I first heard of the truth of the restored gospel form Sister Ida Korth in Schwerin, Mecklenburg. During a visit, she told me of the First Vision, the Prophet Joseph Smith and his calling to be a prophet, the Angel Moroni, the Book of Mormon, and the restoration of the true Church of Christ. She told me about the “last days,” in which we are now living, and the necessity for all people to repent. Her words were so lively and convincing that I did not doubt for a moment that these things were true.
This was on a cold Sunday in February, and because I was so interested, she invited me to attend a church service that very afternoon. I hesitated for a moment, thinking of another event I wanted to attend, but then I went with her to the church service.
It was very cold, and the simple room in the tavern where we held sacrament meeting at that time was not terribly inviting, but the friendliness with which I was welcomed by the members made a great impression on me. Although everything was so different, I was very taken by the procedure as far as I could observe them in my first sacrament meeting.
The two elders, Franz Meyer and Walter Schmeichel, spoke with great conviction, and it seemed to me as if I had heard this all sometime once before. I felt so insignificant and imperfect that tear after tear ran down my face. I was so impressed by all I had heard that I thought about it all the way home, and when I arrived home, I immediately had to discuss this experience with some friends.
I visited the sacrament meeting as often as I could, and I began to learn. Among other things, I learned that alongside the good there was an evil power and that this power was doing everything possible to prevent me from accepting this newly found gospel. Every time I sat in a sacrament meeting to listen and to learn, there seemed to be an unknown power trying to hinder me. I could actually feel it, and it was frightening.
A few months later, in 1953, our newly called counselor in the mission, Henry Burkhardt, visited our branch for the first time. Once again I was overcome by this strange power which I could not explain. I fought against it with all my strength, and I prayed fervently that the Lord would free me from this power so I could understand the gospel and in particular so I could follow the words of Brother Burkhardt. Then something happened that I will never forget. A new skin almost seemed to be drawn over me. It began with the top of my head and went down over my shoulders and over my entire body right down to the tips of my toes. At first, I was somewhat frightened, but a feeling of freedom came over me, a lightness, and a deep feeling of gratitude, which I cannot express in words. The Lord had heard my prayer and had given me a witness of his help and his nearness. From that moment on, I had no more problems concentrating, and I felt joy in understanding and learning the gospel.
On October 22, I made a covenant [of baptism] with my Father in Heaven, and I was happy that I had before that time been able to overcome many things and set many things in order which had been a hindrance to me. As an investigator, I had already borne my testimony in a testimony meeting, but on the day of my baptism at an MIA meeting which followed, I was able to pray before the entire branch. That experience filled me with great joy.
Because the rooms in which we held church meetings were not very satisfactory and because we were often disturbed in an unpleasant way by the people in the tavern, our branch presidency, under the leadership of Brother Hans Polzin, began a diligent search for another meeting place. In 1954 we were able to rent a room in a hotel at 64 Goethe Street. It was at the back of the hotel, and we could not hear the noise from the street or from the bar. We went through a great deal of trouble to arrange the room for our purposes, and everyone helped. The branch was not obliged to share this room with anyone else, and everyone was happy to have found a peaceful place where we could hold our church services undisturbed. Activity in the branch increased, and the auxiliary organizations could hold their meetings at the normal times. It was a time of activity and progress in the branch.
Through a series of fortuitous circumstances, I was able to get a little two-room apartment at the front of the same building just shortly after the branch moved into the room on Goethe Street. From that time on, my life was closely tied to the life of the branch. Unfortunately, this joy over our new meeting place was not to last for long. After about three years, a new problem emerged for the branch.
The daughter of the woman who owned the hotel and tavern wanted to get married, and in those postwar days, she could not get an apartment. Consequently, the owner wanted the branch room back so the members were very distressed, and the branch presidency had several conversations with her to find another solution. So the owner offered us the following exchange: if I would give up my little two-room apartment, with kitchen, on the third floor and move into a basement apartment just beneath the area where the branch met, she would let us continue to use the back room.
As a new member of the Church, that was not an easy decision for me. The basement rooms were dark and damp, and I had to think about my thirteen-year-old son for whom it would also be difficult. But I knew how much the branch needed this room, so I agreed to the exchange. Everything was promised, and the arrangements were made, even though several members could not understand my decision. But I had promised and was determined not to go back on my word in the firm conviction that my Father in Heaven would prepare another apartment for me.
When our branch president, Hans Polzin, announced this in a sacrament meeting, he said that our Father in Heaven would accept my sacrifice and that this decision should go down in our branch history. But I did not see it as a sacrifice myself. In my heart, I was happy that through this little deed I was able to thank the Lord for his help.
Our Father in Heaven must have considered my determination to go through with this exchange to be sufficient, because, before the move took place, the young bride and groom one foggy night escaped across the border into Hamburg. So the problem was solved, and I could stay in my apartment. Everyone was happy that it had turned out this way and that I did not have to move into the basement apartment. For me it was once again proof of the love the Lord had for me.
Elfriede Pawlowski, Behind the Iron Curtain: Recollections of Latter-day Saints in East Germany, 1945–1989, p71–74.