BOOK REVIEW – “Moroni and the Swastika: Mormons in Nazi Germany”
Author: David Conley Nelson
Publisher: University of Oklahoma Press
Year Published: 2015
Number of Pages: 416
(All page notations in this review reflect my using an Advance Reader’s Copy of the book)
David Conley Nelson’s journey to produce “Moroni and the Swastika” started over twenty years ago. His then 13 year old son had just learned about World War II in his history class. In his class he had been taught about the many atrocities committed by the Nazis. He learned for instance that the Nazi’s imprisoned many minority groups and forced them to wear identifying symbols. He was taught that for common criminals it was green triangles, political prisoner red triangles, Jehovah’s Witnesses purple triangles, homosexuals pink triangles, and Jews wore yellow Stars of David. As a young Mormon, Nelson’s son had also learned the traditional Mormon history stories about the various persecutions that his Mormon pioneer ancestors had been through. The young man tried putting two and two together and asked his father, “what color triangles did the Mormons wear in the concentration camps?” This question sent Nelson on a quest to find out just what the Mormon experience was in Nazi Germany. His quest became a paper that was presented to the Mormon History Association, that paper became his PhD dissertation, and the dissertation became his book, “Moroni and the Swastika: Mormons in Nazi Germany.” In this fascinating and challenging book Nelson guides the reader through the same journey of discovery that he took to learn the experience of Mormons living under Nazi rule.
In “Moroni and the Swastika” Nelson breaks new ground and his research coalesces many hard to find or previously unknown stories and sources. His efforts have done much to give a more complete story than ever before of what Mormons living in Nazi Germany did and experienced and to what lengths the leaders of the Church at all levels were willing to go to in order to ensure that the Church survived during Hitler’s reign. This is a story that needs to be told. It is also a story that is essential in understanding modern Mormonism and the methods used by the Church and its leaders to adapt to a changing world and the circumstances in which it finds itself.
Growing up I had assumed, like Nelson’s son did, based on what and how I was taught, that life must have been pretty tough on Mormons in Nazi Germany. I am guessing that many Church members had the same assumptions. When I tried Googling “Mormons and Nazis” I found a link to a chapter on World War II in the CES institute and BYU religion text “Church History in the Fullness of Times.” Its discussion of life for Mormons in Nazi Germany does not come right out and say that Mormons were persecuted, but it certainly does leave the impression that they were. It states:
During the 1920–30s the German missions of the Church experienced unprecedented success, particularly in the eastern provinces. When the National Socialists, or Nazis, gained control of Germany in 1933, Church members had to become increasingly circumspect. Gestapo agents frequently observed Church meetings, and most branch and mission leaders were thoroughly interrogated by the police about Mormon doctrines, beliefs, and practices, and were warned to stay out of political matters. By the mid-1930s, Latter-day Saint meetings were often canceled during Nazi rallies, and the Church was forced to drop its Scouting program because of the Hitler Youth Movement.
Gospel teachings about Israel were out of harmony with the Nazi’s anti-Jewish policies, so copies of Elder James E. Talmage’s popular doctrinal work The Articles of Faith with its references to Israel and Zion were confiscated. In one town, police ripped all hymns referring to these topics out of the hymnbooks. Uneasy and concerned because of these conditions, some Church members ceased attending Church to avoid trouble with the police. Other German Saints felt an intensified interest in emigrating from the country.
The Church was never officially banned in Germany as some other small religious groups were. In fact, the Church received favorable publicity when the Nazi government invited Mormon elders to help coach some of the German basketball teams and to assist them at the 1936 Berlin Olympics. Furthermore, 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 missionaries became much more difficult during the late 1930s. (1)
From there the chapter touches on the experience of German Mormons living in Brazil in the 1930’s and 40’s, gives a lot of detail on the trials and “miracles” of the evacuation of the missionaries at the outbreak of the war, gives a few stories of individual soldiers during the war, and points out that while the Saints during the war were isolated and experienced great trials, they were, for the most part, faithful to the Church and its liturgical practices. For people used to reading and learning about Mormons suffering at the hands of government and religious officials, other than the brief mention of Mormons involvement with the Olympics and German genealogy, the chapter does leave the impression that Mormons living under Nazi rule had it pretty tough. “Moroni and the Swastika” provides a much more complete and nuanced picture of what took place to and in Mormonism during this time.
“Moroni and the Swastika” is divided into 16 chapters in three sections plus an Introduction and a Conclusion. Part One is called “The Mormon Sonderweg: The Road to Nazi Germany” and covers the history of the LDS Church from the first proselyting attempts by Missionaries in the mid 1800’s through the end of the Weimar period. Part Two is “The Prewar Nazi Years, 1933-1939: A Forgotten History.” This interesting and challenging section gives all of the details on just what the Church and its leaders did to not only make sure that the Church survived, but also thrived during the Nazi period. The Third section is called “Beacons of Mormon Memory in Nazi Germany.” This section presents the stories of individual Mormons such as Helmuth Hübener and explains how they have been used or can be used to tell the story of the Mormon experience in Germany during the Nazi years.
