My father was called to preside over the East German Mission at the outbreak of World War II. At this time, he was also drafted into the German army. He directed the affairs of the mission from the battlefield through his two counselors.
One Sabbath before Christmas, he felt very lonely, stationed in Denmark away from his family, and wanted to worship God in sacrament meeting. He didn’t know whether a Church branch existed in Esbjerg, but he assumed there might be one somewhere in the city. He didn’t speak the language, but, dressed in his full military uniform, he hummed the tune of a favorite hymn as he walked on a city street. He hoped he would attract someone’s attention who could lead him to the Church.
Sure enough, as a little girl passed my father, she asked him in Danish, “Mormon?” and, seeing him nod his head, she led him to the branch meetinghouse.
My father risked his life, realizing that if he were discovered by Nazi officials among enemy people in their worship services, he could face a charge of treason, punishable by death. He also took a risk by surrendering his weapon belt to the branch president at the door and by accepting an invitation to deliver a Christmas message during sacrament meeting in another enemy tongue—English.
A young Danish girl who was a member of the branch wrote to my mother about the strange experience of having an enemy soldier in their midst:
Last night I visited the branch. There was a German there, your husband. Even though many Danish people hate Germans, we learned to love this man. He spoke to the congregation in English, and William Orum Peterson translated. Your husband related how only a month ago, he had lost everything he had, and the mission home had been destroyed. But he was thankful that his wife and children were safe. He then gave testimony of the truthfulness of the Church. It was wonderful to see a man in the uniform we hated speak with so much love for us. He was happy to be among the Saints.
Years later, after our father had died and our family had moved to Salt Lake City, Utah, in the 1950s, we received another letter—this time from a woman who worked for the Genealogical Society of the Church and whose husband had met my father at the Esbjerg branch. She had enclosed a letter that my father had written while in Russia to the woman’s husband in Denmark. It had been censored by the German military authorities. We wondered how it had ever reached its destination, having been written in English by a German military officer in Russia to a man living in Denmark. Dated 17 May 1944, it read:
Dear Brother Olsen,
More than two months ago, I left Denmark. During these weeks, I have experienced the dreadful aspect of the war, but I have been wonderfully protected from harm and illness. I am a thankful to the Lord for his many blessings, and I am looking forward to the time when I will be happy to meet my loved ones at home again. So far, my wife and children have also been protected from the terror of hostile airplanes flying over Germany daily. I am thinking of you and the other dear friends I met while in Esbjerg, and I wish you all the good luck in the world for the future. Give my kindest regards to all I know, will you please?
My father’s love for the gospel and for the members of the Church transcended national boundaries. He visited that Danish branch—and shared his love and his testimony with the members—despite the great risks involved. Near the end of World War II while still acting as wartime president of the East German Mission, he was starved to death in a prisoner-of-war camp deep in Russian territory.