After the end of World War II in 1945, many of the people in Europe were without homes, clothing, or food. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints’ leaders knew they had to do all they could to help the Saints now in dire straits. The First Presidency called Ezra Taft Benson, then a member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, to serve a one-year mission touring Europe to reorganize the Church there after the devastating war. Frederick W. Babbel was called to escort him and be his aide. In addition, Chaplain Howard C. Badger was permitted to accompany them once they were in Europe to act as a military escort and help them in many ways.
Elder Benson’s assignment included reorganizing and reopening the European missions, which had mostly been forced to shut down at the beginning of the war; assessing the physical and spiritual needs of the people and helping the Church meet those needs; and bringing the blessings and love of the First Presidency to the Saints in Europe.
Conditions were deplorable at this time. Permission to enter all countries had to be granted from all appropriate military powers, and once permission was granted the actual travel had to be arranged. Flights were nearly non-existent, except in military planes. Many railways had been bombed out and there were virtually no passenger cars left, so most railway passage was in livestock cars or third-class cars. Automobiles were very scarce and exceedingly hard to come by, but the missions had to have some. Most countries were still on food rations, and many people could not even find the food available which was listed on their ration cards. Most things were sold on the black market at exorbitant prices, and starvation ran rampant. In some cities there were no buildings left standing, and few people had clothing. On top of all of these hardships, occupying soldiers often took out their rage and hate on the often innocent civilians. Rape, pillage, and plunder were all common, everyday occurrences. These are some of the conditions which President Benson and his companions faced.
And None Shall Stay Them
In an account which Bro. Babbel wrote of their experiences, he focused on the promise the Lord gave His servants in the Doctrine and Covenants: “And they shall go forth and none shall stay them, for I the Lord have commanded them” (1:5). The experiences of these brethren truly showed the fulfillment of this promise. In one of the first meetings he attended with Elder Benson, Bro. Babbel recorded the following description of him:
“Never had I met a men of God who was so humble, so grateful for loyalty and kindness rendered, so genuinely and deeply emotional and receptive to that which is good and pure, a man who has such an all-consuming love for the children of our Father. Since our arrival he had been able to do more in less time, and that more thoroughly and effectively, than I had ever dreamed to be possible” On Wings of Faith, 20).
When they met with the saints in Oslo, Norway, Elder Benson gave the Saints the following promise:
“I promise you as a servant of God that if you will live true to the covenants you have made with him and will live the gospel as it has been restored, every blessing you might receive by living close to the temples shall be granted unto you, even the celestial kingdom of God.
“God judges us not only by what we do, but by what we would do and desire to do if we had the opportunity. He will not withhold any blessing from us of which we are truly worthy” (On Wings of Faith, 20).
This was a very significant promise, because the Saints keenly felt their distance from any temple. Eventually many more temples would be built in Europe, but this promise surely gave much comfort to those Saints who never had the opportunity to attend the temple in their lifetimes.
The brethren took a whirlwind one-month tour of Europe to get a better feeling for the needs of the Saints in all areas. Elder Benson summarized their trip and findings in a letter to the First Presidency, which was included in the official European Mission History.
On their first visits, the brethren made all possible arrangements for welfare supplies to be delivered to the Saints in most need before the larger welfare shipments arrived. They also worked closely with the International Red Cross, as well as other necessary offices, and obtained much-needed help to transport and distribute the supplies which were sent for.
Miracles in Transportation
After this initial trip, Elder Benson gained a deep understanding of the needs of the Saints and went to work arranging for welfare goods to be shipped to them. This was, however, a very complicated process, and many times it was only through a series of miracles that they were able to get all the permission and paperwork they needed.
In addition to getting supplies to the Saints, it was also Elder Benson’s responsibility to reopen the European missions. However, records were in shambles from the war period. Converting the piles of disorganized information into some semblance of mission records seemed a nearly impossible task, since nearly all missions were in the same state of disarray. However, by the end of their first year, this task had been completed, which was key in reopening many missions and sending the Saints much spiritual strength. It took much more work than organizing the records, however. Elder Benson had to meet with several civil and military authorities to gain all necessary permission for missionaries to return to these countries, but of course he was successful in this endeavor as well.
Conditions in Europe
As they travelled to many different countries, Bro. Babbel recorded the situation in each. Though some countries were better off than others, everywhere there was devastation and despair. The brethren noticed consistently, however, that despite harsh and trying conditions, the Saints were hopeful and had the light of Christ in their hearts. Some touching experiences strengthened testimonies and offered encouraging reports to the First Presidency.