The reader’s journey starts with an introduction to the story of Max Reschke, a real Mormon hero that unfortunately very few people have heard of until now. Among his heroic acts, Reschke, who at the time was serving as a Mormon branch president, spent the night known to history as Kristallnacht sneaking a Jewish couple out of Germany and into Switzerland in the backseat of his car. This was just one of Reschke’s many acts of defiance and bravery during the Nazi’s 12 year reign (see pages 3-4 among others). It is sad to say that with the hindsight of history, Max Reschke’s story becomes one of the few shining moments of Mormon history during the Nazi period. The rest of the book’s introduction provides a great overview of the contents of and appetizer for the remainder of the book.
As I mentioned above, the first section of the book, about one quarter of the text, covers the history of the LDS Church in Germany from the first missionary attempts to the fall of the Weimer Republic. Nelson outlines and discusses several things in this section that he feels had an important impact on the behavior of the Church and its leaders during the Nazi period. He feels that these nineteenth and early twentieth century issues and experiences helped to influence the LDS Church’s position of cooperating with the Nazi government in the nineteen thirties and forties. One of his arguments was that thanks to concentrated missionary efforts in the early days, along with the then LDS doctrine of “the gathering”, Germans made up the third largest subgroup in the Mormon corridor/cultural region (p. 42). This large, influential contingent of German Mormons living Utah impacted the Church leaders actions and attitudes in Nazi Germany. The feelings of these Utah based German Mormons strengthened their leaders desire to make sure that the LDS Church remained viable and functioning in Nazi Germany. A second major point that Nelson made was that German Mormons tried hard to contribute to their country as citizens and soldiers during the First World War and during the Weimer period. This earned them a lot of political capital and respect in their country when the Nazi period started and later during the Second World War.
My impression was that the most important point that Nelson tried to make in this section was that the Mormon doctrine of polygamy, coupled with the behavior of early Mormon missionaries in the nineteenth century German States, had a larger impact on what happened to Mormons during this time, and a larger impact on the Church’s strategy to survive the Nazi period, then did any other Church teaching or practice. According to Nelson, in the nineteenth century in Germany, the Mormons were their “own worst enemy” and “their doctrine of polygamy was a self-inflicted wound” (p. 59). In another place he refers to Mormon polygamy as “The elephant in the German parlor” (p. 35). Nelson outlines several examples of how polygamy, stories of polygamy, and the shuffling around of missionaries who ran afoul of local governmental bodies in the nineteenth century German States, left an impression that the missionaries and the Mormons in general, were not loyal to Germany and that they were there to encourage young Germans, especially German women, to immigrate to the United States and to enter into polygamy. Nelson then provides several stories from the post-World War I period to show how the Mormon mission leaders became very strict on misbehaving members and missionaries and went to great lengths to prove to the German government and people that Mormons were loyal to the government and that they were not there to recruit or encourage Germans to move to America. This desire to erase polygamy’s stain and prove Mormon citizens loyalty then carried over into the Nazi period. After reading the stories Nelson shared, and considering his analysis, I have to say that I agree with him, Mormon polygamy and the behaviors of early missionaries and the resulting experiences did indeed impact and influence the Mormon leaders desire to cooperate with the Nazi’s and to prove their loyalty to them so that the Church would be allowed to continue to function under Nazi rule.
There is one positon in this first section that Nelson argued for which he failed to convince me of. In chapter one Nelson writes about Joseph Smith’s “King Follett Discourse” given in Nauvoo in 1844. He writes of the discourse’s influence on Mormon theology and then turns his attention to a part of the discourse “that most scholars ignore”, that is, Smith’s idea that the German translation of the Bible was “the most nearly correct” (p. 20). He then quotes a statement Smith made shortly after the King Follett Discourse where he again claimed that the German translation of the Bible was the “most nearly correct” and that its translators were “the most honest” of the Biblical translators. Nelson next speculates that Smith’s interest in German came from his association with the Whitmer family and then quotes Smith’s statement that “The Germans are an exalted people” (p. 21). Nelson follows this with an explanation of what “exaltation” means in Mormonism before stating that, “Joseph Smith proclaimed the German potential for exaltation, but no record has been discovered” to show that Smith felt as strongly about other nationalities (p. 21). After referring to pronouncements from several other LDS leaders about or to the German people Nelson speculates that Smith “viewed Germans as a breeding stock for deity” (p. 23). At the end of the first chapter he repeats the idea that Germans had a special worthiness in Smith’s eyes for becoming deity. If I am reading Nelson right he seems to be taking a couple of statements by Smith about the German Bible and a statement about Germans being “exalted” and using them to promote the idea that Smith saw Germans as having a special role to play in the Church and that they were more likely to reach Godhood versus other nationalities in the Church. This in turn would show one reason why the Church leaders were so determined to have the Church survive in Germany during the Nazi period. If I have misread Nelson then I apologize. While I believe that Joseph preferred the German Bible to the English Bible, and while he may have called the Germans an “exalted people,” I am not buying into the idea that Smith saw the German people as having a more important role to play than any other people in the Church Nor was I convinced that Smith thought that they were somehow as a group closer to “Godhood” or more prone to “exaltation” in the Celestial Kingdom than any other group in the Church.
