President Uchtdorf Calls for Peace at German National Day of Remembrance Celebration

Contributed By Jason Swensen, Church News staff writer

  • 18 November 2015

President Dieter F. Uchtdorf, Second Counselor in the First Presidency, speaks at the November 15 Volkstrauertag gathering at the Fort Douglas Military Cemetery in Salt Lake City. Volkstrauertag is Germany’s National Day of Remembrance. It is observed by Germans living in their homeland and across the globe.  Photo by Jason Swensen.

Article Highlights

  • Reach out in love to all people, regardless of differences.
  • Refugees and emigrants today need love, prayers, charity, and compassion.
  • Find peace by promoting peace.

“It takes empathy and action to influence the future of mankind based on dignity, honesty, and eternal values—regardless of differences in politics, religion, race, or cultural traditions.” —President Dieter F. Uchtdorf of the First Presidency

President Dieter F. Uchtdorf knows firsthand what it means to be a refugee. Twice during his childhood—during World War II and, later, the Cold War—he experienced the fear and uncertainty of being displaced from his homeland.

Sadly, he said, the day of refugees did not end with either of those two historic and tragic events. Today there is a worldwide flow of refugees and emigrants. They need love, prayers, charity, and compassion.

That was the message President Uchtdorf, Second Counselor in the First Presidency, shared at the November 15 Volkstrauertag gathering at the Fort Douglas Military Cemetery in Salt Lake City.

Volkstrauertag is Germany’s National Day of Remembrance. It is observed by Germans living in their homeland and across the globe. It’s a somber day, held two Sundays before the start of Advent to commemorate all who have died in war—and for victims everywhere of violent oppression because of their race, religion, or convictions.

The annual event has long-held special meaning for many in Utah. Each year, German Americans and their friends gather at the Fort Douglas Military Cemetery to pay tribute to the 41 German prisoners of war and others who were laid to rest at that historic burial ground.

On November 15, scores of people from German and other backgrounds gathered under crisp but sunny skies. They sang the national anthems of Germany and the United States and enjoyed holiday remarks by President Uchtdorf and Utah Governor Gary R. Herbert.

A memorial naming 21 German POW graves stands as a backdrop for a ceremony marking Volkstrauertag, the German National Day of Remembrance, at the Fort Douglas Military Cemetery in Salt Lake City, Sunday, November 15, 2015. Photo by Chris Samuels, Deseret News.

A color guard from Brigham Young University presents the American and German flags during a ceremony marking Volkstrauertag, the German National Day of Remembrance, at the Fort Douglas Military Cemetery in Salt Lake City, Sunday, November 15, 2015. Photo by Chris Samuels, Deseret News.

President Dieter F. Uchtdorf, Second Counselor in the First Presidency of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, stands beside a memorial wreath during a ceremony marking Volkstrauertag, the German National Day of Remembrance, at the Fort Douglas Military Cemetery in Salt Lake City, Sunday, November 15, 2015. Photo by Chris Samuels, Deseret News.

President Dieter F. Uchtdorf, Second Counselor in the First Presidency of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, gives remarks during a ceremony marking Volkstrauertag, the German National Day of Remembrance, at the Fort Douglas Military Cemetery in Salt Lake City, Sunday, November 15, 2015. Photo by Chris Samuels, Deseret News.

President Dieter F. Uchtdorf, Second Counselor in the First Presidency of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, gives remarks during a ceremony marking Volkstrauertag, the German National Day of Remembrance, at the Fort Douglas Military Cemetery in Salt Lake City, Sunday, November 15, 2015. Photo by Chris Samuels, Deseret News.

This year was especially meaningful for Volkstrauertag observers. It’s the 70th anniversary of the end of World War II and the 25th anniversary of the reunification of Germany.

In his remarks, President Uchtdorf spoke of the grieving in France and across the world following the November 13 terrorist attacks in Paris.

Volkstrauertag, he declared, is not only a day to mourn the dead—but a day to speak out for peace.

“This is our responsibility [for] our children and their children,” he said. “It takes empathy and action to influence the future of mankind based on dignity, honesty, and eternal values—regardless of differences in politics, religion, race, or cultural traditions.”

It is not enough to love those who have suffered in the past, he said. Love also those who now suffer.

President Uchtdorf then spoke of the refugee crisis capturing headlines in the Middle East and Europe. The suffering includes innocent children and families. He spoke of his own experience as a refugee during World War II and during the Cold War when his German homeland was fractured.

“We should be cognizant of our responsibilities as Christians or in any religion where we reach out to our fellowmen,” he said.

“Follow the example of Jesus Christ in how we treat each other. Have compassion and empathy for all. Find peace by promoting peace.

“When we recognize fulfillment of the Lord’s purposes even in our moments of sorrow, the Holy Ghost will be invited to console us, and then the sacrifice and Resurrection of Jesus Christ will become solid cornerstones in our lives,” he said.

One of war’s cruel realities, observed Governor Herbert in his remarks, is that often people are divided who, in fact, share much in common. Combatants on all sides are sons and daughters, husbands and wives, fathers and mothers.

“They have families and loved ones that mourn their death and miss their companionship,” he said.

Even in times of war, he added, people can have empathy and respect for one another. He spoke of the Christmas of 1914, where opposing soldiers fighting the battles of World War I declared a day of cease-fire, played soccer, and celebrated the holiday together.

“I hope we can remember that compassion,” he said.

Take time to pause and reflect on relationships with one another. “Recognize the humanity that we all have.”

