President Dieter F. Uchtdorf knows first-hand what it means to be a refugee. Twice during his childhood — during World War II and, later, the Cold War — he experienced the fear and uncertainty of being displaced from his homeland.
Sadly, he said, the day of refugees did not end with either of those two historic and tragic events. Today there is a worldwide flow of refugees and emigrants. They need love, prayers, charity and compassion.
That was the message President Uchtdorf, second counselor in the First Presidency, shared at the Nov. 15 “Volkstrauertag” gathering at the Fort Douglas Military Cemetery in Salt Lake City.
“Volkstrauertag” is Germany’s national day of remembrance. It’s observed by Germans living in their homeland and across the globe. It’s a somber day, held two Sundays before the start of Advent to commemorate all who have died in war — and for victims everywhere of violent oppression because of their race, religion or convictions.
The annual event has long-held special meaning for many in Utah. Each year, German-Americans and their friends gather at the Fort Douglas Military Cemetery to pay tribute to the 41 German prisoners of war and others who were laid to rest at that historic burial ground.
On Nov. 15, scores of people from German and other backgrounds gathered under crisp but sunny skies. They sang the national anthems of Germany and the United States and enjoyed holiday remarks by President Uchtdorf and Utah Gov. Gary R. Herbert.
This year was especially meaningful for “Volkstrauertag” observers. It’s the 70th anniversary of the end of World War II and the 25th anniversary of the reunification of Germany.
In his remarks, President Uchtdorf spoke of the grieving in France and across the world following the Nov. 13 terrorist attacks in Paris.
“Volkstrauertag,” he declared, is not only a day to mourn the dead — but a day to speak out for peace.
“This is our responsibility [for] our children and their children,” he said. “It takes empathy and action to influence the future of mankind based on dignity, honesty and eternal values — regardless of differences in politics, religion, race or cultural traditions.”
It is not enough to love those who have suffered in the past, he said. Love also those who now suffer.
President Uchtdorf then spoke of the refugee crisis capturing headlines in the Middle East and Europe. The suffering includes innocent children and families. He spoke of his own experience as a refugee during World War II and during the Cold War when his German homeland was fractured.
“We should be cognizant of our responsibilities as Christians or in any religion where we reach out to our fellow men,” he said.
Follow the example of Jesus Christ in how we treat each other. Have compassion and empathy for all. Find peace by promoting peace.
“When we recognize fulfillment of the Lord’s purposes even in our moments of sorrow, the Holy Ghost will be invited to console us, and then the sacrifice and resurrection of Jesus Christ will become solid cornerstones in our lives,” he said.
One of war’s cruel realities, observed Gov. Herbert in his remarks, is that often people are divided who, in fact, share much in common. Combatants on all sides are sons and daughters, husbands and wives, fathers and mothers.
“They have families and loved ones that mourn their death and miss their companionship,” he said.
Even in times of war, he added, people can have empathy and respect for one another. He spoke of the Christmas of 1914, where opposing soldiers fighting the battles of World War I declared a day of cease-fire, played soccer and celebrated the holiday together.
“I hope we can remember that compassion,” he said.
Take time to pause and reflect on relationships with one another. “Recognize the humanity that we all have.”
Gov. Herbert noted that once Germany and the United States were nations at war. Today those two countries are “the closest of friends and allies.”
The state of Utah and Germany also enjoy close ties, he added. One in 10 Utahns have German ancestry — and Germany is one of the state’s key trade partners.
To conclude the Fort Douglas ceremony, Gov. Herbert and President Uchtdorf, along with Honorary Consul for Germany James T. Burton and Brig. Gen. Dallen Atack, Asst. Adjutant General for the Utah National Guard, laid a ceremonial wreath at the foot of the monument that commemorates the fallen German soldiers.
Cantor Wendy Bat-Sarah of Salt Lake City’s Congregation Kol Ami offered the event’s invocation.
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