On the first page of the book the reader was introduced to Max Reschke, a Mormon branch president who risked his life to save and assist Jewish individuals during the Nazi period. On the first page of section two of the book, “The Prewar Nazi Years”, the reader is introduced to mission president Oliver Budge, the first of several mission presidents who would work and cooperate with the Nazi government as a part of the LDS Church’s survival effort. In September of 1933 President Budge was visited by a Gestapo agent who asked Budge to share with him the Church’s feelings on Nazism and the government. Budge assured him that the Church believed that its members should be “subject to kings, presidents, rulers, and magistrates, in obeying, honoring, and sustaining the law” (p. 93). He also addressed a multi-page letter to the Gestapo headquarters that not only reassured them that the Church intended to cooperate with the government and any laws and regulations that it imposed, but also outlined belief’s that he felt the LDS Church and the Nazi’s shared. Thus President Budge became the first of many LDS leaders who sought with varying levels of involvement and enthusiasm to find ways to coexist and cooperate with the Nazi government. In this section the reader quickly learns that men like Reschke, and the more famous Helmuth Hübener, were the outliers, the rebels, the exceptions, and that men like Budge who worked with the Nazis represent the Church’s normal mode of operation in this time.
Nelson’s research in this section is extensive and deep and he did a great job of pulling it all together and presenting it to the reader. There is not space in this review to discuss everything in the book, and I want to leave many discoveries to the reader as they take their own journey through this book. I will list and discuss a few of the items of interest in this section. Going back to the triangles and oppressed minorities from the beginning of the book with his son’s question, one of the first things that Nelson discusses in this section is a comparison and contrast of Mormon actions with Jehovah Witness actions in this time period and the results of both on their respective churches. Nelson also covers some of the same items that are discussed in the CES text at the beginning of this review, including the Nazi confiscation and censorship of LDS books and pamphlets, but he gives additional details. While, in the early days of their reign, the Nazi government did confiscate some pamphlets and writings from the Church, Nelson demonstrates that most changes and censorship to LDS materials was done voluntarily by the LDS leaders and congregations. Admittedly, they would not have done this censorship without fear of government actions, but still most of it was done voluntarily. For instance, Church leaders voluntarily edited many missionary tracts, they requested that Church members refrain from singing any hymns or using any quotes or lessons that mentioned Jews or Israel, they cut pages out of some manuals and glued pages together in others in order to remove or hide any offending quotes, doctrines, or lessons, and they replaced traditional LDS imagery in chapels with Nazi imagery. Some LDS leaders, including President Heber J Grant, even held meetings with large Nazi banners behind them (p. 103-104, 182-183).
Chapter Five focuses on how Mormons used their strong belief in genealogy, which they used to provide sacred saving proxy ordinances for deceased family members, to ingratiate themselves with the Nazis, who had a strong belief in genealogy, which they used to determine an individual’s racial purity and whether or not they would lose civil rights or even be imprisoned. Chapter Six is called “Mormon Basketball Diplomacy in Hitler’s Reich”. It covers the German hosted 1936 Olympic games and gives details on how Mormon missionaries were the early coaches and trainers for the German Olympic basketball team. Chapter Seven is on Boy Scouting which Nelson calls, “The Mormons’ only unconditional surrender to the Nazis.”
Chapter Eight, titled, “The Fuhrer’s Chosen People” is very through in how it covers the various “Mormon Hitler myths” that were developed at the time as a way to connect Hitler to the Mormons and vice versa. For instance Mormons at the time spread the idea that Hitler took his ideas for German welfare initiatives from LDS teachings. When Hitler started a German “Fast Day” Mormons circulated among themselves that Hitler got the idea from them. Roy Welker, a mission president from 1934 to 1937, taught and shared in his memoir’s that Hitler was “impressed with the LDS faith…and its practices” and “borrowed” several ideas from the Church (p. 138). The LDS owned Deseret News even printed articles spreading this idea that the Nazis had adopted the Mormon fast day. The Deseret News also wrote an article proclaiming that Hitler’s ideas on health, including his supposed abstaining from alcohol and tobacco, were based on his knowledge of the LDS Word of Wisdom. Some shared the idea that Hitler was a “secret Mormon” (p. 140). Mormons also felt that some of Hitler’s ideas on public morality came from them, and President Welker’s wife Elizabeth went so far as to travel with Nazi leaders in order to inspect youth camps and discuss shared ideas about morality and modesty in young women.
