We spent a few hours at the Philadelphia Temple yesterday, where a friend and I participated in proxy sealings. Brother Young, a sealer, spoke of his mission in Germany, where his daughter had also served decades later.
It so happened that Brother Young had served in Berlin in 1961, as the Berlin Wall was built. His daughter had served in Berlin in 1989, as the Berlin Wall was torn down. Brother Young spoke of a picture they had, of the two of them standing together with other Germans on a fallen segment of the wall.
Yet the presence of the wall, hated as it was by so many, caused one of the miracles of the gospel in Europe.
As I recall being recounted by then-apostle Monson during a DC-area conference, the German Saints were gathered in Berlin on the eve of the planned ban on travel between the Communist-controlled portion of Germany and the Allied-controlled portion of Germany. Those Saints who lived in the Communist-controlled portion of the city and country knew that they would experience severe religious oppression.
These Saints could have chosen to remain on the Allied side of the wall. But with the promises of blessings from their leaders, the Saints returned to their homes, whether on the Allied or Communist sides of the planned divide.
As expected, Communist Germany denied the Saints the ability to interact with members of the Church in the free world. The Saints in East Germany petitioned for visas to travel to temples, which were only to be found in the free world. When their visa requests were denied, they applied again. In the early 1970s, Henry Burkhardt took a list of roughly 300 members of the Church who wished to travel to a temple. This action nearly led to Brother Burkhardt’s arrest. 1
But the constant, peaceful requests of the people wore away at the government as surely as water wears away at rock mountains. Brother Burkhardt followed the suggestion that he establish friendly relationships with the government, despite his natural inclination. Saints traveled to the free world for General Conference under visas issued to Brother Burkhardt (because the East German government insisted an East German lead the Church in that land). Instead of taking advantage of these opportunities to defect to the free world, the Saints meekly returned.
In 1978 the East German government came up with a solution to the risk of issuing visas for Saints to attend temples in the free world. They approached the Church and requested that the Church build a temple in East Germany. The Freiberg temple was announced at General Conference in October 1982. The East German government actively facilitated construction of the temple and an associated chapel for regular worship. The Freiberg temple was dedicated in June 1985, less than three years after the temple had been announced. By way of contrast, the Frankfurt temple was announced before the Freiberg temple and wasn’t completed until years after the dedication of the Freiberg temple.
Home-centered, Church-supported Worship
The experience of the faithful Saints in East Germany serves as a beacon for those of us trying to figure out how to adjust to the change in worship patterns. The oppression the Saints in East Germany faced created in them a culture of long-suffering and love unfeigned.
For those who have not yet attended the temple in 2019, I encourage you to log into Family Search and reserve the right to perform ordinances for deceased individuals for whom proxy ordinance work has not been completed. If you have not yet received your own initiatory and endowment in the temple, I urge you to prepare to receive them.
As you participate in the temple ceremonies, contemplate why the Saints in East Germany yearned to receive the privilege of obtaining these ordinances. I would suggest it was in large part because of their hope of uniting with their loved ones in eternity. I hope it was also because they understood the power of seeing all mankind as one family in the eyes of God, despite political divisions.
Meanwhile I’ll be working on achieving the ideal represented by the temple, as echoed in Doctrine and Covenants 121:
41 [Power and influence ought only to be maintained] by persuasion, by long-suffering, by gentleness and meekness, and by love unfeigned;
42 By kindness, and pure knowledge…,
- Kuehne, Raymond M. “The Freiberg Temple: An Unexpected Legacy of a Communist State and a Faithful People,” Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought. Summer 2004, 37(2): 95–131. ↩