The Warmth of a Winter Baptism
January 1983

“The Warmth of a Winter Baptism,” Ensign, Jan. 1983, 30–31

The Warmth of a Winter Baptism

My parents investigated the Church in Germany during World War I, even though no missionaries were allowed in the country at that time. My mother first heard about the gospel from a cousin of mine, older than I, who was disowned by her family because she had joined the Church. Father permitted mother to attend meetings, taking my brother and me with her, but he would have none of it himself. Then a fellow worker gave him a Book of Mormon and told him about the Church. Father read the book, studied the gospel, and began attending church with us.

When the branch president suggested baptism to my mother, she told him that she and the children were ready, but she wanted to wait for her husband. Father said, “I am ready, too.” But mother told him he wasn’t ready because he still smoked a pipe. Father broke his pipe into three pieces and threw it into the fire. As a jeweler and watchmaker he had been accustomed to working at a high table, smoking a long pipe that reached to the floor, so it really was a credit to him to give it up.

Since baptisms were illegal at the time, we arranged to meet some Saints at a street-car depot at night and go to the river for the baptismal ceremony. On the appointed day, I came home from school so ill I could not eat my supper. When the time came to leave, I felt worse, and mother said I should wait and be baptized later. I insisted that I wanted baptism now and would not wait any longer. We rode the street car for about an hour to get to the Chemnitz River, then walked through the park to where the baptism would take place.

By the time we got off the street car I was feeling so bad that I could not talk or walk. My father and some of the brethren took turns carrying me. When we arrived, we found a policeman on guard, but he was sitting against a tree, asleep. Barbed wire was strung across the path leading to the river, but some of the brethren held the wire apart while we crept through. We found the river frozen over, but the brethren broke the ice, and then I was asked if I still wanted to be baptized that night. It was about midnight. I nodded, for I still couldn’t talk, and I was the first of eleven people (three children and eight adults) to be baptized. It must have been the impact of the cold water, but when I was immersed, I felt as if a thick shell was being peeled off me. I was able to climb up the embankment by myself and I felt well again. Mother and some sisters helped me dry and dress. Afterward, I sat on a little folding stool to be confirmed.

Following the baptisms, we returned as we had come, along the narrow path and through the barbed wire fence, past the policeman who was still asleep. A big bright moon made the night seem almost day, and as we walked back to the street-car depot we sang hymns of praise to our Father in Heaven.

Sometime after the war was over, the missionaries returned to Germany, and one Sunday morning a new missionary from America who couldn’t speak our language came to our home for dinner. My parents spoke some English, as they had lived in Liverpool, England, for four years. In the evening we all went to sacrament meeting, and the new elder was asked to speak. I remember feeling sorry for him, knowing that he knew no German, and I wondered what he would say. He didn’t have time to copy a talk from one of the other elders who had been there awhile.

But he spoke for over an hour. He told the Saints to go to America because another world war would come which would be worse than the one we had just been through. This was a terrible thing to hear, because the suffering of the recent war was still vivid in our memories. On the way home from the meeting I asked my parents what language the missionary spoke. I knew it wasn’t German and I knew it wasn’t English, although I didn’t understand English; yet I understood every word he said. My father said I should never forget that experience for I probably would never hear anything like that again. This elder had spoken in tongues.

From that day my parents spoke of little else but plans for immigrating to America. My father went first, and about a year later he sent for my mother, my brother, and me. My mother was at first denied permission to leave Germany, as she had heart trouble, but she insisted my brother and I go; six months later she was permitted to join us.

Everything the missionary had predicted came to pass. My sister, who did not accept the gospel and who still lives in Germany, told us about the war, and events there transpired as the elder had prophesied.

  • Hildegard G. Hahl, mother of five, is a member of the Sunset Eighth Ward in Provo, Utah.

Illustrated by Ted Henninger