Chapter Nine tackles the post war “myth” that Mormons were persecuted as were other minorities in Nazi Germany. Nelson does document one “unprovoked” attack on two missionaries by an “SA ‘storm trooper’ or an older Hitler Youth” and a handful of times where people were questioned or taken into custody, meetings were interrupted, or records or tracts were seized. With the exception of the previously mentioned attack, all other incidents involving missionaries and Nazis came about because the missionaries were Americans and or made poor decisions. For instance, two American missionaries were taken in for questioning after photographing a coal mine and another was taken in for questioning for observing a contingent of soldiers after they heard his American accent. One rather amusing, “head desk” sort of story from this chapter involves two missionaries who had to be rushed out of the country supposedly (but not proved) with the Gestapo hot on their tails right up to the Swiss border. But the two immature Elders brought the trouble on themselves; they had taken pictures of themselves wearing the Nazi flag as a loincloth and then had those images developed at a local photography shop. When the Nazis found out, they did come after the Elders. But their trouble did not come because they were Mormon, it came because they made a poor decision. “Mormons were not targets of the Third Reich, as were Jews and Jehovah’s Witnesses” concludes Nelson, they were “not persecuted in Nazi Germany” (p. 174, 183). This was a very good chapter, informative, thoroughly documented, and spelled out very well. It puts to bed any myth that Mormons were persecuted or attacked in Nazi Germany for being Mormon. This chapter would have made a great standalone paper or essay and needs to be read and shared.
The last two chapters in this section focus on the Mormon leaders of the time. Chapter Ten discusses mission presidents during the Nazi period, with an especial focus on President Philemon Kelly and President Alfred Rees. It is a fascinating chapter with interesting insights into the politics and even infighting that can occur between Church leaders. Rees was the most willing of the American leaders in Germany to embrace and cooperate with the Nazi’s. Reading of the enthusiasm, gusto, and even joy that he seemed to feel when working with the Nazi’s was really quite hard to stomach. Like the previous chapter, this one would do well on its own and contains a lot of interesting history that deserves to be read. I also struggled with the two chapters in the book that discussed J. Reuben Clark. He is covered in Chapter Eleven, titled, “J. Reuben Clark: Mormon Ambassador Plenipotentiary and His Entourage” (I had to look “Plenipotentiary” up) and he and his actions are also discussed a lot in Chapter Fourteen, “Mormons and Jews: An Inconvenient Association”.
It is true that Clark did take a number of actions that were intended to help protect and evacuate missionaries as necessary. In this he did a very good job. He also did a great job of helping to prepare the Church members in Germany to function if and when they were cut off from the American leadership. I am sure that *he felt* that all of his actions were protecting the general membership of the Church and the Church as a whole in Germany. But reading about him refusing to help members of the Church of Jewish descent to escape Germany when all he had to do was provide a recommendation, and reading of his anti-Semitism which he tried rather enthusiastically to spread to the other General Authorities, was one of the most disturbing aspects of the book for me. The disturbing nature of this information is obviously not Nelson’s fault, it is just very troubling history.
The final section of the book covers the Second World War and its aftermath, some forgotten Mormon heroes and villains from the Nazi period, and a number of “memory beacons” that have been established in the intervening years. Readers will journey with many individuals in this section, some familiar, some new. Men like Herbet Klopfer, Jared Kobs and Norman Seibold eventually had their story’s told by the Church or institutions connected with it as safe examples of Mormon heroism during the war. On the other hand, the Church made an effort, spearheaded by then Elder/Apostle Thomas S Monson, to quash the story of the most famous Mormon from this period, Helmuth Hubener. Nelson dedicates two chapters to Hübener, one to his actual story, and one to the attempts to tell his story. Three things stuck out to me in reading what Nelson had to say about Hübener. The first is that Hübener’s story has yet to be told fully and accurately. The Second is that everyone who has written about it or told it up to now has made alterations to make it to make it suit their needs and or to make the story come out as “faithful” and inoffensive to the LDS Church as possible. The story of Hubener and his bravery which is also the story of his branch president, Arthur Zander, the Nazi zealot who among other things blocked Jews from attending Church, forced branch members to listen to Nazi propaganda and sing Nazi songs, and who announced Hubener’s death over the pulpit, is a fascinating and an important story and needs to be told as completely and honestly as possible. I hope that Nelson’s book inspires someone to take up this task.