Governor Herbert noted that once Germany and the United States were nations at war. Today those two countries are “the closest of friends and allies.”

The state of Utah and Germany also enjoy close ties, he added. One in ten Utahns have German ancestry—and Germany is one of the state’s key trade partners.

To conclude the Fort Douglas ceremony, Governor Herbert and President Uchtdorf, along with honorary consul for Germany James T. Burton and Brigadier General Dallen Atack, assistant adjutant general for the Utah National Guard, laid a ceremonial wreath at the foot of the monument that commemorates the fallen German soldiers.

Cantor Wendy Bat-Sarah of Salt Lake City’s Congregation Kol Ami offered the event’s invocation.

President Dieter F. Uchtdorf, Second Counselor in the First Presidency of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, left, and Utah Governor Gary Herbert look at a wreath during a ceremony marking Volkstrauertag, the German National Day of Remembrance, at the Fort Douglas Military Cemetery in Salt Lake City, Sunday, November 15, 2015. Photo by Chris Samuels, Deseret News.

German POW graves are marked with German flags during a ceremony marking Volkstrauertag, the German National Day of Remembrance, at the Fort Douglas Military Cemetery in Salt Lake City, Sunday, November 15, 2015. Photo by Chris Samuels, Deseret News.

Trumpeter G. Paul Kapp performs a German military song during a ceremony marking Volkstrauertag, the German National Day of Remembrance, at the Fort Douglas Military Cemetery in Salt Lake City, Sunday, November 15, 2015. Photo by Chris Samuels, Deseret News.

Utah Governor Gary Herbert speaks during a ceremony marking Volkstrauertag, the German National Day of Remembrance, at the Fort Douglas Military Cemetery in Salt Lake City, Sunday, November 15, 2015. Photo by Chris Samuels, Deseret News.

President Dieter F. Uchtdorf, Second Counselor in the First Presidency of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, gives remarks during a ceremony marking Volkstrauertag, the German National Day of Remembrance, at the Fort Douglas Military Cemetery in Salt Lake City, Sunday, November 15, 2015. Photo by Chris Samuels, Deseret News.

Cantor Wendy Bat-Sarah gives the invocation during a ceremony marking Volkstrauertag, the German National Day of Remembrance, at the Fort Douglas Military Cemetery in Salt Lake City, Sunday, November 15, 2015. Photo by Chris Samuels, Deseret News.

A wreath remembering German POW graves is displayed during a ceremony marking Volkstrauertag, the German National Day of Remembrance, at the Fort Douglas Military Cemetery in Salt Lake City, Sunday, November 15, 2015. Photo by Chris Samuels, Deseret News.

From left, James T. Burton, honorary consul for Germany; President Dieter F. Uchtdorf, Second Counselor in the First Presidency of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints; Utah Governor Gary Herbert; and Brigadier General Dallen Atack, assistant adjutant general for the Utah National Guard, stand in front of a wreath during a ceremony marking Volkstrauertag, the German National Day of Remembrance, at the Fort Douglas Military Cemetery in Salt Lake City, Sunday, November 15, 2015. Photo by Chris Samuels, Deseret News.

A choir participates in the Volkstrauertag gathering at the Fort Douglas Military Cemetery in Salt Lake City on November 15, 2015. Volkstrauertag is Germany’s National Day of Remembrance. It is observed by Germans living in their homeland and across the globe.

President Dieter F. Uchtdorf, Second Counselor in the First Presidency, participates in the November 15 Volkstrauertag gathering at the Fort Douglas Military Cemetery in Salt Lake City. Volkstrauertag is Germany’s National Day of Remembrance. It is observed by Germans living in their homeland and across the globe. Photo by Jacob Swensen.

Crowds participate in the November 15, 2015, Volkstrauertag gathering at the Fort Douglas Military Cemetery in Salt Lake City. Volkstrauertag is Germany’s National Day of Remembrance. It is observed by Germans living in their homeland and across the globe. Photo by Jacob Swensen.

President Dieter F. Uchtdorf, Second Counselor in the First Presidency, participates in the November 15 Volkstrauertag gathering at the Fort Douglas Military Cemetery in Salt Lake City. Volkstrauertag is Germany’s National Day of Remembrance. It is observed by Germans living in their homeland and across the globe. Photo by Jacob Swensen.

President Dieter F. Uchtdorf, Second Counselor in the First Presidency, participates in the November 15 Volkstrauertag gathering at the Fort Douglas Military Cemetery in Salt Lake City. Volkstrauertag is Germany’s National Day of Remembrance. It is observed by Germans living in their homeland and across the globe. Photo by Jacob Swensen.

President Dieter F. Uchtdorf, Second Counselor in the First Presidency, participates in the November 15 Volkstrauertag gathering at the Fort Douglas Military Cemetery in Salt Lake City. Volkstrauertag is Germany’s National Day of Remembrance. It is observed by Germans living in their homeland and across the globe. Photo by Jacob Swensen.

President Dieter F. Uchtdorf, Second Counselor in the First Presidency, participates in the November 15 Volkstrauertag gathering at the Fort Douglas Military Cemetery in Salt Lake City. Volkstrauertag is Germany’s National Day of Remembrance. It is observed by Germans living in their homeland and across the globe. Photo by Jacob Swensen.

President Dieter F. Uchtdorf, Second Counselor in the First Presidency, participates in the November 15 Volkstrauertag gathering at the Fort Douglas Military Cemetery in Salt Lake City. Volkstrauertag is Germany’s National Day of Remembrance. It is observed by Germans living in their homeland and across the globe. Photo by Jacob Swensen.