Walter Kindt, a former German soldier, is called on a mission behind the Iron Curtain.

“But Jesus beheld them, and said unto them, With men this is impossible; but with God all things are possible.” -Matthew 19:26


Walter Kindt entered the East German Mission in 1946.

On a Sunday morning in spring, Walter Kindt went into the woods to pray. His parents, members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, had taught him about another young man who went to the woods to pray. That young man received an answer and Walter knew he would, too. He knelt, bowed his head, and prayed in earnest desire. He asked Heavenly Father to show him ways to increase his faith and testimony and asked what he must do to always have His Spirit with him.

The answer came to Walter, clearly, vividly. He must study the Book of Mormon.

Walter stood and dusted off his dark green uniform. During his four years of military service, he had not had a Book of Mormon. Now, his desire to obtain one became his greatest concern. He walked back through the lush Norman woods to Rouen, where his unit was stationed. Walter thought about contacting his parents and asking them to send him a copy of the Book of Mormon. He would begin his study immediately.

The world had other plans for Signal Corpsman Kindt when on June 6, 1944, the Allied forces of the United States of America, Great Britain, and Canada landed on the Normandy beaches of Nazi-occupied France. To escape capture by the Allies, Walter Kindt fled back across France with his unit. Many times, he had to dive for cover in the ditches alongside country roads in order to avoid strafing by American planes. His longed-for study of the Book of Mormon became impossible.

On foot, the journey to Germany took six weeks, but, with a constant prayer for his safety, Walter, at last, reached the home in Hamburg where his father and stepmother had found refuge. There, he began his longed-for study of the Book of Mormon and, once again, attended church.

Adolf Hitler promised the Germans, “Give me ten years and you will not recognize your cities.” These ruins stood along one of Berlin’s canals in 1946.

Because so many buildings had been destroyed by fire and bombs, meetinghouses were not available for German Saints. The first sacrament meeting Walter attended after returning from the military was held in a member’s cottage. The house was so small, half the congregation had to stand outside in the yard. Walter was one of them. As the sacrament was passed, Walter considered all that had happened to him in the previous five years. He had lost his mother to cancer and the home he shared with his family in eastern Germany was lost, along with all his boyhood belongings. All the money he had saved was lost when the financial system in Germany collapsed. Standing in that garden, Walter realized he was not lost, however.

He said, “I felt the Spirit of the Lord as I had never ever felt before in my life. I rejoiced and I prayed and I promised my Heavenly Father I would do whatever was necessary to have this feeling all the days of my life.” Again, he knew the key lay in reading the Book of Mormon and Walter continued to read, study, and pray about its truthfulness.

In 1946, the Hamburg Saints met in a cottage so small, most of the congregation had to stand outside, in the garden. Second from the left, is Rudi Wobbe, author of Before the Blood Tribunal.

With the establishment of a branch in Altoona, a town about thirty miles from Walter’s home, he accepted a call as the branch clerk. Because he had only a bike for transportation, he had to ride thirty miles every Sunday morning to attend his meetings. One Sunday morning, he awoke with a miserable cold. Despite his discomfort, Walter got on his bike at 5:00 a.m. and proceeded to make the long trip in the dark to the church. Not having the luxury of owning a handkerchief, Walter had thought to bring some kind of cloth or rag with him for his cold. About five miles along the way, Walter realized he had forgotten the cloth. He stopped, wondering what he should do. He could not possibly attend his all-day meetings with a cold and without something to cover his mouth and wipe his nose. He asked the Lord what he should do, return home and reach the church late for his meeting or continue on.

Walter felt prompted to keep going. Within only a few yards, he saw something lying on the road. Something small and shining white. Walter slowed his bike and looked more closely. There lay a perfectly folded, white handkerchief. He stopped, bent, and picked it up. To Walter’s eyes, the handkerchief was beautiful. With great gratitude, Walter thanked the Lord.

An answer returned that filled his heart.

“My son, as I take care of such minor things, I will also be much more with you when you really need me.”

The time would come when Walter would realize the blessings of that promise.

On a wintry Sunday afternoon in January 1946, Walter finished his first reading of the Book of Mormon. “I was amazed,” he wrote. “Now, I knew Christ indeed appeared in America and there was no doubt Joseph Smith was a true prophet of God. Now, I was filled with a great desire to make this news I had discovered known unto others and wondered how to best go about it.”