It was very interesting and troubling for me to read of the attempts by the Church in the 1970’s and 80’s to keep Hübener’s story from being told. Various reasons were given for this action. This included the concern that telling the story might offend German Mormons, concern about not offending leaders in Communist countries, as this might lead to a restriction of Church activities and could have threatened missionary work and efforts to build the East German LDS Temple, and that telling Hübener’s story might encourage Mormon youth then living in fascist countries to rebel against their leaders. Maybe these reasons made sense to the General Authorities at the time. I am sure that they felt that they were justified in their ideas and decisions. I imagine that they believed that they were really protecting the Church and its members. But after reading these chapters, after studying Nelson’s research and analysis, to me, their excuses for trying to kill or control Hübener’s story ring hollow. Especially troubling to me was a quote from Elder Thomas S. Monson about why he wanted to stop the telling of Hübener’s story. When asked by a reporter about why he stopped BYU from continuing a production of a play on Hübener and on stopping further research and publications on him, “Monson snapped”:
“Who knows what was right or wrong then? I don’t know what we accomplish by dredging these things up and trying to sort them out” (p. 327).
I have no desire to condemn President Monson or any of the others involved in trying to suppress Hübener’s story. I do not question their motives. I am sure that they did what they thought was right. I do questions their decisions though. I know that I have said it a lot, but these are chapters that need to be read. Nelson did excellent work here. I hope that many people will read these chapters’ and make their own informed conclusions about how Hübener’s story has been told and the decisions made by LDS leaders to stop or control the spreading of the story in the 1970’s and 80’s.
My favorite story in “Moroni and the Swastika” is in this final section of the book, so also is the story that I found to be the most disturbing. Max Reschke, who the readers were introduced to on the first page of the book, gets a very satisfying telling of his story in Chapter Thirteen “Forgotten Heroes and Rediscovered Villains.” Reschke is a true hero who stood not only against his government, but also against the advice and direction from his ecclesiastical leaders when he took multiple actions to help Jews during the Nazi and war periods. Up until now only his children and close family members knew what he had done. Reading his story made the difficult journey through the rest of the book worth it. I am glad that his story his being shared, it is a small and much deserved reward for actions so great.
The saddest and most horrific story in the book is also in this section. Erich Krause was a convert to the LDS Church, having joined in 1923. He became a very active member of the Nazi party. He abandoned his first wife when he discovered that she had some Jewish heritage, and that is the least of his crimes. His devotion to the party won him a position as the head of a Nazi prison. As the commandant of this facility he personally tortured and murdered hundreds of people, with some of these murders being done in a very brutal fashion. He later helped to liquidate a Jewish Ghetto. During this time he was also an active Mormon. He apparently did not see any contradictions in his actions. After the war one of his victims saw him on the street. Krause was reported and arrested. He was charged with “murder, crimes against humanity, and applying torture and violence to gain confessions” (p. 268). After his arrest the Church stood by him. His fellow congregants would visit him. Walter Stover, the famed East German Mission President who has been spoken of by President Monson in General Conference, personally vouched for him. Stover also used 2,000 marks of Church funds as Krause’s bail. Eventually, despite all of the evidence, Krause walked away a free man. After his release he was called by the Church to be a “stake genealogist” and was eventually called to the position of stake High Councilor. Krause’s story was a *tough* one to read. There are many more stories in this section, but I will leave them for the reader to discover.
I did find some editorial and other errors as I was reading the book. As I mentioned earlier, at the beginning of the first chapter, Nelson introduces readers to Joseph Smith’s “King Follett Discourse” and gives a brief overview of some of the doctrines taught in it by Joseph Smith. Nelson says that in this discourse Joseph Smith referred to God the Father, “using the Old Testament name of Elohim” and that Smith called Jesus Christ “Jehovah” (p. 19). It is true that it is a modern Mormon belief that God the Father is designated/named Elohim and that Jesus Christ Is “Jehovah”/“The God of the Old Testament,” and it is a common mistake in modern Mormonism to attribute this idea/doctrine/teaching to Joseph Smith and the King Follett Discourse. But this is not correct. The only direct mention of Elohim in the completed King Follett Discourse is this:
“There is the starting point for us to look to, in order to understand and be fully acquainted with the mind, purposes and decrees of the Great Eloheim, who sits in yonder heavens as he did at the creation of the world.” (2)
“Jehovah” is not mentioned at all in the completed King Follett discourse. In actuality, Joseph Smith, Brigham Young, John Taylor and other early Church leaders used Elohim and Jehovah interchangeably for God the Father. The first use of the name Jehovah specifically as a name for Jesus Christ in the “Journal of Discourses” occurred in the 1880’s. After this the use of Jehovah for Christ became more regular and was cemented as an LDS doctrine when James E. Talamge wrote Jesus the Christ in 1915. (3)
