I found a copy of my grandparents’ life histories and learned many things about them. I am kicking myself for not knowing them better while they were alive. My Grandpa Zollinger received his mission call to the German Austrian mission in 1937. He had amazing experiences and got to serve with some amazing people. I even recognized a few of his companions’ names like President David O. McKay’s son Edward McKay as well as Minerva Teichart’s son Herman Teichart. He also witnessed the intense persecution of the Jews as Hitler’s Germany set out on a war path. He said that while serving in Gleuvitz he and his companion had been away and “upon returning home we noticed the windows in all the Jewish shops and stores were broken. Then later in the day we saw all the Jewish men herded together in the town square. They were behind a barbed wire fence and guarded by soldiers. Later they were all shipped out to camps and most never returned. We saw the wives and children crying because the men were taken. We had seen much Jewish persecution throughout Germany, but none like this…The night [a German Secretary in the German Embassy in France] he died every synagogue in Germany was burned to the ground. It was such a waste. To see those innocent Jews treated as they were was inhuman. One wouldn’t think such things as this could happen in this day and age.”
At the end of August in 1938 all the missionaries were gathered and sent to Denmark as Germany invaded Poland. The missionaries stayed in Denmark about a month until things cooled off a bit in Germany. They went back to their branches to prepare them to be left for an extended period of time. In January of 1939 my grandpa was transferred to Gorlitz and he recorded the following in his life history: “As I have written this history many years after I was in Gorlitz, there was a remarkable and faith-promoting experience [that has] happened that I would like to add to this history because it substantiates the kind of people who were members in this area that I have just told you about. A short time after I left Gorlitz the missionaries were taken out of Germany because Hitler started World War II. Eventually the United States was drawn into it. The in 1945 the allies won the war. Because Russia entered the war and drove the Germans out of Russia and Poland and then marched cross-country all the way to Berlin, they demanded a part of Germany. The Eastern part of Germany was then made into a communist state and a wall was put up between east and west Germany. The east would not let any of its people leave and would only allow a few to enter. This caused a problem with the German saints that were caught behind the wall. No literature or news of the church could be sent. The authorities could not visit. These saints were completely left alone. This condition existed until 1989 when the wall came down. This united the saints in Germany once more.
“In 1968 President Thomas S. Monson who was then an apostle, got permission from the East German President to visit the saints. Among the places he visited was Gorlitz. At that time he made a remarkable promise to these wonderful, faithful saints. In the October 1995 conference he retold this experience and I want to give his exact words….
‘In the words of a well-known song, I wish you could “come fly with me” to eastern Germany, where I visited last month. As we traveled along the autobahns, I reflected on a time twenty-seven years before when I saw on the same autobahns just trucks carrying armed soldiers and policemen. Barking dogs everywhere strained on their leashes, and informers walked the streets. Back then, the flame of freedom had flickered and burned low. A wall of shame sprang up, and a curtain of iron came down. Hope was all but snuffed out. Life, precious life, continued on in faith, nothing wavering. Patient waiting was required. An abiding trust in God marked the life of each Latter-day Saint.
When I made my initial visit beyond the wall, it was a time of fear on the part of our members as they struggled in the performance of their duties. I found the dullness of despair on the faces of many passersby but a bright and beautiful expression of love emanating from our members. In Görlitz the building in which we met was shell-pocked from the war, but the interior reflected the tender care of our leaders in bringing brightness and cleanliness to an otherwise shabby and grimy structure. The Church had survived both the war and the Cold War which followed. The singing of the Saints brightened every soul. They sang the old Sunday School favorite:
I was touched by their sincerity. I was humbled by their poverty. They had so little. My heart filled with sorrow because they had no patriarch. They had no wards or stakes—just branches. They could not receive temple blessings—neither endowment nor sealing. No official visitor had come from Church headquarters in a long time. The members were forbidden to leave the country. Yet they trusted in the Lord with all their hearts, and they leaned not to their own understanding. In all their ways they acknowledged Him, and He directed their paths. 10 I stood at the pulpit, and with tear-filled eyes and a voice choked with emotion, I made a promise to the people: “If you will remain true and faithful to the commandments of God, every blessing any member of the Church enjoys in any other country will be yours.”
That night as I realized what I had promised, I dropped to my knees and prayed, “Heavenly Father, I’m on Thy errand; this is Thy church. I have spoken words that came not from me, but from Thee and Thy Son. Wilt Thou, therefore, fulfill the promise in the lives of this noble people.” There coursed through my mind the words from the psalm, “Be still, and know that I am God.” 11 The heavenly virtue of patience was required.
Little by little the promise was fulfilled. First, patriarchs were ordained, then lesson manuals produced. Wards were formed and stakes created. Chapels and stake centers were begun, completed, and dedicated. Then, miracle of miracles, a holy temple of God was permitted, designed, constructed, and dedicated. Finally, after an absence of fifty years, approval was granted for full-time missionaries to enter the nation and for local youth to serve elsewhere in the world. Then, like the wall of Jericho, the Berlin Wall crumbled, and freedom, with its attendant responsibilities, returned.
All of the parts of the precious promise of twenty-seven years earlier were fulfilled, save one. Tiny Görlitz, where the promise had been given, still had no chapel of its own. Now, even that dream became a reality. The building was approved and completed. Dedication day dawned. Just a month ago, Sister Monson and I, along with Elder and Sister Dieter Uchtdorf, held a meeting of dedication in Görlitz. The same songs were sung as were rendered twenty-seven years earlier. The members knew the significance of the occasion, marking the total fulfillment of the promise. They wept as they sang. The song of the righteous was indeed a prayer unto the Lord and had been answered with a blessing upon their heads. 12
At the conclusion of the meeting we were reluctant to leave. As we did so, seen were the waving hands of all, heard were the words, “Auf Wiedersehen, auf Wiedersehen; God be with you till we meet again.”
Patience, that heavenly virtue, had brought to humble Saints its heaven-sent reward. The words of Rudyard Kipling’s “Recessional” seemed so fitting:
In the name of Jesus Christ, amen.’”
My grandfather returned to Germany and visited those places he knew as a missionary and got to see that part of Germany that was so long behind the Berlin wall. I am deeply touched by this beautiful story that spanned more than 55 years. And it means even more to me now because it is a part of my family history. What stories are waiting to be discovered in your own family history??