Walter’s most pressing worry was his lack of money. He had looked for jobs, applying as a land surveyor but had no luck. None, that is, until the day after he finished his first reading of the Book of Mormon.

That Monday morning, as Walter went to the mailbox, he discovered two letters. One was from the Surveying Department of Wandsbek. It brought with it a job offer. Walter wrote,

“This would enable me to earn a living again and I hoped to soon find the girl of my dreams, get married, and live a normal life. Yes, I was overjoyed!”

Then, Walter opened the second letter. It said,

“Dear Brother Kindt, “If you have faith, if you have a testimony, and if you are willing to serve, then you are herewith called to be a missionary for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints behind the Iron Curtain.”

The letter went on, giving him instructions to report to Berlin in three days. It was signed by Adolf Richard Ranglack, acting Mission President of the East German Mission.

Walter felt humbled and honored the Lord would have such trust in him, but Walter also knew a mission at that time was impossible. He did not have the money to go.

The Priesthood and Relief Society held their meetings on Monday nights and Walter took the letter from President Ranglack to his Branch President, Herbert Baarz. He thought President Baarz would understand the impossibility of the situation and support Walter’s decision not to serve a mission at that time. Besides, Walter reasoned, he held so many positions in the small branch; President Baarz was unlikely to let him go, anyway.

President Baarz’s reaction caught Walter by surprise. “Brother Kindt,” he said, “the Lord has called you. He needs you in another place.”

“But Brother Baarz, it is impossible. I have no money.”

Then, the Branch President said, “Brother Kindt, for men it seems to be impossible, but with God all things are possible.”

During the Relief Society and Priesthood closing exercises, President Baarz made an announcement.

“We have good news. Brother Walter Kindt has received a call to serve a mission for the Lord behind the Iron Curtain. I have just talked to him at length and he thinks it looks impossible to go. Walter says he has no money and he must be in Berlin in three days. But I promised him in the name of the Lord he will be okay. We will now hear his mission farewell remarks.”

Somewhat shaken, Walter stood. He remembered the feelings he’d had when he prayed in the woods of Normandy, during the meeting when he’d taken the sacrament in the yard of a tiny house, and of the moment when he’d finished the Book of Mormon. He also remembered the promises he’d made to the Lord. Walter knew what he had to do. He said, “Brothers and Sisters, today my faith is being tried.” He recalled a verse from the Book of Mormon and repeated it to the members of the congregation.

“I will go and do the things which the Lord hath command, for I know that the Lord giveth no commandments unto the children of men, save he shall prepare a way for them, that they may accomplish the thing which he commandeth them.”

Walter would give up the surveyor’s job and its wage to go on a mission.

As Walter left the meeting, President Baarz stepped up to him and handed him an envelope. “Brother Kindt, your brothers and sisters collected tonight over five hundred dollars for you. Please always remember this is only a small contribution. Now that you will serve the Lord as a missionary, I want to again promise you with Him, all things are possible. You will have all the things that are needed to serve Him.”

Walter discussed his mission plans with his father. Johannes Kindt had served as both a Branch and District President in eastern Germany before the War. Later, he was captured by the Russians and held prisoner. He knew the difficulties and dangers his son would face and advised Walter to turn down the call.

Walter pondered his father’s counsel, but clung to the promises he had made to the Lord, remembering the Lord had extended the call to him. Walter knew he must honor that call.

Members of Walter’s family helped provide whatever they could for Walter’s mission. His brother, Hans, a tailor, had a British military uniform dyed black for Walter. Then, with delight, Hans’ sister-in-law offered Walter a gift. Something in high demand in Germany. A new bar of soap.

After World War II, defeated Germany was divided into four military sectors, which were occupied by American, British, French, and Russian troops. While the United States, Great Britain, and France worked to rebuild the economy of Germany and reunite the sectors, Russia rigidly controlled its sector as an isolated police state. Its policies involved rigid censorship and travel restrictions between East Germany and the rest of the world.

In an address in 1946, Sir Winston Churchill said, “From Stettin to the Baltic to Trieste in the Adriatic an iron curtain has descended across the Continent.”

