Church History
Lifetimes of Service

Lifetimes of Service

Because of his service in the Dutch Navy, Pieter Vlam became a prisoner of war during World War II. Pieter, who had been serving as a counselor in the mission presidency when he was arrested, was determined to share the gospel in the prison camp. On daily walks with small groups of fellow prisoners at a POW camp in Germany, Vlam taught about the restored gospel and the Book of Mormon. While few of these walking companions were baptized, Vlam’s example and teachings clarified many misunderstandings the soldiers held about Latter-day Saints.

Vlam was transferred to a camp in Poland, where he continued his walking missionary lessons. He taught the law of the fast and encouraged his fellow prisoners to donate portions of their rations to other soldiers as offerings. After seeing Catholic and Protestant worship services being held, Vlam desired to hold more formal Church meetings of his own. When these were not permitted, Vlam met with small groups in private. He read hymns, rather than sang them, to avoid attracting attention, and the soldiers left the meetings one by one rather than as a group. Of the 11 men who met with Vlam regularly, seven were eventually baptized, along with many members of their families. Two of these soldiers, J. Paul Jongkees and C. Robert Kirschbaum, later became leaders of the Church in the Netherlands.

Dutch Prisoners of War

Pieter Vlam (front, center) with other prisoners in Stalag 371, near present-day Ivano-Frankivsk, Ukraine, 1945

J. Paul Jongkees’s father had served with Vlam in the navy and joined the Church before the war, but it was only at the camp that Paul gained his own testimony of the gospel. When the first stake in the Netherlands was created in 1961, Jongkees was called as stake president.

After returning from the camp at the end of the war, C. Robert Kirschbaum taught his fiancée, Jeane, the gospel. He was so enthusiastic that she thought to herself, “Good grief! I will marry a monk!” In time, however, Jeane accepted the gospel message, and the two were baptized in 1946. They resolved to strengthen the Church in their country and devoted their lives to service. Robert worked as a public relations representative for the Church from the late 1960s to the 1990s, overseeing the production of a monthly radio show about the Church. For more than 20 years, Jeane directed biweekly cultural nights for the elderly. In the 1980s she helped organize a humanitarian effort for Poland with representatives from 17 churches. In 1993 Jeane was awarded the gold medal of the Order of Orange-Nassau for “more than 50 years of service to the community.”