Despite so much suffering, the Saints retained strong testimonies. One sister who had walked to Western Germany from East Prussia bore her testimony of the power of prayer and of the gospel. Her husband was killed in a battle near the end of the war. She fled with her four small children, the youngest still a baby. She walked over a thousand miles with them, pulling a small cart with all their belongings. Along the way she lost each of her children, digging graves for them along the way with a tablespoon. Near the end of the unbearable journey, her baby died and she dug the grave with her bare hands. Despairing and near to suicide, she felt the impression she needed to pray, which she did. She was comforted and strengthened and bore a fervent testimony that she was happy because she knew Jesus is the Christ and that if she continued faithful, she would be rewarded in the next life for all she had suffered in this life.
Others bore similar testimonies that through the devastation of war they had gained an unshakable testimony because they had turned to the Lord when there was no one else and He never denied them. Bro. Babbel recounted seeing hundreds near starvation, but never hearing them utter a word of complaint. They found their hope in the gospel and did the best they could.
In the course of things, Elder Benson arranged for the Church’s welfare supplies to be shipped by the Red Cross to Bremen, Germany, but there was a lot of concern about the shipments being pilfered once they made it to Bremen and were being shipped by rail across the country. Much of this robbery had been occurring, but the papers were trying to keep it quiet, and Elder Benson was very concerned about it. Later it was decided that all supplies would be sent to Geneva, because the risk of sending them through some of the German and Belgian ports was too great. Through the protection of the Lord, though, there was minimal loss of the welfare supplies during this huge relief effort. In addition to the Church’s welfare supplies, Elder Babbel contributed many things at his own expense. His wife often sent him care packages that he would share with and distribute to the Saints. Sometimes it was something as small as a needle and thread, which were impossible to get in Germany, and the gratitude with which these things were received always touched Bro. Babbel’s heart.
It took a year for Bro. Babbel to receive permission from the Russians to allow welfare supplies to be sent into Eastern Germany. This was one of the greatest miracles which occurred during Bro. Babbel’s year-long mission.
The Sacrifices of the Brethren to Bring Aid to the European Saints
Bro. Babbel recorded accurate records of all he and Elder Benson were able to accomplish, but their success did not come without sacrifice. These brethren often worked eighteen-hour days or longer, getting up before 5:00 in the morning and going until at least midnight day after day. They often went without food —either because it was not available or because they gave what they had to the Saints who need it so much more. They once fasted for a period of four days. They also often travelled under horrible circumstances, once flying in a plane with no heating and no insulation. They were nearly frozen when they landed. They each left their families for a year, and communication with their families was minimal, with letters sometimes taking several weeks to reach the brethren in their travels. At one point Elder Benson did not hear of his child’s serious illness until it was too late for him even to pray for a good outcome. He had to have faith that the prayers which had been offered in this child’s behalf would be sufficient: they were.
Their travelling was unfathomable, especially under the conditions in which they were forced to travel. Between April and June, Elder Benson travelled from London to Switzerland, back to London, around England, to Norway, then to Sweden and then to Denmark. Next came Holland, then back to London, back to Denmark and then to Germany, and finally back to London. Elder Benson often travelled extensively within each country he visited, as well.
By the end of his mission, Elder Benson had travelled 32,202 miles by plane 1,455 miles by ship and boat; 9,818 miles by train; 14,356 miles by car; and 3,405 miles by miscellaneous transportation including military jeeps and station wagons, buses, street cars, taxis, droshkas (horse-drawn carriage), cable railways, etc., for a total of 61,236 miles.
Despite their hardships, these brethren sacrificed most willingly to bring hope and comfort to those of God’s children they were called to serve.
Success of the Welfare Mission
At the end of the welfare mission, all of the hard work Elder Benson and Bro. Babbel had put in had produced marvelous results. All previous missions had been reestablished and were operating under individual mission presidents, with the exception of West Germany, whose new president was on his way. Welfare supplies had been organized and routes set up so needy Saints could get some relief. Missionaries were sent out again and were working hard to help bring people the peace of the gospel as well as help the people rebuild their countries and lives. Finland had also been opened to the gospel and proved to be one of the most receptive countries in Europe.
Ninety-two railway carloads of welfare supplies, amounting to about 2,000 tons, had been received and distributed in Europe. These supplies included food, clothing, utensils, medical supplies, and other necessaries. Individual Church members organized themselves and sent additional tens of thousands of critical items. The response was great enough that the Church was also able to donate large amounts of clothing and food to local child-care and feeding programs in some places. Several military barracks had also been purchased and moved to house the Saints while they rebuilt. The countries which benefited from the monumental relief effort included Britain, France, the Netherlands, Denmark, Norway, Finland, Poland, Czechoslovakia, Austria, and Germany. By March of 1947, needs had been met in all countries except Germany, Austria, and Poland, which allowed extra items to be sent to the still-needy countries.
The welfare program of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints provides the necessities of life, so those who are in need may once again become capable of providing for themselves. The efforts of Elder Benson and Bro. Babbel in post-World War II Europe saved the lives of countless people. The Lord blessed these men to find ways to accomplish the seemingly impossible task of reaching so many people under such circumstances. Truly the Lord’s promise that “none shall stay them” was fulfilled in this mission.