The Iron Curtain was to be a barrier to travel and communication. Any exchange of ideas, especially those concerning religion, was severely discouraged. Though the government avoided a complete elimination of religious organizations, it worked to repress any church influence in the community. Christian morals were to be replaced by Socialist teachings and that was to be accomplished by a program of reeducation enforced by harassment and persecution.

Though the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints with its six thousand members was numerically insignificant, it was viewed with even more suspicion because of its origins in the United States. The Church was suspected of being a front for espionage activities and the secret police, known as the Stasi, monitored every activity. LDS missionaries became especially suspect.

While as many as 20,000 people a month fled East Germany, there were still those trying to get in. They were suspected of being spies. To stop any infiltration, the Communists made getting in more difficult and dangerous than getting out.

Despite all that, Walter was determined to serve his mission. He was advised to go to the train station in Helmstedt, near the West German and East German border and make a few discrete inquiries. A guide presented himself and told Walter, for $50, he would take him across the border into the Russian sector.

On a cold January night in 1946, Walter joined four other people, three men and a woman, who wanted to reunite with their family members in East Germany. Their guide told them, whatever happened, they should make no noise. The Russian border guards were thick along the West-East boundary and in some places, the guards stood no more than four feet apart. He warned them, saying, “It is Siberia for us if we are caught.”

The night was cold, but not so cold to freeze the wet ground. The six slogged along in the dark, through the dense forest until they came to a fast-moving stream. The guide had laid a felled tree across the water and warned them again about making any noise. “If you fall, do not call out,” he said, “or it will be Siberia.”

The six people inched across the tree trunk, watching the dark woods for signs of the armed Russian guards. Though the woman stepped with care, the knapsack on her back unbalanced her. She wavered back and forth on the log. Then, toppled. The men stared, shocked, as she plunged into the dark water and sank. She had not screamed. She had not revealed their presence.

A Soviet soldier stands guard at the Russian Memorial on this wintry day in 1946 Berlin. It was the final resting place for 2500 Soviet soldiers who died in the battle to take the city. The inscription reads, “In glory of heroes killed in battle with the German-Fascist invaders for freedom & independence of the Soviet Union 1941-1945.

Walter stooped quickly. “I could see her hair in the water,” he said. He grabbed it and pulled her head above the surface. He reached out with his other hand. “Take my hand,” he whispered as loudly as he dared.

She grasped for him. Her water-soaked winter clothing and knapsack were too heavy even for Walter. He splashed into the icy water on top of her. Struggling together and gasping, Walter dragged the woman out of the stream and onto the slick, muddy bank.

Frantic, the guide urged the group to hurry into the cover of the woods before the Russian guards discovered them.

The next train station was another six miles walk. For Walter, in wet and mud-covered clothing, the walk was a cold one, but the little group saw no Russian guards along the way and no one stopped them. Walter thought of the promise the Lord had made to him.

“My son, as I take care of such minor things, I will also be much more with you when you really need me.”

From the train station, Walter made his way to East Berlin and, at last, to the Mission Office.

Walter was assigned to the city of Halberstadt, an early 9th century city of about 40,000 people. It had been heavily bombed during WWII and then occupied with Russian troops.

One of the serious problems for the Church in such cities was the lack of accommodations for meetings. The Church had rented a room in a relatively undamaged school and Walter and his companion, Rudel Poecker, did what they could to create a “chapel” atmosphere. Every Sunday morning, they moved out the benches and set up rows of chairs. But still it looked and felt like a classroom and there were no separate rooms for classes.

Elder Poecker said, “We need better accommodations.”

Elder Kindt reminded his companion they were serving in one of the most bombed-out cities in Germany and this was probably the best they would find.

Elder Poecker replied simply, “Yes, I know. With men, it seems impossible, but with God, all things are possible.”

Walter considered that and agreed they should try to find something better. The missionaries enlisted the help of the branch members, asking them to pray and fast over the next several weeks.

Even knowing the Stasi watched all their movements, Elders Kindt and Poecker worked hard to find people to teach. They decided to hold a revival meeting and invite the town’s people. They prepared a poster and a handout printed with the stunning headline, “Is There a God?”

The missionaries had to have permission from the local police to hold their revival as well as permission to have their handouts and posters printed. They would also need permission to distribute them.

