Hope For the Strength of Youth
My purpose in sharing my childhood memories of growing up in Germany during and after World War II is to encourage young people to stay close to Heavenly Father and to live by His standards wherever they are in the world.
Moving from Berlin to Bad Flinsberg in Schlesein
My parents lived in Berlin, where my father worked as a brew master.
Everything changed as the country began preparing for World War II. I have a family picture taken in 1940 when I was two, and my father was already in his army uniform. I did not see him again for eight years.
When Berlin was being bombed and sirens went off, my mother and I ran across the road to the brewery cellars, which served as bomb shelters. As our living conditions became more dangerous, my mother decided to move back to my grandmother’s farm, located near Bad Flinsberg. It is a beautiful part of Germany with mineral springs and mountains. At the age of three, I had my first set of skis.
The hotels during the war were used as hospitals to treat Russian prisoners of war. Because many German farmers were fighting in the war, Russian prisoners who could work were sent to farms. We received two Russian prisoners every morning, and they were escorted back to the hotels in the evening.
Jesus taught, “Love your enemies” (Matthew 5:44). My mother tried to love those Russian prisoners, feeding them three meals a day, plus snacks, and clothing them if they needed it. During our last Christmas on the farm, two Russian prisoners built me a dollhouse with furniture, explaining, “We don’t know what our children will have for Christmas.” Because we treated those Russian prisoners with kindness, we were spared a lot of hardships that other Germans went through.
The Changing Tides of War
Our situation changed when Russia and the Allies began to win the war. At night the sky would light up with cannons firing. We could feel the ground trembling. One morning I heard an argument between a Russian soldier and my mother. My mother was crying and pleading for our safety. The soldier came toward my room, so I hid under my blanket. He pointed his gun directly at me, and I heard him say, “If she moves, I will kill her.” After a while, he left.
Not long afterwards, we had to leave the farm. During this time, my grandmother passed away. It was a blessing for her to return to her Heavenly Father.
When I was about six or seven, my mother decided to try and go back. She found a man with a canoe who agreed to row us across a river. The fog was so thick that we could not see ten feet in front of us. I noticed water coming into the canoe. I prayed that we would not drown. When we stepped ashore, the man told us to hide in the bushes because the day before people had been killed on the trail. While he went back to get my mother’s sister, we prayed. We were praying as we scrambled up a hill and were confronted by Russian soldiers. They asked where we were going. My mother replied, “to the fields to work.” Her answer probably saved our lives.
Fleeing Our Homeland
In the summer of 1944, we were ordered to evacuate. We took only what we could carry. When my mother stopped to take her last look at her family home, I ran back for my doll buggy and doll, and I put a loaf of bread into a bag. When I came out of the house, I could see the relief on the faces of my mother and aunt, as Russian troops were surveying our house.
The whole town was fleeing. I remember passing desolate battle fields, burned-out war machinery, many charcoal-black trees, empty houses, and wandering animals. One man stepped on a bomb. I heard his screams, but we had to keep walking, trying not to think. At the designated border, everyone was loaded onto train cattle cars. Instead of being sent to Russia or Siberia, we miraculously went to West Germany.
Led by God to Alberta
After the war ended in May 1945, my father was transported from a prisoner of war camp in Colorado to England and finally back to Germany. It took three years for my family to be reunited. My parents decided to emigrate from Germany, but only Canada still had open immigration quotas. I sincerely believe that was where Heavenly Father wanted us to go. As Lehi prophesied: “there shall none come into this land save they shall be brought by the hand of the Lord” (2 Nephi 1:6).
While we waited, my parents hired a retired professor to tutor me. I took two classes every year for the next three years, with no holidays. During those years, my mother also decided to learn English at the American Consulate in Frankfurt, and I had to go with her. Sometimes I grew tired of studying, but education is never wasted.
Although my father was a trained brew master and my mother a therapist, my parents were required to work on a farm in Canada for two years in order to have our passage paid. In April of 1953 we crossed the English Channel, and during that part of our journey, we feared that our ship would sink. To save ourselves, we clung to tables bolted to the deck. Crossing the Atlantic Ocean took us seven days. When we first saw Canada, we were amazed at the beauty of the St. Laurence River, Quebec, and Montreal.
We travelled by train for five days to reach the sweeping prairies of Lethbridge, Alberta. Farmers picked us up with their trucks and cars. We bunked in a small wooden shack with three rooms, a coal stove, and an outside cistern. Although our living conditions were stark, it was a new start. I did not mind the diligent care required to hoe row upon row of lettuce beets. That labor was a relief from schoolwork.
Learning About The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints
When I was 13 years old, a priest could not answer some questions I had about religion.
I complained to my mother, and she replied, “You go to church in the morning or evening, but you must go to church.” Even though I felt doubts because my questions had not been answered, I continued to believe in Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ.
I think the Lord’s hand brought us to a community settled by pioneers from The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. I had never heard of this denomination until I married a member.
My husband explained that our children should be blessed “in the name of Jesus Christ” (D&C 20:70). I agreed. Shortly after our second daughter was blessed, I began taking the missionary lessons, and many of my questions about faith were answered. In 1960, I was baptized and confirmed a member. I knew I had made the right decision as I felt the peace of the Holy Ghost come over me. I continue to know without a shadow of a doubt that The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is “the only true and living Church upon the face of the whole earth” (D&C 1:30). Joseph Smith translated the Book of Mormon, and Heavenly Father continues to give us prophets to guide us. We also have holy temples because “Families Can Be Together Forever” (Hymns, 300). I am grateful that God guided my family and me to a promised land—Canada.
Peace and Reconciliation Through Eternal Values
I hope young people appreciate the freedoms and blessings that we have today in Canada.
At the 2018 “Volkstrauertag” (Germany’s National Day of Mourning), Elder Dieter F. Uchtdorf said: “Individually and as a people we can and should be a people of peace and reconciliation. …It takes empathy and action to influence the future of mankind based on dignity, honesty, and eternal values” (Church News, 19 November 2018).