The day dawned cool and overcast, but with hints of late August heat to come. It was the last day of a week-long stay in Poland in the summer of 1987; the hotel in Warsaw was surprisingly quiet on this Sunday morning.
I had come to Poland to participate in an international Holocaust conference at the invitation of a friend. Holocaust conferences, as one might guess, are sober affairs. This one, on location where the worst had happened, had been so vivid that sobriety had given way to near-depression.
The site of the conference was the old eastern Polish city of Lublin, which stands in the shadow of several extermination camps where many of the most heinous atrocities ever committed in history had taken place. On Saturday the conference ended and we had been bused back to Warsaw to catch the flight home. During the week I had not only listened to dozens of scholarly papers and discussions in several languages but had had several unforgettable experiences. My hotel roommate had grown up in Warsaw and was himself a Holocaust survivor. I had been shocked the first night when we got ready for bed and I glimpsed the tattooed number on his arm. Then the next day he had taken me by the hand and together we had retraced the same path he had walked as a young man into the nearby Maidanek camp in 1942. During the evenings he described in detail the theory and practice of hell as he had experienced it.
After my return to Warsaw, another friend and I hired a taxi to take us to Treblinka, the camp about sixty miles from Warsaw where most of the Jews of the Warsaw ghetto had perished. Only the original rail line and siding remain. The rest of the memorial consists of thousands of stones—some large ones with the names of larger Polish Jewish ghettos written on them, and thousands of smaller stones for the countless men, women, and children whose lives ended there—only because they were Jews.
By Sunday morning, after all of that, I needed a spiritual uplift. Earlier in the week I had gone walking into some streets surrounding the hotel, doing what historians and history buffs do, looking for historic monuments and buildings. It was my second visit to Warsaw, so some of what I saw was already familiar. While walking down a main thoroughfare I had been startled to see a small sign on a door. Not knowing much Polish, I could read only a few words, but I did recognize the gold angel Moroni—and almost instantly I felt at home. Upon ringing the doorbell, I met Juliusz and Dorothy Fussek, an older missionary couple who lived there in three rooms that served as their apartment, the mission office, and the meetinghouse for the Warsaw branch.
I learned that it was an important threshold I had just crossed; according to Polish law at that time, once people had stepped over it they could legally be taught the gospel, but not until.
The Fusseks welcomed me. We spent the next part of an hour outside in the pleasant air of the courtyard getting acquainted and talking about what was happening to the Church in Poland. Brother Fussek was a native Pole who had immigrated to England after the war. He met and married Dorothy, a charming Englishwoman with an effervescent personality. There they had joined the Church, and they had later immigrated to Salt Lake City, where he had worked as a printer. Then, after retirement, they had accepted a mission call to become pioneers in Juliusz’s homeland.
At the end of our conversation they had invited me to attend church services the next Sunday.
By 11:00 A.M. the following Sunday, some thirty-five to forty people had gathered into a room that would comfortably seat only twenty; we were packed in like sardines, but no one seemed to mind. I learned that the young man seated by me had come 200 kilometers on the train to worship and hear more of the gospel. There was also a young woman, the Relief Society president, who had been in the West and spoke English, and a Latter-day Saint woman from Pennsylvania who had brought her Polish sister along. Most impressive were the several young families—father, mother, and children—who came. In traditional Polish fashion, they hugged and kissed the Fusseks on both sides of the face like cherished parents and grandparents and then did the same with only slightly less warmth to the rest of us. We were like one big happy family.
I marveled at how well Sister Fussek could express herself in Polish; the native Saints complimented her on it and were obviously proud of this expression of love for them and their culture. She had worked hard to be able to communicate the message she and her husband had brought.
Every inch of the apartment was used for the various priesthood, Sunday School, Relief Society, and Primary classes. The children met in the kitchen; others huddled in corners. It was easy to see why Brother Fussek was so excited about the recent acquisition of a building site.
A young native branch presidency took charge and brought dignity and order to the meetings; I was surprised at how well they already seemed to know what their responsibilities were. Still, they relied on the Fusseks from time to time, not only to teach some of the classes, but also to explain to them the way various things were done. The day’s meetings were a spiritual feast.
After the meetings were over, almost no one left. I wondered why there was so little interest in lunch, but most others seemed unconcerned. I soon discovered that the meetings were only a small part of the Saints’ Sunday experiences. Afterwards, there was important time for visiting and for catching up on the news of the week. Brother Fussek asked if I would join him in presenting the missionary discussion on the plan of salvation to the four or five investigators there. It had been thirty years since my own mission, but I discovered that though the method of presentation had changed, the plan hadn’t. It still, in any language, has a powerful impact upon most who hear it for the first time.
Brother Fussek’s personalized explanation seemed to illuminate and satisfy the listeners. I got a chance to express my feelings about this wonderful part of the gospel, and I was struck by its meaning—especially for a people who had been through so much misery in the past half-century.
The last person did not leave until after six o’clock that evening. I had dinner with the Fusseks, and we talked about Polish history and about the Fusseks’ mission. It had been difficult being cooped up in three rooms; they had had to wait for months to get materials to fix their bathtub; attempts to buy land or to promote the Church had run into several snags. They were also lonesome, starving for news and fellowship from England and the United States.
But there was also another side. There were these wonderful people, their “family,” who were growing in the gospel. There were others in Warsaw and elsewhere in Poland who perhaps had been prepared for them to reach. These, too, needed to be added to the gospel family. Finally, there was the simple feeling that this was, after all, one of the most satisfying things they could be doing at this stage of their life.
The dinner was rich and wonderful. I had forgotten just how delicious Polish cuisine is, with its hearty soups and spicy meats. During the conversation, I glanced at the salt shaker and thought of these “salts” across the table from me. Would I, in a few years, still have as much savor as they did? Would I be willing to give up the comforts I thought I had “earned” over many years in order to render service like this somewhere in the world? How should I prepare myself?
The walk back to the Fusseks’ apartment was the culmination of a day full of good spirit and quiet joys. I will not soon forget it. I had brought a troubled soul back into balance. I could go home now.