One Monday morning, they went to the office of the local Communist Party headquarters to make their request. Their personal papers would be examined and then approved. The details of the revival would be explained and then approved, as would the posters and handouts. Everything had to be done with proper procedure and approval. The missionaries knew enough to expect lengthy questioning and delays. They also knew they could be turned down. As well, they understood the revival would draw the Stasi.

They were introduced to the Russian commander who heard their proposal and examined their papers with care. To the missionaries’ surprise, the commander asked a few courteous questions, then, left the room and came back with the necessary papers of approval. It had been almost too easy.

The commander said to the elders, “I am a professor of astronomy in Moscow. Would you explain to me about God?” The question was a simple one asked out of curiosity. Neither missionary felt any sense of intimidation.

Walter taught him about the creation and how all things had been organized from matter by a being, God.

The commander responded with interest and, when the elders finished, he thanked them warmly. He asked, “Is there something I can do for you?”

Overcoming his astonishment, Walter said, “We need a better place to worship.”

The commander replied, “What a coincidence. We just moved our headquarters out of a church building. You can have that and move in.”

The missionaries knew of the building, a small church, formerly used by the Lutherans, on a square in the center of the city. It had sustained little damage, had classrooms, and even a kitchen. They felt stunned. Walter said later, “It was a miracle for us to have that place.”

After they thanked the commander and left his office, Elder Poecker said, “I didn’t know the Lord also inspires communist leaders to bless us.”

Walter repeated Elder Poecker’s own words. “With God, all things are possible.”

The experience netted an additional blessing. More than 300 people showed up at the revival meeting.

Money continued to be a problem during Walter’s service as a missionary. Though the Church paid for his rent and he ate with the members, he had little money.

One day, in a cottage meeting, he sketched out a chart of Book of Mormon chronology. Afterward, someone in the meeting asked for the chart. Then someone else asked for a copy. Walter discovered, because of his ability to draw, he could sell his charts. That brought in enough to cover some of his expenses.

It seemed members and investigators rarely had scriptures, so Walter always looked for Bibles in the bookshops. To avoid problems with the police, many people in the Russian sector tried to get rid of any religious belongings. Other people had to sell even their most cherished possessions just to stay alive. Because of that, Walter could always find a Bible or two for those who needed them.

One day, while Walter served in Leipzig, he stopped at a bookshop and was astonished to discover a 1617 printing of a Luther Bible. He remembered how Joseph Smith loved the Luther Bible and Walter found the money to buy it.

Because he was a district president, Walter traveled to West Berlin every month to report to the mission president, Walter Stover. During one of those trips, Walter went into a bookshop and mentioned to the proprietor he’d acquired a 1617 Luther Bible. The proprietor became excited and wanted to know for how much Walter was willing to sell it.

On his next trip back, Walter brought the Luther Bible and sold it to the bookshop proprietor for an 800% profit. That was enough for Walter’s expenses and enough to help several other missionaries who needed money. He also knew he had enough to buy more antique bibles which he could again offer to the bookshop owner.

Walter stepped out of the shop and felt like singing at the top of his lungs.

After two and a half years in East Germany, Walter received a job offer from the Surveying Department at Wandsbek. He thought about what his new life could be. He could leave the repressed atmosphere of East Germany, go back to his family, find the girl of his dreams, marry, and have a normal life. Walter went to his mission president with the letter.

President Stover said, “Brother Kindt, I have heard you are financially very blessed. Is it possible for you to stay a little longer?”

Walter felt tempted to answer, “No, it is impossible.”

President Stover went on, “Brother Kindt, the Lord needs you.”

Walter agreed to extend his mission.

Six months later, President Stover again asked Walter to extend his mission. Again, Walter agreed. And yet again, several months later, President Stover asked Walter to extend.

Walter had served in Leipzig for twenty-five months when, after one of his trips into West Berlin and back to Leipzig, he was not allowed to claim his suitcase at the train station. At his apartment, he found a letter from the station master stating the police had confiscated the luggage.

This was disconcerting news. The suitcase contained bars of soap Walter was bringing to a pregnant sister in Leipzig, several Bibles he’d gotten for members, and, most worrisome, the mission journal. In that journal, Walter had made some negative comments about the government of East Germany. If the Stasi read them, they could easily earn him a heavy penalty.

Walter made contact with President Stover and told him what had happened. President Stover sent immediate word back to Walter. “You are released.”

