How Could She Forgive Him?
April 2008

“How Could She Forgive Him?” Ensign, Apr. 2008, 71–72

How Could She Forgive Him?

One day in 1961 while Elder Roger Slagowski and I were knocking on doors in Wilhelmshaven, West Germany, an elderly widow graciously welcomed us into her humble apartment. I was so surprised that I asked if she really understood who we were. She assured us that she did and that she had been waiting for us.

She told us that two Latter-day Saint elders had knocked on her door decades before, when she was a young mother. Because she was busy at the time, she had turned them away. Afterward she felt terrible about it and vowed that if Latter-day Saint missionaries ever knocked again, she would invite them in.

Emma Henke had a keen mind, and she listened to our message intently, but she often seemed to have a distant, far-off look. She was kind to us and was always eager to share her meager fare, but we wondered if she truly comprehended the importance of our message. Finally we decided to put her on our callback list and just drop by from time to time when we were in the neighborhood.

A few weeks later we stopped in again. As we visited, Emma suddenly announced, to our surprise, her determination to be baptized!

It was only then that she began sharing details from her difficult life. During the last days of World War I, her infant daughter had died. In 1924 a nine-year-old daughter had succumbed to diphtheria. During the winter of 1941–42 she had received her last letter from her 21-year-old son, who was fighting on the Russian front during World War II. She learned of his death a short time later.

Emma’s husband, Hugo, had despised the policies of the Nazi government. She often pleaded with him to be more cautious. Early one day in 1944, after a government radio-beam locator tracked a British Broadcasting Corporation signal to the Henkes’ home, the Gestapo broke down the door and arrested him. He was sent to a concentration camp near Hamburg, and Emma and their last surviving child, a young son, were left to fend for themselves.

Emma went to the local Nazi official responsible for her husband’s imprisonment and pleaded on her knees for his life but to no avail. She learned of Hugo’s death in March 1945. The official himself was subsequently sentenced to life in prison but had been released shortly before we knocked on Emma’s door. She said she often saw him speeding along the streets of the city in an expensive new car. On the day she requested baptism, Emma said she had finally found the strength to forgive him for taking away her husband and rejecting her pleas for mercy. She had resolved to leave judgment in the hands of the Lord.

Emma became a faithful member of the Church and found great joy and comfort in discovering the truths of the restored gospel. In November 1966, while hurrying across a public square in Wilhelmshaven on her way to a Relief Society meeting, she collapsed and died of a heart attack.

Sister Henke refused to become embittered by the trials of her life, and she died free of the rancor of revenge. Surely this dear sister enjoyed a marvelous reunion with those she had loved and lost.