Church History
“The Way We Stuck Together Was Beautiful”

“‘The Way We Stuck Together Was Beautiful,’” Global Histories: Germany (2021)

“‘The Way We Stuck Together Was Beautiful,’” Global Histories: Germany

“The Way We Stuck Together Was Beautiful”

In 1945, amid severe postwar food shortages, Ilse Kaden’s resourcefulness helped save her; her husband, Herbert; and their two young sons from starvation. Ilse darned socks for a dairy farmer in exchange for butter, cottage cheese, eggs, and milk and she knitted jackets for a miller’s family in exchange for flour.

In the 1950s, as the government tightened its social controls, many Church members experienced discrimination at work or school because of their religion. In 1952 Ilse’s husband, Herbert, refused to sign a statement denying that he belonged to “that American church” and was fired from his job. The Kaden family moved to Dresden where Herbert found work. Both served in the Dresden Branch: Ilse was Primary president, Relief Society president, and with the Young Women while Herbert served in many callings including branch president.

Many Saints in East Germany later recalled being extremely careful about what they said in public. Church activities were closely monitored by the Stasi (state police) and its informants, some of whom were Church members.

Relief Societies East German - North German Missions.

Dresden Relief Society, December 1955.

On August 13, 1961, state media announced the completion of the Berlin Wall, cutting off free movement between East and West Germany. “Not only did I feel as though a massive trap door had closed above my head,” Gerd Skibbe, a member in Neubrandenburg remembered, “but my soul also cried out: ‘Now you truly are a prisoner.’” Church members responded to the restrictions by focusing on family and Church life. Leaders such as Henry Burkhardt, called as president of the Dresden Mission in 1969, and Walter Krause, who became mission patriarch in 1973, traveled extensively to minister to the Saints and advocate for them.

The Church became a refuge where individuals could use their talents, choose their own projects, and be with longtime friends. “Those were difficult, but lovely times,” recalled Ilse. “The way we stuck together was beautiful.”

Ilse helped organize annual youth conferences attended by as many as 150 members from across the German Democratic Republic. She cooked stews in a pot so large she had to stand on a custom-built wooden platform in order to stir. Branch members staged elaborate productions, including classic German dramas and Christmas plays. Ilse recalled the lighthearted spirit of these activities. During one performance of the classic German melodrama Hannele’s Assumption, the sister playing Hannele, lying in a casket, began to laugh so hard the casket shook.

With time, Latter-day Saints earned a reputation as law-abiding citizens, allaying state suspicions. Despite opportunities to flee to the West, Ilse and Herbert and many other Church members chose to remain in the East. The good reputation of Saints living in East Germany helped lay the groundwork for the construction of the Freiberg Germany Temple in 1985. When the temple opened, Ilse and Herbert were called as temple workers—a job Ilse loved—and served until 1994.

Freiberg Germany Temple

Freiberg Germany Temple.