The message was clear. If the Stasi read the journal, Walter would be arrested and the members of the Church would come under more intense scrutiny. For the members’ sake and his own, Walter should leave the mission.

Walter decided the first thing he must do was contact each branch president of his District and tell him what had happened. He left all his belongings in his apartment and boarded a train that would eventually take him into Berlin where an escape from East Germany might be possible.

At each city where a branch existed, Walter met briefly with the branch president, then, just as his train pulled out of the station, Walter leaned out the window and told the branch president, “I have been released and I am leaving the mission.” He did that to avoid any lengthy explanations or expressions of farewell that might attract the attention of the police.

In Cottbus, Walter went to see his uncle, Friedrich Birth.

Brother Birth met him at the door, his face full of fear. “What have you done to us by coming here?” he said, urgently beckoning Walter into the house. “Do you know they are looking for you?”

Walter learned the Stasi had gone to his apartment, the offices of the church, and the homes of his friends and relatives. They no longer just watched. Now, they searched for him. They had read the journal.

Brother Birth said, “You are in danger!”

Walter’s heart leapt with alarm. He would have to get out of country before the Stasi caught up with him. He would have to go immediately.

Because the Stasi and Russian soldiers worked closely together and frequented the train stations, Walter knew he could no longer travel by rail and risk being spotted. He enlisted the help of another district president, Fritz Lehring to come with his car and take Walter the fifty miles into Berlin, to the nearest streetcar station.

In Berlin, Walter looked out the car window at the Russian soldiers with their machine guns. He said to President Lehring, “I’m scared stiff.”

President Lehring replied, “You will be all right.”

Walter got out of the car and walked, as nonchalantly as he could, up to the station.

“This could be it for me, now,” he thought, his heart pounding with dread. “After five years, this could be it, now.”

Walter lifted his hand in acknowledgment as he passed one of the soldiers.

The young man looked back at him with stony eyes.

Would the soldier recognize the signs of Walter’s fear and, out of suspicion, ask for his identification papers? It would mean certain arrest for Walter.

The soldier merely lifted his hand in return.

Walter continued walking, climbed into the streetcar and found a seat. The bell rang. The car began to move. Walter glanced back at the soldiers. None of them looked in his direction.

The Lord’s promise to be with Walter when he really needed it, held true.

In 1951, before the construction of the Berlin Wall, it was not difficult to slip from Communist East Berlin to West Berlin, and from there, into West Germany and the free world.

Walter wept as he left. With profound sorrow. With profound relief.

At 22 years old, Walter had come into the East German Mission. He left sixty-four months later in May 1951. Of that time, Walter wrote, “Those years were a tremendous blessing for me because I developed an understanding of how to trust and have more faith in the Lord.” With God, nothing was impossible.

Over the next several months, the sister missionaries of the East German Mission mailed Walter’s belongings to him.

During the war years, Walter had heard the translated broadcasts of General Dwight Eisenhower’s speeches to his troops and fell in love with the American idea of freedom. But, in 1944, even the thought of going to America was impossible. In 1952, the glimmer of that dream became a bright possibility when Walter boarded a ship for America with one suitcase, a few German marks, and a heart full of optimism.

Then, another dream became possible when, in the Mesa Temple in 1955, he married Rose Steinmann, the daughter of a family Walter home taught. Like Walter, Rose had been called as a stake missionary and she and Walter spent the first several months of their marriage doing missionary work four nights a week.

They are the parents of seven children and the grandparents of nineteen.

Brother Kindt worked in marketing and advertising, retiring in 1999 as the production director of Kohl’s department stores, a retailer with 380 stores in the Midwest.

Walter Kindt spoke at a BYU – Hawaii devotional in October 2001.

In service to the Church, Brother Kindt was called as a bishop, counselor in the stake presidency, mission president of the Central German Mission, a regional representative with assignments in Zurich, Vienna, Munich, Stuttgart, Philadelphia, and Minneapolis, and a counselor to four mission presidents.

Sources
Walter Kindt, Letters, March, April, May, June, July 2002. Interviews, June, July 2002.

I Nephi 3:7

https://macswitch.tripod.com/berlingermany/

And the Last Shall Be First: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in the Former East Germany, Bruce W. Hall; Journal of Church and State, Summer 2000, Vol. 42 Issue 3, p485, 21p.