Report on East German Mission

Elder Walter Stover

Conference Report, April, 1952

Beloved brethren, I kindly ask for your faith and prayers in my behalf. I assure you that I am frightened. I never have spoken to suck a great audience, and I was asked only a little while ago to speak to you.

For the past five years I have presided over the East German Mission. The East German Mission includes that part of Germany which lies behind the "Iron Curtain." Part of that mission is in the British Zone, but nine-tenths of the mission lies behind the "Iron Curtain." We have there more than 8000 of our faithful members and more than fifty-five branches.

Life behind the "Iron Curtain" is different from what it is here in our goodly land. They do not have private enterprise like we have here. Everything is nationalized. Everything is taken over by the State, barber shops, even doctors, industries and also farms, are taken over by the State and managed by the State. And people work for the State and do not have freedom such as we have here.

I am one of the very few American citizens who have had the privilege of traveling in the Russian Zone. I have been there more than fifteen times, and have visited practically every branch and district of our Church there. I am happy to report that our faithful Saints are privileged to hold their meetings. Of course, they have to have permission from the State each time they hold their meetings, and if they want to have a cottage meeting they have to have permission. No more than four people are privileged to gather together at one time without having permission from the State. But as a whole, we are very grateful that we have our freedom there.

Communism is something different from democracy. Those die-hard communists do not believe in God, they are absolutely atheists. They call us stupid and ignorant. They cannot understand that in this enlightened age there are people in the world who believe in God and in Jesus Christ. Their Savior is Josef Stalin. They look to Moscow for their salvation.

I hesitate to speak as I do, but I suppose you ought to know what is going on behind the "Iron Curtain." People do not have their freedom like we have. They are not privileged to strike, they just have to obey and work. They cannot choose, to any great extent, their employment. They are told where to work, and for what wages to work. Their wages are very small compared with ours, and if they worked all the days of their lives, they could not accumulate anything.

So, my brethren, you see that we live in a very wonderful land, the land of promise. As an immigrant and a convert to this Church, I am grateful, very grateful, that I am privileged to live here in this goodly land, in the valleys of the mountains. How different conditions are over there as compared with what we have here. We have our wonderful homes, we have our wonderful furniture, washing machines, refrigerators, automobiles, good employment. They do not have those things over there. I do not like to speak too severely but I suppose they are slaves. I believe that the Children of Israel who were in bondage in Egypt felt more secure, and happier, than those freedom-loving people who are behind the "Iron Curtain."

Germany, especially East Germany, has suffered a lot. Many provinces have been taken away: East Prussia, West Prussia Pomerania, and other provinces, and millions of people had to flee before the invading armies. These refugees are now in parts of Germany, where they live two or three families in one small apartment. They have to get along with one another, and they, of course, would be very happy if they could come to this goodly land, but they cannot. They have to stay there, and live there, and do what they are told. They are not privileged to speak their minds, my brethren. They are watched. They are not even privileged to speak freely in their own families for fear their children will hear what they say, and school teachers are trained to find out from the children in the school what attitude their family has. And how often a loved one from the family is taken away, and without trial, placed in a concentration camp. Many of them die there, and never return to their loved ones. And very, very often the loved ones are not even notified.

I am so happy that our Church is not persecuted to any great extent. Of course, they do not like any religion, they hate all religions, and "Jehovah's Witnesses" and other religious people are put in jail. A few of our people have been put in jail, but not many.

I want to tell you of one experience a branch president had. I stayed in his home one night. I went there by permission of the Russian Military Government to travel in the Zone, and I stayed in his home one night. It was still dark when I went away in the early morning; the following day he was arrested for "harboring an American spy."

Now my brethren, this poor man was in jail for over eleven weeks on a phony charge, and I wrote a letter to the authorities and told them that I gladly would come and take his place, to let this good man go. His family had to suffer a great deal during that time, and his wife, who had two little children, went to the authorities, and said "You have taken my husband, what shall I do? I need milk for the babies." They promptly told her that they would take care of the babies, and raise them, and make good communists of them and she could work and make a living herself, work for the State, have equal rights with the men. Their equal rights, my brethren, mean that the woman can work just as hard as the man, take her place in the mines, the ore mines and the coal mines. That is the equal right women have.

Oh, how wonderful it feels to be an American citizen, to live here in this goodly land, where we can speak our minds, where we can worship Almighty God according to the dictates of our own conscience. We do not need permission to gather in this great Tabernacle.

The German people are very wonderful people. Out of that nation great men have come: Karl G. Maeser, was a wonderful man. I visited his home town, Meisen, Germany, near the great city of Dresden, and there the Germans honor and revere this great man. Meisen is the city where the famous Meisen porcelain is made and this world-renowned factory has been taken over now by the Russians. This wonderful porcelain is made to send to Russia and all the factories work for the building up of the great war machine. I am sorry to say, the people do not have so much to eat as they would like to have. They feed them but very little but from early in the morning until late at night, my brethren, they feed them propaganda. They tell them of the American capitalist and that the only way of life is the true way of communism. And they sugarcoat everything so beautifully that some of them begin to believe, not the older ones, but the younger ones.

When Christmas time comes, they are not allowed to have a Christmas tree or a Christmas program in their schools. They tell them that their Savior is Joseph Stalin, they should look to him for their salvation.

My brethren, the time goes fast. I bear you my testimony that I am so grateful that I am privileged to live here. Many, many years ago two humble missionaries came to the town where I lived, and in very broken language brought to me the Gospel of Jesus Christ. When I accepted it people told me that I was stupid, a religious fanatic. When I came to America, I was even more crazy, they told me. But I want to tell you, good brethren, it feels wonderful to be a Latter-day Saint, it feels wonderful to have a testimony, it feels wonderful to enjoy the spirit of the Lord. And I am so grateful. I know that God lives, that he hears and answers prayers. When our thoughts go heavenward, they are near the throne of God, and we thank him for the blessings which he has bestowed upon us, and we ask him for forgiveness of our failings and shortcomings, and we meditate and converse with him. How beautiful it is, my brethren. We are fed the bread of life and we walk with him and talk with him, and we feel his nearness, something wonderful.

My brethren, the gospel is the gospel of life and of salvation, and if we are true and faithful we will have peace of mind, joy and happiness in our hearts, and we will truly love our neighbor.

I could talk to you at great length about the East German Mission, about the life there, but I have said enough. Be grateful that you live in this goodly land. It is a choice land, choice above all other lands in the world.

I bear you this witness, because I know, and I am very grateful. When I was there and saw the sufferings of the people I said to myself, "whenever you return, you will never complain, not even about the taxes."

My brethren, when you work from early in the morning until late at night for the State, and you are fed propaganda, you can understand how good it feels even to pay the taxes here and be a free man. Of course, I have complained a little since I returned; that is the weakness in me.

May the Lord bless you, good brethren, and may he bless our nation, and those who administer the affairs of our great nation, that we may live according to the plan of our Heavenly Father and keep his commandments, that we may preserve freedom and liberty.

I have been in Washington and Mount Vernon many times, I like to go there and see the house where the father of our great nation, and his wonderful wife Martha lived. I have read of Lincoln, the great man, and I love these great people. They gave to us a wonderful country, and we have the blessings of it. We want to preserve it and live so our Heavenly Father can bless us.

I bear this testimony humbly and in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.