When Elder Dieter F. Uchtdorf of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles met with Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany on July 6, it marked the first time a senior Church leader had met with a chancellor of that European nation.
“The chancellor welcomed us warmly and expressed her thoughts about the things that Germany is currently moving with care and very vividly,” said Elder Uchtdorf.
Invited by U.S. Sen. Orrin Hatch of Utah to the meeting at the Federal Chancellery in Berlin, Elder Uchtdorf said he discussed Church aid efforts in Germany and Europe, particularly the refugee crisis, with the Church having aided 2 million refugees since 2011. In Germany alone, the Church and its members have participated in 69 projects since 2015, including nearly $3 million (2.5 million euros) of financial assistance.
“The exercise of one’s faith is inextricably linked to the fundamental right of all — whether religious or not — to think, express and act upon, and, of course, in our Christian faith, always includes practical help for one’s fellow man in need,” Elder Uchtdorf said.
Chancellor Merkel appreciated the great and caring volunteer work by German Church members in behalf of refugees and others in need, he added, and she recognized that migration is a worldwide challenge and an opportunity that will need continued attention and care.
The discussion with the chancellor included topics such as strengthening U.S.-Germany relations and other current world issues.
In Germany, the Church has some 40,000 members in 159 congregations, having been established there since 1843. Large emigration waves of faithful Latter-day Saint families during the 19th century and after World Wars I and II suggest more than 400,000 members of the Church have roots in these early German emigrant families.
Previous to the recent visit with the chancellor, Elder Uchtdorf met with former German President Joachim Gauck in May 2018 during a trip to Germany; in 2002, he met with Federal President Johannes Rau.
Born in 1940 during World War II in Ostrava, Czech Republic, Elder Uchtdorf’s family fled in 1944 into Zwickau, Saxony, in eastern Germany. As an 11-year-old boy together with his family, they escaped Communist East German to American-occupied West Germany. He served six years as a pilot in the West German Air Force before joining Lufthansa for a 30-year professional career as an airline captain. He also served for many years as an executive with Lufthansa before his call as a General Authority in 1994.
In addition to the meeting with Chancellor Merkel, Elder Uchtdorf and Sen. Hatch participated in a wreath-laying ceremony the day before at the Sachsenhausen Nazi concentration camp in Oranienburg, Germany, where approximately 30,000 people were killed between 1936 and 1945.
“As I walked across the grounds of this concentration camp, it was heart-wrenching and very sobering to realize what had happened in these barracks, trenches and public places where prisoners suffered unimaginably under the hands of those who implemented the horrors of Nazi dictatorship. It hurts even more to realize that these were our own people, those who suffered and those who supported the fascist dictatorship,” Elder Uchtdorf said of his July 6th Sachsenhausen visit.
He added it brought back similar feelings from a previous visit to Berlin’s Plötzensee Prison, where 17-year-old Latter-day Saint Helmuth Hübener was executed. Secret police had discovered Helmuth and friends listening to BBC broadcasts and distributing pamphlets, with the German government convicting him of treason and executing him in 1942.
“It is sobering to consider the path that led to unimaginable pain and suffering of those who became victims of Nazi terrorism. I hope that we will learn from history and protect future generations from drifting into similar attitudes and behaviors,” Elder Uchtdorf said. “The restored gospel of Jesus Christ, its values and principles, practiced in our own sphere of influence, will assure that the love of God and of all of His children be in the center of our thoughts and efforts.”
He concluded: “Love is the bond that unites families, communities, and nations. Love is the power that initiates friendship, tolerance, civility, and respect. It is the source that overcomes divisiveness and hate. Love is the fire that warms our lives with unparalleled joy and divine hope. Especially as members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, love should be our walk and our talk.”