During the First World War, when foreign missionaries were withdrawn from Austria and male Church members were called into military service, Maria Either took charge of the Vienna Branch’s records and supply of Church literature. Either and the other sisters in the branch met together and strengthened each other through the difficult war years while men kept the faith on their own in various parts of the Austro-Hungarian Empire.
In 1917 Konrad Hirschmann was stationed near the village of Hanunin in present-day Ukraine. During a conversation with one German-speaking family, Hirschmann was asked about his thoughts on the war. Hirschmann answered by showing them the prophecy in Matthew 24 that “nation shall rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom” before the Second Coming. “As time went on,” Hirschmann said, “[they] wanted to know more and more.” Hirschmann wrote to Church leaders, who called him as a part-time missionary.
As Hirschmann baptized converts, however, misunderstandings and fear led to hostility. In January 1918, Hirschmann was warned that other soldiers planned to ambush and kill him if he went to Hanunin to preach that day. Hirschmann was undeterred. “I am not afraid of death,” he said. “My life is in God’s hand.” Despite a heavy snowstorm, he walked one hour to the village and arrived to find his friends in Hanunin praying for his safety.
A short time later, Hirschmann gave a Sunday sermon using Christ’s teaching to “love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you” (Matthew 5:44). After the sermon, a group of soldiers admitted they had lain in wait that day planning to kill him but were blinded by the snowstorm. “Forgive us,” they said. “We were told lies about you.”
“I have nothing to forgive,” Hirschmann replied. “I was in God’s hand.”
During the months that followed, Hirschmann’s military supervisors allowed him to preach nearly every day. He visited four villages and distributed hundreds of tracts and pamphlets. The villagers came to love and respect Hirschmann as they learned about the restored gospel. Many joined the Church. In May 1918, Hirschmann was transferred from Hanunin. After the war ended, however, he returned to visit the branch. Many later moved to Austria, where they became members of the reunited Vienna Branch.