The first Latter-day Saint missionary to Germany was James Howard, assigned by British Mission President Brigham Young in 1840. Discouraged by a lack of success, he returned to England. At the same time in America, Joseph Smith called apostle Orson Hyde to dedicate Palestine for the return of the Jews. On his way to and from this assignment to the Holy Land, Elder Hyde spent at least nine months of his 20,000-mile journey in Germany. During this time he wrote Ein Ruf Aus Der Wueste (A Cry from the Wilderness), telling the story of Mormonism.
Latter-day Saint apostles and missionaries opened missions in Scandinavia, France, and Italy from 1849 to 1850 with encouragement to go to other areas “as instructed by the Spirit.” These three missions probed into Germany, laying the groundwork for opening the first German mission in Hamburg in 1852, with Daniel Carn as president. During the same year, apostle John Taylor, heading the French Mission, directed the publishing of the first German Book of Mormon.
Carn met with great success at first, baptizing 12 persons and participating in a miraculous healing. Within a few weeks of his arrival, however, he was arrested and imprisoned. The U.S. consul obtained Carn’s release, provided he leave Germany within eight days. Other missionaries arrived, and membership reached about 120, but after two years and more arrests, these elders were also expelled by German officials. The first German mission ended in 1854, with most of the converts migrating to Utah.
In the same year, 225 miles southeast of Hamburg in Dresden, where no Latter-day Saint missionary had yet set foot, a German educator, Karl G. Maeser, read an anti-Mormon pamphlet and became curious about the Church. Eventually he was able to join the Church and move to Utah. In 1868 Brigham Young called him to return to Germany and preside over the faltering Swiss-German Mission. During his two and a half years of leadership, about 600 new converts joined the Church. After Maeser returned to Utah, Brigham Young called him in 1876 as president of the recently formed Brigham Young Academy in Provo.
During the following decades, missionary work in Germany proceeded slowly and faced much opposition. When World War I began, missionaries were evacuated, leaving about 60 branches in Germany and Switzerland. Most of these branches survived the war. In 1919, following World War I, the Church purchased a large supply of food from the U.S. Army in France to distribute to needy Saints in Germany. In Hamburg the Church purchased the first building for Latter-day Saint worship in Germany. By 1924 the Swiss-German Mission had more total members than any LDS mission in the world with 1,795 new converts during the year. In the 1920s missionary work started in Argentina and Brazil, and the first converts were mostly German emigrants. In 1929 the Church built its first chapel in Selbongen (now part of Poland). By 1930 Germany had more non-English-speaking Latter-day Saints than any other nationÃ¢â‚¬â€nearly 12,000. In that same year, Germany also had more Church members than any other country outside the United States.
In 1937 President Heber J. Grant visited Germany, combining portions of the Swiss-German Mission and the German-Austrian Mission into the new Swiss- Austrian Mission. He simultaneously created the first two all-German missions: the West German Mission with headquarters in Frankfurt and the East German Mission in Berlin.
In 1939, one week prior to Germany’s invasion of Poland, 150 missionaries were evacuated from Germany. As happened during World War I, local German Saints were required to fill administrative and spiritual positions instead of relying on the missionaries from America. This furthered the development of leadership skills among the German Saints.
The only churches recognized by the German government during the war were the Lutheran, Catholic, and Latter-day Saint churches. Although German officials did not generally harass the Saints, leaders were often interrogated by the Gestapo (secret police). Nazi officials were usually satisfied when Mormon leaders quoted the Church’s twelfth Article of Faith, which affirmed obedience to civil law and officers. One incident, however, caused great anxiety. In 1942 the German police arrested Helmuth HÃƒÆ’Ã‚Â¼bener, a 17-year-old Latter-day Saint boy. He and two younger members printed and distributed stories about the war that they heard on short-wave broadcasts from England. Although capital punishment for juveniles was illegal in Germany, the highest court of the land in Berlin ruled that these boys be tried as adults. They were judged guilty, and HÃƒÆ’Ã‚Â¼ebner was beheaded; the other two were sentenced to prison. After the war, this incident was often cited as an example of how perverted German jurisprudence had become. The two younger boys served prison terms until freed by Allied soldiers.
