President Thomas S. Monson is known to have a soft spot for those struggling, the downtrodden and forgotten of this world. He was known for taking time for the individual and showing love to those forgotten. It is no coincidence that the Lord would assign Thomas S. Monson to watch over Europe after World War II, which included those behind the Iron Curtain.
World War II ended in 1945, but the effects of war are still in evident in Europe. Thomas S. Monson changed the trajectory for the Saints in East Germany. When Thomas S. Monson received the assignment to supervise the European missions in June 1968 in a normal rotations of assignments the First Presidency of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. Thomas S. Monson was to supervise: Germany, Italy, Austria, and Switzerland.
This assignment would be one of the longest individual assignments ever given to a member of the Quorum of the Twelve apostles. Helping the Saints in East Germany became one of the most important chapters in Thomas S. Monsons ministry.
In 1968 Thomas S. Monsons made his first brief visit behind the Iron Cutain. Elder Monson recorded, “What a stark contrast as one passes through Checkpoint Charlie and finds freedom snuffed out and Communism dominating all.” They visited the Soviet War Memorial, then crossed back to the West, where he noticed a simple wreath honoring those who had lost their lives trying to escape over the Berlin Wall. Evidences of World War II bombings were still everywhere to be seen in the East. West Berlin, in contrast, looked like a new and prosperous city.
Since the Berlin Wall had gone up in 1961, no General Authority Authority had attempted to visit the Soviet Zone in Germany. Thomas S. Monson knew that he needed to visit the Saints in East Germany and “trusting in the Lord” he contacted the United States government to see what he needed to do. The U.S. Government tried to discourage the young apostle from going over the Communist Germany, the United States Government had no diplomatic relations the that country, and Thomas Monson was told “If anything happens to you, we can’t get you out.”
Years later Thomas S. Monson said “You simply had to realize that the objective was higher than any earthly authority, and with trust in the Lord you went.”
A little history of what happened in Germany after World War II. Germany had been divided into four military zones, by the victors of the War. The Americans, French, British, and Russia were in charge of each different area. United States, England and France helped the country rebuild, but the Russian zone isolated the people in their zone from the rest. Russia established a police state with censorship and travel restrictions. The former Prime Minister of England said “From Stettin to the Baltic to Trieste in the Adriatic, and iron curtain has descended across the continent.”
The City of Berlin was also divided into four sectors, under four military powers. The American, English, and French sectors became known as West Berlin, and the last sector run by the Russians was known as East Berlin. On August 13, 1961 the people of West Berlin woke up to find barb-wired wall encircling their side of the city, with armed guards lined up along it to “protect” the citizens of the Soviet Zone, from the Western influences. Communication was shut down, major street crossings blocked, subways and rail stations closed. Travel from East to West Berlin sealed off.
When Thomas S. Monson told his wife of his plan to visit the German Democratic Republic he asked if she wanted to go with him. She said “Tom, we have children to raise. You go, and I will stay here and watch the children. Then, if you don’t come back they will have one of us to give them guidance.”
“Pray for me” he replied.
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“To the Rescue, The Biography of Thomas S. Monson” Chapter 19 and 20