that there are no miracles in these our days? Someone is surely looking after me. And someone wants me to see all the places I have always been dreaming of.
So I paid of the debts incurred by the funeral, placed half of all I had in the Boys mission savings accounts. I organized my trip to be present at the Nauvoo Temple dedication on the 27th of June. Made my reports to the Area Presidency. Spread my wings and flew away to see all the places I had been dreaming of throughout my life.
In the later month my son Hartmut invited me to visit his family in Australia. In December of 2001 via my daughter in law Sylvia I meet Ingrid.
Some 20 month later, on the 30th of July 2004 she became my new companion.
After our marriage we travelled to Germany to aid the missionary efforts in my hometown of Neubrandenburg. President Erich Kopischke now a member of the first quorum of the70tis set us apart. Little did he or we know that at that stage of our earthly journey both Ingrid and I were both ready for serious Cancer Operations.
Still the words fell “You shall fill this mission in the best of health. “And thus it was for only days after our surgeries we were both preforming our duties as missionaries in the Lords Vineyard. With the approval of our Mission President we took time to visit the Autumn General Conference in Salt Lake City in 2005.
We had a wonderful stay, enjoying the Conference Sessions, The Organ Recitals, the Visitors Centre, our Friends, and the beautiful gardens on Temple Square.
Little did we mind the people shouting abuse against our beloved Church, Ingrid just shrug her shoulders with the comment they shout much because they know little.
On our return to Germany we extended our mission by three months making up for lost time. I thought much on all the falsehoods being published about our Church, so severe were the attacks on our church as to render new Members in their infant state totally confused.
Once back in Australia I decided to write a Booklet revealing some of the Historical facts under the Title of “Constantine or Jesus.” With it we returned to Germany, had it printed and held more Firesides.
Back here in Australia again, in my 83est year I am working on a new version of the effects of the great Apostasy, using many of the works by Professors of Theology from Books published since the year 2000.