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Moroni and the Swastika:

Mormons in Nazi Germany

Hardcover (433 pages), kindle
While the Nazis were persecuting Jews and Jehovah's Witnesses and driving 42 small German religious sects underground, some 14,000 Mormons not only survived, but thrived in Nazi Germany.

Moroni and the Swastika:

While Adolf Hitler’s National Socialist government was persecuting Jews and Jehovah’s Witnesses and driving forty-two small German religious sects underground, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints continued to practice unhindered. How some fourteen thousand Mormons not only survived but thrived in Nazi Germany is a story little known, rarely told, and occasionally rewritten within the confines of the Church’s history —- for good reason, as we see in David Conley Nelson’s Moroni and the Swastika. A page-turning historical narrative, this book is the first full account of how Mormons avoided Nazi persecution through skilled collaboration with Hitler’s regime, and then eschewed postwar shame by constructing an alternative history of wartime suffering and resistance.

The Twelfth Article of Faith and parts of the 134th Section of the Doctrine and Covenants function as Mormonism’s equivalent of the biblical admonition to “render unto Caesar,” a charge to cooperate with civil government, no matter how onerous doing so may be. Resurrecting this often-violated doctrinal edict, ecclesiastical leaders at the time developed a strategy that protected Mormons within Nazi Germany. Furthermore, as Nelson shows, many Mormon officials strove to fit into the Third Reich by exploiting commonalities with the Nazi state. German Mormons emphasized a mutual interest in genealogy and a passion for sports. They sent husbands into the Wehrmacht and sons into the Hitler Youth, and they prayed for a German victory when the war began. They also purged Jewish references from hymnals, lesson plans, and liturgical practices. One American mission president even wrote an article for the official Nazi Party newspaper, extolling parallels between Utah Mormon and German Nazi society. Nelson documents this collaboration, as well as subsequent efforts to suppress it by fashioning a new collective memory of ordinary German Mormons’ courage and travails during the war.

Recovering this inconvenient past, Moroni and the Swastika restores a complex and difficult chapter to the history of Nazi Germany and the Mormon Church in the twentieth century—and offers new insight into the construction of historical truth.

Mormons under the Third Reich...

During the 1920s and early 30s the German missions of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS or Mormon) experienced unprecedented success. When the Nazis came to power in 1933, Church membership in Germany had grown to over 12,000, the largest pocket of Mormons outside the US.

The Church was never officially banned in Germany as some other religious groups were, most noticeably the Jehovah's Witnesses. To the contrary, the Church received rater favorable treatment from the Nazi government; although Gestapo agents did frequently observe Church meetings, and most local leaders were thoroughly interrogated about Mormon doctrine, beliefs and practices. But as long as they didn't overtly cause trouble, the Third Reich tolerated Latter-day Saints in much the same way it tolerated Baptists and Methodists. All were warned, however, to stay out of political matters and by 1935 were all forced to drop their Scouting and youth programs, replacing them with the state-mandated Hitler Youth.

Because the Nazis emphasized racial purity, they promoted genealogical research. Government officials, who had earlier regarded the Mormons as an unpopular sect and thus denied them access to vital records, now respected them because of their interest in genealogy. Nevertheless, the situation for the Church and its members became much more difficult during the late 1930s.

When the LDS Church eventually ordered the evacuation of all non-German missionaries and leaders in 1939, the local Saints were left on their own in isolated circumstances for the next six years. Some German Mormons felt that the wisest course was to cooperate with the Nazis as much as possible. Others were convinced that their patriotic and religious duty was to resist, which became increasingly difficult to do.

Soon, numerous German male members, both single and married, were drafted into the German armed forces. In the early months of the war, most of the German Saints felt they were fighting a just war, but as the war lengthened and rumors of atrocities heightened, more and more members of the Church began hoping and praying for an Allied victory. After America's entry into the war, some 100,000 American Mormons found themselves in uniform as well, and German Mormons were faced with the unsettling, yet very real possibility of having to confront their fellow Saints on the battlefield.

Perhaps the greatest difficulty for German Mormons centered around the Church's 12th Article of Faith, "We believe in being subject to kings, presidents, rulers, and magistrates, in obeying, honoring, and sustaining the law." Obedience to the law under Nazi rule was increasingly becoming in stark contrast to their principles of moral conduct. Their only options were silence and turning a blind eye to events all around them, just as faced by Germans of other denominations.

All German religious groups tolerated under the Third Reich shared an unspoken understanding that once the Jews had been eliminated, they would eventually be next.

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