In Chapter Two, “German Mormons and the Great War,” Nelson documents and describes the challenges faced by German Mormons during the First World War and its aftermath. When discussing the problems and challenges that occurred during this time, Nelson lists a number of liturgical changes that occurred in German Mormon congregations when they were cut off from American Mormon leadership. One of the changes from the norm that he mentions is that some congregations began to play a musical accompaniment during the passing of the sacrament. He then states, “The Mormon sacrament is customarily served in silence” (p. 57). While this is true today this has not always been so. During the early Twentieth Century it was a practice in some congregations to play music during the passing of the sacrament. At least one currently living apostle remembers this practice and has mentioned it in a General Conference talk. The practice was fully discontinued by the First Presidency through a letter sent to all LDS congregations in May of 1946. (4)
As discussed earlier in this review, in Chapter 8 “The Fuhrer’s Chosen People” Nelson discusses the various ways that Mormons tried to connect themselves to the Nazis, including the idea that Hitler borrowed the concept of a “Fast day” from the Mormons. As a part of this discussion Nelson gives a brief history of the Mormon practice of “fasting” and having a “fast day.” He states that “In 1896, the Mormon prophet Joseph F. Smith, had changed the Church’s monthly fast day to the first Sunday of each month” (p. 137). It is true that the official monthly Mormon fast day was changed from the first Thursday to the first Sunday of the month by the First Presidency in 1896. It is also true that a letter from Joseph F. Smith’s son, Hyrum M. Smith (who later served as a Church apostle), was a major part of the decision to make the change, however, Joseph F. Smith was not “The Prophet” in 1896, he was the “Second Counselor” to Wilford Woodruff. Smith would become the prophet of the Church after Lorenzo Snow’s death in 1901. (5)
The “Conclusion” of Moroni and the Swastika discusses a regional LDS meeting for military personal held in Germany in the 1960’s at which Hugh B. Brown, then a member of the First Presidency, was the presiding officer. The text states twice that the meeting occurred in 1969 and mentions that Brown presided at the meeting having, “recently been elevated to the third-ranking position in the Mormon hierarchy, an office known as the Second Counselor in the First Presidency” (p. 339). Hugh B Brown became David O McKay’s second counselor in 1961 and his first counselor in 1963. He served in that position until McKay’s death in 1970. This would appear to be a minor typographical error that could easily be remedied in future editions.
Make no mistake, this is a fantastic book. Nelson has produced a fine piece of scholarship. “Moroni and the Swastika” is a book that I believe should be read by anyone who is interested in LDS history, “Mormonism in transition”, “The rise of Modern Mormonism”, or who has any German LDS connections. This book documents and discusses very well the efforts and lengths that the LDS Church is willing to go to adapt and to survive in challenging and changing conditions. I believe that it is an informative history that is very relevant to what is going on in the LDS Church today. As I was writing this review the LDS Church held a press conference to announce support for LGBT anti-discrimination laws as long as they contained religious exemptions. It was not too long ago that LDS leaders taught that just being gay was “an abominable crime against nature”. Then they transitioned into teaching that being gay was not a sin, but “acting” on it was. Just a few years ago the Church took a large and much discussed roll in opposing gay marriage in California, Hawaii, and other states. Since then the Church has launched a website, mormonsandgays.org that encourages Church members to reach out to and work with the LGBT community. And now they have gone from fighting to stop the legalization of gay marriage, to a position of working with and encouraging governmental leaders to protect the rights of both the LGBT and conservative religious communities. Historians who study Nelson’s book and current LDS practices of adapting to changing political conditions, be it in LGBT or other issues, are likely to find parallels in the Church’s attempts to adapt and coexist while at the same time hanging on to its core doctrines. (6)
I would like to conclude by saying that this is a great, but a challenging book. The journey that it took me on was informative, but difficult. When I agree to review a book for an author or a publisher my standard promise is to tell them that I will read the book and have a published review within 30 days of my receiving the book. It took me about twice that to complete this review. I give my apologies to David Conley Nelson, The University of Oklahoma Press, and my editors/website hosts. As I have alluded to above, this was at times a difficult and a challenging book to read and to write about. Learning of the behavior of some of my co-religionists, especially those like Arthur Zander who hurt so many and embraced Nazism so enthusiastically while holding a position of Church leadership and trust; and of Erich Krause who tortured and killed so many, was very difficult. To think that these men could be reading the same scriptures that I read, that they could on one hand be teaching their families and preaching from the pulpit the same Gospel of Jesus Christ that I embrace, while at the same time whole heartedly embracing Nazism and being involved in actions, indirectly in Zander’s case and directly in Krause’s case, that resulted in the imprisonment and death of others, well, the dissonance is mind boggling.
