Church History
A New Curiosity

“A New Curiosity,” Global Histories: Germany (2021)

“A New Curiosity,” Global Histories: Germany

A New Curiosity

“There is a great work to be done in Germany,” Elder Orson Hyde of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles wrote to Joseph Smith in 1840 while traveling to Jerusalem to dedicate that land for the return of the Jews. Hyde also proposed writing a series of lectures on the doctrine and history of the Church in German and asked permission to translate the Book of Mormon. “I entirely approve,” Joseph Smith wrote in response.

As he traveled, Hyde began studying German and, on his return trip, spent seven months in Regensburg, where he taught English courses. While there, he wrote and published Ein Ruf aus Der Wüste (A Cry out of the Wilderness), a lengthy booklet containing the doctrinal and historical outline Hyde had previously proposed. Despite his efforts, however, Hyde baptized no converts during his time in Regensburg.

Over the next decade, Church leaders made several failed attempts to resume preaching in Germany. However, some Germans were baptized while living in other countries. In 1843 Jacob Zundell, Frederick Moeser, and Johann Greenig—German Saints baptized in the United States—were called to preach in their homeland. Although no branch records survive, Johann Greenig reported organizing a branch in Darmstadt.

In 1851 George P. Dykes, a German-speaking missionary preaching in Denmark, baptized two converts in Schleswig-Holstein before being banished from the region. Dykes decided to return to Utah but was enlisted by Elder John Taylor to instead travel to Hamburg and translate the Book of Mormon into German. With George Viett, a German baptized in Paris, and Daniel Carn, president of the newly created German Mission, the translation was completed in just six months and published on May 25, 1852.

After Dykes and Viett left for Utah, Carn and a small band of missionaries preached in many German cities. Within two years, however, they were forced to leave, and many of the converts immigrated to the United States.

In 1855 Karl G. Maeser, a 26-year-old instructor at the Budich Institute in Dresden, read Die Mormonen, a book which mocked the Church and its members. Maeser later said that the “very illogical deductions and sarcastic invectives aroused my curiosity.” Maeser wrote to the missions in Switzerland and Scandinavia requesting missionaries come to his home. William Budge, a missionary who spoke “imperfect” German, traveled to Dresden in September 1855. Using a Bible with parallel columns in German and English, Budge taught the small group gathered at the home of Karl and Anna Maeser. Eight people were soon baptized, and a branch was organized. When local authorities discovered their meetings, however, Maeser and others were banished from Saxony. Maeser and his family moved first to England but eventually settled in Utah.

Over the next decade, missionaries from Switzerland occasionally preached in German cities. By 1868, when Karl Maeser returned to serve as president of the Swiss-German Mission, more than 450 members were living in German cities, but very few branches had been organized. By 1870, at the end of Maeser’s tenure as mission president, branches with local members as leaders were organized in most of the major German cities, and more than 600 converts had been baptized.