In devastated Germany, Latter-day Saint losses were also staggering. Bombs destroyed the mission home in Berlin and many LDS meeting halls. Some 600 Saints (5% of the members) lost their lives during the war. Most were soldiers. In Germany there were about 12,000 members at the end of the war (the same as at the beginning); some 600 baptisms had offset the fatalities. Two local German mission presidents lost their lives on the Russian Front. The aftermath of World War II was a greater ordeal for most Germans than the war itself; transportation and utility breakdowns, food and fuel shortages, and rampant disease created chaos.
After Germany’s 1945 surrender, Latter-day Saint servicemen who were part of the United States occupation forces were the first to help the distressed German Saints. They shared their rations and gave hope and encouragement. Some soldiers formed a great love for the German Saints and after their discharge from the military were able to return as missionaries. On 14 January 1946, Elder Ezra Taft Benson of the Twelve became the European Mission president. He was the first American civilian permitted by the U.S. government to travel in war- ravaged Germany. He brought spiritual hope to the Saints and directed massive welfare shipments from Church headquarters. Although the Dutch suffered severely during the German occupation, in 1947 the Saints in Holland sent most of their 60-ton potato harvest to the German members in distress. Many Germans, members and nonmembers, reported that they could not have lived without this help. Baptisms in Germany also increased substantially in the years after the war.
By 1947 American missionaries began arriving, but dozens of local Germans were already at work. Russians refused entry of Americans into East Germany; however, some 30 to 40 native LDS missionaries continued working behind the Iron Curtain during the 28-year Communist occupation. The faithfulness and loyalty of Latter- day Saints during these most trying times is one of the great chapters of devotion in the history of the Church. Elder Thomas S. Monson occasionally visited the East German Saints and gave them strength to carry on.
In 1961 the Church created Germany’s first stakes in Berlin, Stuttgart, and Hamburg. In 1965 the first German missionary called to serve outside Europe received his appointment to California. Hundreds of other German Latter-day Saints since then have served in missions around the world.
In 1955 the Church had completed its first European temple in Bern, Switzerland, which allowed the German Saints to fulfill their hopes and prayers for temple blessings. A miracle occurred in 1985 when the Church built the Freiberg Temple, Germany’s first temple behind the Iron Curtain. This was several years before the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989 and prior to German reunification in 1990. When the Frankfurt Germany Temple was completed in 1987, Germany became the first country outside the United States to have two temples.
German converts over the years have served in significant Church positions. In 1952 Carl W. Buehner became second counselor in the presiding bishopric. In 1977 F. Enzio Bushe was called to the First Quorum of the Seventy. In 1994 Dieter Uchtdorf became a member of the Second Quorum of the Seventy, and then in 1996 he was sustained as a member of the First Quorum of the Seventy.
In 1996 President Gordon B. Hinckley held a regional conference in Berlin as part of a five- nation European tour. At the beginning of the year 2000 Germany had 36,303 members living in 14 stakes and 188 wards and branches.
[Year-end 2005: Est. population, 82,431,000; Members, 37,149; Stakes, 14; Wards, 91; Branches, 86; Missions, 4; Districts, 2; Temples, 2; Percent LDS, .04, or one in 2,224; Source 2007 Church Almanac.]
1999-2000 Church Almanac. Salt Lake City: Deseret News, 1998. 323-26.
Scharffs, Gilbert. Mormonism in Germany: A History of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Germany between 1840 and 1970. Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1970.
GILBERT W. SCHARFFS
From Arnold K. Garr, Donald Q. Cannon, and Richard O. Cowan, eds., Encyclopedia of Latter-day Saint History (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 2000), 421-25. Used with the permission of the Deseret Book Company. Copies prohibited by law.