Even worse was reading and learning about the actions, attitudes, and outright racism of mission presidents and of First Presidency member J. Reuben Clark. From my youth I have been taught that these men are in close communication with God and Jesus Christ. I was taught that when they speak to their missionaries or the Church, they act as God’s mouthpiece to the people who they are addressing. To read of their cooperation with the Nazi’s in some cases, almost enjoying/embracing it in others, to read of Clark’s actions that prevented the escape from Germany of Mormon Jews, and of his outright anti-Semitism was very trying. To learn that men I revered and idolized, who to me were to be God’s representatives, and perhaps even his physical eyewitnesses in Clark’s case, was extremely difficult. I try not to judge these men; they were products of a different time. I can only assume that they all really believed that their choices and actions were for the best and that in the long run they were preserving lives and preserving the Church. Still, there were times where I just had to stop reading the book and stop writing the review and examine and compose my thoughts and absorb, assimilate, and process what I was reading about, thinking, and feeling. I can only imagine how difficult doing the research and writing the book was for Nelson. So take that as a warning, it is certainly no fault of the book or of Nelson’s, but reading this book could prove challenging to LDS readers. With that said, I encourage all to take the Journey that is “Moroni and the Swastika.”
1. “Church History in the Fullness of Times” pp 522-523, chapter written by Richard O Cowan for the Church Educational System. E-version at https://www.lds.org/manual/church-history-in-the-fulness-of-times-student-manual/chapter-forty-the-saints-during-world-war-ii?lang=eng
2. HC 6:303
3. The best discussion on the evolving Mormon teachings God the Father as Elohim and Jesus Christ as Jehovah can be found in an article from Sunstone by Boyd Kirkland titled, “Jehovah As Father: The Development of the Mormon Jehovah Doctrine”. PDF copy at https://www.sunstonemagazine.com/wp-content/uploads/sbi/articles/044-36-44.pdf and html copy at http://lds-mormon.com/jehovahasfather.shtml .
Here are a few examples. During Joseph Smith’s lifetime, the name Jehovah was regularly used to denote the Father. For example Parley P. Pratt in “History of the Late Persecution” (1839) said “Here we had often bowed the knee in prayer to Jehovah in by-gone years”. And Joseph Smith himself said:
“There are many souls whom I have loved stronger than death. To them I have proved faithful—to them I am determined to prove faithful, until God calls me to resign up my breath. O Thou, who seest and knowest the hearts of all men—Thou eternal, omnipotent, omniscient, and omnipresent Jehovah—God—Thou Eloheim, that sittest, as saith the Psalmist, “enthroned in heaven,” look down upon Thy servant Joseph at this time; and let faith on the name of THY SON Jesus Christ, to a greater degree than Thy servant ever yet has enjoyed, be conferred upon him, even the faith of Elijah; and let the lamp of eternal life be lit up in his heart, never to be taken away; and let the words of eternal life be poured upon the soul of Thy servant, that he may know [p.128] Thy will, Thy statutes, and Thy commandments, and Thy judgments, to do them.” – (History of the Church, Vol.5, ch.6, p.127 – Joseph Smith, August 1842)
And the Quorum of the Twelve in an 1845 Proclamation said:
“KNOW YE:— THAT the kingdom of God has come: as has been predicted by ancient prophets, and prayed for in all ages; even that kingdom which shall fill the whole earth, and shall stand for ever.
The great Eloheem Jehovah has been pleased once more to speak from the heavens: and also to commune with man upon the earth, by means of open visions, and by the ministration of HOLY MESSENGERS. By this means the great and eternal High Priesthood, after the Order of HIS [the great Eloheem Jehovah’s] Son, even the Apostleship, has been restored; or, returned to the earth.” (Proclamation of the Twelve, 1845)
And there is this:
“The unerring counsels of Jehovah are executed with the utmost success by the legitimate Priesthood of His Son on earth.” – The Latter-day Saints’ Millennial Star, Editorial March 1, 1852.
“We believe in God the Father, who is the great Jehovah and head of all things, and that Christ is the Son of God, co-eternal with the Father; yet he is our Savior, Redeemer, King, and Great Prototype;-was offered as a sacrifice to make an atonement for sin-rose from the dead with the same flesh and bones, not blood, and ascended to heaven, and is now seated at the right hand of the Father.” (Times and Seasons, 3:578 -15 November 1841).
Much thanks to “The Mormon Historians” Facebook group for their help with this information. I am especially indebted to Joseph Johnstun, Johnny Stephenson, and Clair Barrus.
4. In General Conference in April, 2006, in a talk titled “As Now We Take the Sacrament” Elder L. Tom Perry of the Quorum of the Twelve said:
I remember that when I was a child, beautiful music was played during the passing of the sacrament. The Brethren soon asked us to stop that practice because our minds were centered on the music rather than on the atoning sacrifice of our Lord and Savior. (https://www.lds.org/general-conference/2006/04/as-now-we-take-the-sacrament?lang=eng)
The discontinuation of music played during the passing of the Sacrament was made official in a First Presidency Letter titled “Purpose of the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper” dated May 2, 1946. The original letter is in the L.D.S. Church Archives, Salt Lake City, Utah. A copy of the letter can be found in James R Clark, Messages of the First Presidency, Vol 6: 252-253.
