As I mentioned last week, LDS Missionaries were frequently persecuted before Hitler’s rise to power in Germany, but Dr. David Conley Nelson details several questionable problems when the LDS Church embraced Hitler to avoid persecution. It turns out, according to Nelson “J. Reuben Clark was a xenophobe, a nativist, and an anti-Semite.” Clark was a member of the First Presidency during World War 2. Note our own blogger Morgan Deane has highlighted some of Clark’s pro-Hitler tendencies. Nelson describes more:
David: He was pretty much against war to start off with because the Republicans in his period of time were isolationist. They were very much against the League of Nations after World War I and J. Reuben Clark was an old-style Republican. But yes J. Reuben Clark was a xenophobe, a nativist, and an anti-Semite.
He had a long government career during Republican administrations and then he was in private practice as a lawyer when Woodrow Wilson served eight years as a Democrat as president after [Teddy] Roosevelt up until his [Roosevelt’s] death in 1921. J. Reuben Clark was primarily a nativist and xenophobe, and he became, because of his experiences in the eastern United States, he became an anti-Semite. When J. Reuben Clark gave the valedictory address at the University of Utah in 1898, the whole thing was filled with anti-immigrant sentiment.
Now this was not just J. Reuben Clark. One of the bad things about American progressivism at the time, and don’t think of progressivism back then as progressivism is used as the word today. There were good things in progressivism, but there was a lot of anti-immigrant sentiment in progressivism. Immigrants are coming over, they’re taking our jobs away from us and all that.
Nelson describes in great detail that Clark helped “Aryans” emigrate from Germany, but refused to help Jews. It’s quite a sad detail, though it should be noted that anti-Semitism was rampant in the United States and elsewhere. But the thing that is most difficult for me to reconcile is the fact that the LDS Church used genealogy as both a weapon to help Hitler find Jews, but also help the Mormon temple efforts.
David: It was just one of these things where the desires and needs of the church coincided with the desires and needs of the Nazi government. The Mormons were not afraid to shout from the rooftops and to put articles in the Deseret News back home with how wonderful it has become for the church now that the genealogical archives, doors have swung open, “so that everyone can prove their grandmother was not a Jewess.”
You just look at this and you say, what are these people thinking? That’s a theme of my book is that the Mormons found in Nazi Germany, all of the sudden they found commonalities.
Missionaries also helped with Germany Olympic basketball efforts.
The German sports authorities had never heard of basketball. They don’t have any basketball players, but because they are the home country, they feel that they have the obligation to field a team for every sport. They may go somewhere else for the Olympics and they won’t do a sport, but this is Germany and everybody else is going to be bringing their basketball team over. It would look awfully bad if they had basketball competition and Germany didn’t have a team. How do we do a team?
They did it very methodically. The only people that knew anything about basketball in Germany at the time were a few foreign university students from the United States and Canada, and guess who? The Mormon missionaries!
Nelson also describes a strange episode of two mission presidents in Berlin.
Heber J. Grant was in Germany. What he was doing is he was celebrating 100 years of Mormonism in Europe, so he is on a 3 month tour of Germany, the prophet, seer, and revelator, Heber J. Grant. He comes to Bern, Switzerland where the mission home is for what was then [known as] the Swiss-German mission, later on became the West German mission. He stays with Swiss-German mission, Philemon Kelly, who was a kindly man, a doctor from Idaho, a physician, medical doctor. Sometime during stay, President Grant goes to President Kelly and says, “How you like to be the mission president in Berlin?”
That’s a plum assignment. Philemon Kelly [said], “I’ll take it.” He packed up and he’s gone. At same time while President Grant is gone from Salt Lake City, David O. McKay and J. Reuben Clark are calling Albert C. Rees to be the mission president in Berlin.
GT: The same city.
David: The same city. The newspapers in Salt Lake City give goodbye editorials to Alfred C. Rees because he’s one of them. He’s part of the newspaper industry there. There’s no doubt he is going to Berlin, but when he gets to Berlin he finds Philemon Kelly and his wife already installed in the mission home in the Tiergarten and Kelly won’t give it up.
In my book I write for a month or a month or a month and a half, these two guys are competing. No way Rees could turn around and go take the consolation prize in Frankfurt, so he goes and rents a home, which the mission has to pay for, down the street and we have rival mission presidents in Berlin for this period of time. They just cannot agree.
What they do in the interim, Rees says, “I’ll take care of the political part of the government liaison and you take care of running the branches and the districts and you take care of the missionaries. So while they agree, they can’t agree on who is going to be the mission president, they do divide the duties for a while.
Lastly, we talked about Helmuth Hübener. He was the young German teenager that was executed by Adolf Hitler for treason. It’s a wonderful story and BYU actually turned it into a play in the 1970s. However, Church leaders were upset by the play and decided to suppress it. Why was that? Dr. David Conley Nelson details, as Paul Harvey would say, “the rest of the story.”
The penultimate night of the play, after it has been extended, Thomas S. Monson shows up. Dallin Oaks is the president of BYU at the time…and everybody at BYU is gaga about this. Everybody is so proud of themselves. Karl-Heinz Schnibbe and Rudi Wobbe are two of Hübener’s companions are both down there to see the play. Karl-Heinz Schnibbe has been there three times. He is joking with the actors about their fake German accents that they’re doing.
President Monson, or Brother Monson, or Elder Monson, he’s in the Quorum of Twelve at the time. Elder Monson arrives and he takes in the play and he just doesn’t seem to be as happy according to other witnesses as the rest of them. Word comes down two days later through Dallin Oaks, there will be no more productions of “Huebener Against the Reich.” In fact, Thomas Rogers is prohibited from releasing—it’s his intellectual property, but he is prohibited from giving permission for anybody else to use that play.
