“Out of Captivity”

Elizabeth Maki

German Prisoner of War Finds Home in British Branch

German prisoners of war are pictured at a District Conference meeting in Bradford, England. From left to right: Wilhelm Rascke, Wolfgang Krueger, Erich Rulicke, Unidentified, Hermann Mössner, and Heinz Borchett.

Held captive in a prisoner of war camp in England for three years after the end of World War II, Hermann Mössner turned his incarceration into something of a mission.

Raised in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints outside Stuttgart, Germany, Mössner was in his early twenties when he was forced to leave behind his wife, Lore, and their unborn child to go to war in September 1944.

Just two months into his service, Mössner’s regiment was overtaken near the border of Belgium and sent to a prison camp near Leeds, England. The end of the war in Europe followed just a few months later, but Mössner and many other prisoners of war were kept for years as workers before being repatriated.

As the only member of the Church among the thousand German prisoners of war, Mössner joined with a group of devout Christians in the camp to hold weekly meetings in a chapel there. As the men worshiped together, Mössner used the opportunity to preach the restored gospel and bear testimony of it to his fellow prisoners.

Like all POWs, Mössner had been stripped of his possessions when he was captured. Feeling the loss of his scriptures most keenly, he wrote the Church’s mission office in London and soon received a Bible and Book of Mormon, as well as a visit from British mission president Hugh B. Brown, who gave Mössner a blessing and arranged for weekly visits with Leeds branch president George Camm.

Camm and Mössner began meeting every Saturday evening at the camp to discuss the gospel, sing hymns, pray, and partake of the sacrament together.1 Though brothers in their religious life, the friendship the men struck up was at odds with the history they were living through.

“It was with some trepidation that I first walked through the camp,” Camm remembered. “It seemed strange, indeed, to be walking among hundreds of our erstwhile enemies.”

Yet Camm was received courteously by every man he encountered, and was quickly impressed with Brother Mössner, whom he described as having the most “beautiful nature and personality.”

“I must admit that more than once I left the camp with tears streaming down my face at the remembrance of Brother Mössner’s clinging handclasp and his wistful face at parting,” Camm wrote. “As I would leave he would say, ‘I love you, my brother.’”2

In time, Mössner and Camm’s meetings expanded as other men in the camp, having already been a frequent audience to Mössner’s testimony, asked to join their Saturday evening worship services. During the week, the men often sat together without Camm at the end of a day’s work and sang hymns, prayed, and listened to Mössner’s testimony. Before long, two of the prisoners of war asked if they could be baptized.3

“What joy this brought me!” Mössner later wrote. With arrangements made and permissions granted, “the British Saints picked us up from the camp in a car and drove us to the old wooden branch meetinghouse in Bradford, Yorkshire, where I had the privilege of baptizing my German brethren.”4

As time went on and restrictions became more lax, the meetings shifted from the camp to Camm’s home, until eventually Mössner and other prisoners were allowed to leave the camp each Sunday and walk the five kilometers into Leeds for Church meetings.5

“With the letters POW on our backs and on the legs of our uniforms, we were often the object of public mockery and derision,“ Mössner wrote. “Yet we were happy to be able to participate in Sunday School and sacrament meetings. … Nobody in the branch was offended by our prisoner clothing or our poor English.”6

Lucy Ripley Bradbury, a longtime member of the Church in Leeds, remembered that, for some members, it was initially difficult to see German soldiers in worship services so soon after the end of the war.

“At first one or two were rather antagonistic towards him,” she later wrote, but as Mössner attended and served in the ward—eventually being called as Sunday School president—and as he and the men he brought with him sang hymns and prayed with the Saints in Leeds, “very soon any animosity there may have been was erased and great friendships were formed.”

“We who were supposed to be enemies had reached the stage the Lord Jesus Christ spoke of when He said ‘Love your enemies,’” she remembered, “and the love was mutual.”7

Despite opposition in the POW camp—for a time Mössner was forbidden to preach at the camp chapel after a priest complained about the conversions—Mössner continued to share his testimony, and soon two more prisoners of war requested baptism.

“Again we were picked up by Church members at the camp gate,” Mössner wrote. “With the power and authority of the holy priesthood and in the name of Jesus Christ, I was permitted to baptize my beloved brethren.”

Later that evening the branch held a Christmas party, at which Mössner and the four German converts— Willi Raschke, Wolfgang Krueger, Heinz Borchert, and Erich Ruelicke—presented to the 40 children in the Bradford Branch wooden toys they had spent weeks making in camp.

Not long after, now filled with the spirit of missionary work himself, Raschke bore his testimony of the gospel to a couple who routinely brought bread to the prisoners assigned to work in a farmer’s field near their home. That couple, too, joined the Church, and when Mössner returned to England in 1974, their daughter was married to the bishop of the Leeds Ward.8

Mössner was finally repatriated in May 1948, the last of the now five German Latter-day Saints in the prisoner of war camp near Leeds. When he returned home to Stuttgart, to his wife and to a son he had yet to meet, he did so not just as a soldier, but as a missionary.

More than two decades later, the Mössners’ son Jürgen served in the Leeds England Mission. When Hermann and Lore went to England to pick him up, Hermann Mössner addressed from the pulpit his friends still meeting in the same wooden chapel in Bradford. Afterward, some adults there told him they still had the wooden toys the German prisoners of war had lovingly carved for them as children.9

“Brother Mössner, I think, is different from anyone I have ever known,” George Camm wrote in 1947. “He loves the gospel. He lives it. He almost breathes it. …

“When I was first given the appointment of visiting him, one of the brethren in the District put his hand on my shoulder and said, ‘You have a great chance to teach our German brother many things.’ I must state, however, that I have been the one who has learned. Although I am older and have been in the Church many years, my association with Brother Mössner has taught me a new meaning in humility, patience, and brotherly love.”10