To Presidents of Stakes and Bishops of Wards
Inquiries received at the office of the First Presidency disclose the fact that there is a divergence of opinion and varied practices among ward officers with respect to the kind of music, if any, that should be rendered during the administration of the sacrament.
Recently, this question came before the First Presidency and the Twelve who unanimously approved the recommendation that the ideal condition is to have absolute quiet during the passing of the sacrament, and that we look with disfavor upon vocal solos, duets, group singing, or instrumental music during the administration of this sacred ordinance.
There is no objection to having appropriate music during the preparation of the emblems, but after the prayer is offered, perfect silence should prevail until the bread and the water have been partaken of by the full congregation.
It was further suggested, and unitedly agreed upon, that the sacrament should be first given to the presiding authority in the meeting. This may be the bishop, perhaps one of the stake presidency, or one of the visiting General Authorities. It is the duty of the priest officiating to determine who is the presiding authority present; thus, whenever the sacrament is administered, members of the Aaronic Priesthood officiating will have a lesson in Church government.
When the sacrament is given first to the presiding authority, those officiating may pass the sacrament consecutively to members of the Church who are sitting on the rostrum and in the audience.
It was also the conclusion of the Council to recommend to the Superintendency and General Board of the Deseret Sunday School Union that local Sunday Schools be advised that the significance of partaking of the sacrament will be enhanced if no music be given at that period. Undoubtedly, there will be those who will claim that soft, appropriate music contributes to better order; but careful consideration of the institution and purpose of the sacrament will lead to the conclusion that anything which detracts the partaker’s thought from the covenants he or she is making is not in accordance with the ideal condition that should exist whenever this sacred, commemorative ordinance is administered to the members of the Church.
Reverence for God and for sacred things is fundamental in pure religion. Let every boy and girl, every man and woman in the Church, manifest this principle by maintaining perfect order by self-communion whenever the sacrament is administered.
GEO. ALBERT SMITH,
J. REUBEN CLARK, JR.,
DAVID O. MCKAY,
5. The following information on the LDS practice of the “Fast day” was written by Glen M. Leonard, former director of the Museum of Church History and Art and a well-known LDS historian:
For half a century, beginning in the 1830s, fast and testimony meetings convened on Thursday, following a practice approved by the Prophet Joseph Smith. No written directive or explanation can be found that explains why that day of the week came to be used…
Toward the end of the [19th] century, economic changes in the working world made it difficult to attend a daytime Thursday fast meeting. In 1896 Hyrum M. Smith, then a missionary in England, wrote to his father, President Joseph F. Smith, then second counselor in the First Presidency, about the difficulty members faced getting excused from their jobs to attend Thursday fast meetings. Workers had no paid leave, and “when these came from the pits, they had to go home, bathe, and change their clothes” (see Joseph Fielding Smith, “Prayer and Fasting,” Improvement Era, Dec. 1956, 895). He asked if Sunday would be a more appropriate day.
The First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve prayerfully discussed the question and felt guided to change fast meeting to the first Sunday of each month. In announcing the change, President Wilford Woodruff and his counselors said they recognized the need to make the meeting more accessible to all members throughout the world. The change became effective on 6 December 1896. (Ensign, March, 1988, accessed at https://www.lds.org/ensign/1998/03/i-have-a-question?lang=eng )
6. Chapter Six of President Spencer W. Kimball’s book “The Miracle of Forgiveness” is on Homosexuality and is called “Crime Against Nature”, (Bookcraft, 1969; Deseret Book reprint, 2004).
For more recent official Mormon attitudes on homosexuality and gay marriage see the News conference held on 27 January 2015. On this date the Church held a news conference at which Elders Dallin H. Oaks, Jeffrey R. Holland, and D. Todd Christofferson of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles and Sister Neill F. Marriott of the Young Women general presidency spoke on the Church’s current position of balancing LGBT civil rights with the rights of religious persons see this link for the whole conference http://www.mormonnewsroom.org/article/church-news-conference-on-religious-freedom-and-nondiscrimination . On January 28th Elders Oaks and Christofferson appeared on the Salt Lake Tribune’s “Trib talk” and further discussed these issues. See http://www.sltrib.com/news/2112602-155/tomorrow-at-115-pm-lds-apostles .
See also Elder Dallin H. Oaks, “Loving Others and Living with Differences” at https://www.lds.org/general-conference/2014/10/loving-others-and-living-with-differences?lang=eng , and http://mormonsandgays.org/
PURCHASE “Moroni and the Swastika” at