Nelson goes on to describe why Monson and Oaks but the kibosh on the play, saying they were worried how East German communists would feel about it (though Communists hated Nazis.) What do you make of these episodes? Does the LDS Church have a black eye? Jeff Spector just noted some problems with baptism for the dead of Jewish celebrities and holocaust victims. Should the LDS Church have helped Hitler identify Jews through genealogy? What are your thoughts? How should an international church respond to repressive regimes, especially in light of German persecution before Hitler?
 League of Nations was a forerunner of the United Nations and was proposed by U.S. President Woodrow Wilson as a reaction to World War I.
 David later clarified this comment. He meant “In 1937, Heber J. Grant was on a three-month tour of Europe, not just Germany. He was commemorating the 100th anniversary of Mormonism in Europe. He was touring all of the countries where the LDS Church had a presence, and he spent almost two weeks that summer touring the German-speaking lands of Germany, Austria, and Switzerland.”
I had Thomas Rogers in the kitchen talking to a number of us about the play and how there was a real worry it would inspire LDS youth to resist the communists. So the story is close, but gets a detail wrong.
It did become a favorite of some American Communists who put on readers theater productions of it in San Fransisco and other places.
His next play about L of Arabia is a strong anti-colonialism play and I had a copy of it pre publication that I really liked.
It, and Heubner and another play are now in print.
In a twist, the branch president ended up in Salt Lake after the war and was still alive when Utah Holiday did their special edition on the story.
In a twist, the Nibley family had Jewish roots and Clark got along very well with them. It is too bad he had the experiences he had when he was in the East.
Too many twists in the last comment. I need better edits.
I wonder how large of a role Hitler played in influencing anti-Semitism in all churches. I know the Catholic Church, especially in Germany, had priests who collaborated well with Nazis. I also know that even in my lifetime, it seems that Jews were blamed much more than they are now, for how they treated Christ. Even in books like Mormon Doctrine, people like McConkie blamed Jews for Christ, and many justified the mistreatment during WW2. I am sure Clark played a role in perpetuating anti-Semitism among Mormons and was influential with people like McConkie. It seems like prior to WW2 that the LDS Church was more favorable to Jews, though it is interesting to learn that Clark held anti-immigrant sentiments as early as 1898.
I know following WW2, the U.S. and Russia divided up scientists and German scientists were extremely helpful to both countries rocket programs. Many Nazis fled to Argentina, spreading anti-Semitism in all 3 countries. It is interesting to wonder if Hitler had not come to power people like Clark and McConkie might have been less inclined to blame Jews for the death of Christ and other anti-Semitic statements. It seems that the surroundings influenced Mormon leaders more than it should have. I wish Clark had been more helpful to Jews fleeing Germany.
I feel that the LDS Church was in a bit of a no-win situation in Germany. On the one hand, I understand removing hymns and lesson manuals that discussed gathering Jews or Zion. I think such accomodations were probably wise under the Nazi regime.
However, I am less sympathetic to the lack of help to Jewish refugees by Clark and others. That’s shameful, though I understand why they didn’t want to be associated with helping Jews. I can’t imagine Christ would have acted that way though.
I also think bragging that “everyone can prove their grandmother was not a Jewess” is a bit shameful. It may be wonderful that they got access to previously closed Catholic and Lutheran archives, but at the cost of Jewish lives. That should not have been bragged about, and I’m more critical of that indifference to Jewish lives than I am about baptizing Steven Spielberg’s ancestors. Using genealogy to kill Jews is a bad excuse for later justifying baptizing their dead. That’s much more offensive to me, and I have empathy and understand why Jews are upset. They have a right to be upset.
Clark will still hold a place in my heart for the talk he gave in the October 1946 General Conference, in which he roundly denounced the Allied carpet-bombing campaigns and the use of the atomic bomb on Japan. I guess no one’s record is completely consistent.
New, totally agree and sorry for your thumbs down. Sad that the “liberal” commentariat are so neoconservative.
NEW he was wrong about the bomb and so are you. I served in Okinawa on my mission in 1967 and knew several members who had lived through the invasion. It was only 22 years later. It was their opinion that the bomb was a good thing in that it brought the war to an end with far fewer causalities than would have resulted from an invasion of Japan .In Okinawa 200,000 Japanese were killed and 20,000 Americans on a small island. The best estimates of the result of both the bombs were less than those killed on Okinawa . An invasion would heave resulted in a million or more Japanese deaths and several hundred thousand American dead . You tell me who was right Truman or Clark
The title suggested that J. Reuben Clark had something to do with the Huebener affair, but I didn’t read anything in the posting to suggest that. The Huebener matter that was mentioned occurred long after Clark’s death. Is the title misleading?
The hard part about the title is trying to jam in too much information without making it too long.
Hubener was excommunicated and executed during Clark’s lifetime. Clearly Clark was a supporter of Hitler and did everything he could to appease Hitler and Clark didn’t help Jews. One of the things we didn’t cover in the interview, but David covered in his book, was the fact that Hubener’s pro-Hitler branch president excommunicated Hubener without notifying higher authorities. The branch president eventually moved to Provo, and people asked him if he knew Hubener. (Hubener was eventually recorded on church records as having been excommunicated by mistake.)
Clark clearly misused genealogy and basketball in a quest for better treatment of the LDS Church in Germany. I don’t think he was aware of Hubuner until it was much too late and Hubener was killed. I guess the title could be better read “How Clark Misused Genealogy, Basketball in Nazi Germany/ Hübener Story You Didn’t Know .” I was trying to save space in the title, though I doubt Clark was pleased with Hubener’s seditious writing on a church typewriter.