Gerhard and Harald Fricke, brothers and Latter-day Saints (“Mormons”) in Germany during World War II, each had trying experiences but remained faithful. On July 27, 1943, Operation Gomorrah annihilated Hamburg, Germany, where the Frickes lived with their family. It is likely that more than 40,000 people died that night. More than 700 aircraft from the Allies dropped bombs creating a firestorm with winds up to 150 miles per hour and reaching temperatures of 1500 degrees Fahrenheit. The intense heat lit the asphalt on fire, killing many. Even though in air raid shelters were not immune; many cooked to death.
Gerhard Fricke was 20 years old at the time, but had not yet been drafted into service, because of his speech impediment. Harald was 17 at the time. Gerhard saved his mother, aunt, and sisters’ lives that night by forcing them into a deep underground bunker. Harald and their grandfather had been assigned to watch over the church’s meetinghouse, but luckily escaped to the bunker in time, and all their lives were spared.
Not long after the raid, both brothers were drafted into the German army. It was near the end of the war, but Gerhard was sent to the Western Front and Harald to the Eastern Front. Gerhard was made a prisoner of war soon thereafter by the Allies, but had enough to eat, though his circumstances were miserable. Harald was detained in Russia even after the war was over and survived dreadful circumstances which many others did not: lice infestation, starvation, disease, and cold.
After 18 months in Russia, Harald was so thin and sickly that the Russians told him to return to Germany. It took four weeks of riding in a cattle car before he made it. Many fellow travelers did not. His family had mostly given him up for dead since they had not heard from him in so long.
Both Harald and Gerhard returned to full activity in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints upon returning home. They had joined with their mother in 1910. Harald served as a bishop for 15 years and on the high council for 22 years. Today, he continues to keep up the Church meetinghouse in Wartenau.
Gerhard married Ruth Braun, another member of the “Mormon Church” who had fled East Prussia when the Soviet Army advanced. After the war, the Altona Branch was the only one that still had a building to meet in; all the others had been destroyed. Gerhard and Ruth were called to leave their comfortable apartment provided by the housing authority to move into and restore an old villa to serve as the new meetinghouse. It was in bad shape and needed a lot of work. Gerhard and Ruth took the building apart piece by piece and then put it back together, reinforcing beams, adding new plumbing and wiring, and developing a love for the building. They gave up personal comfort to serve when they were asked. The building is now protected under German law as a state monument.
The Frickes moved out of the building when Gerhard “retired” at age 65, but he continues to love and care for the building 20 years later. Gerhard declared, “I have a firm testimony that Father in Heaven has watched over me [in my] lifetime and the restored church is led by the Lord; this I’ve often felt.
Faithful Saints such as Gerhard and Harald provided hope for others as they recovered from the effects of the war. Many suffered a great deal, but they all testify of the hand of the Lord blessing them when they needed it most.
Doris White is a native of Oregon and graduated from Brigham Young University with a degree in English and a minor in Editing. She loves to talk with others about the gospel of Jesus Christ.