Aficionados of "Quest" literature should talk to Rupert, Idaho, writer Terry Bohle Montague. If she had known how her quest would consume her life, she might not have embarked on it.
When Montague was a little girl she told her mother she wanted to be a writer. "But Terry," her mother said, "you need to learn how to read first!" Later Montague created continuing serials that she worked on every night before she fell asleep. "I had stories that went on for years!" she remarked. She especially loved stories about classical heroes, quests, talismans and obstacles. Her youthful experiences prepared her for the time when she would write a riveting tale of quiet heroism - when ordinary people rose to the moment.After hearing of the LDS missionary experience of Norman Siebold when he was evacuated from Nazi Germany, Montague approached Siebold suggesting his experiences be written down. But 45 years had elapsed, said Siebold. So Montague volunteered to track down the details, names and places.
Her search took five years. She filled a suitcase full of tape-recorded accounts, collected four binders full of correspondence and several hundred photographs. The 84 missionaries serving in Germany in 1939 were as close as nine miles away in Burley, Idaho, and as far away as Israel and New Zealand. But she completed the quest, and the result is, in its own way, a Holy Grail. Her book, "Mine Angels Round About," tells the faith-promoting and sometimes harrowing story of the evacuation of Mormon missionaries from Hitler's Germany.
The title of the book comes from the LDS scripture found in Doctrine & Covenants 84:88. "And whoso receiveth you, there will I be also, for I will go before your face. I will be on your right hand and on your left, and my spirit shall be in your hearts, and mine angels round about you, to bear you up."
In an interview with the Deseret News, Montague said, "It was a tragic story but a spiritual triumph."
In March of 1938, Hitler had "annexed" Austria. The missionaries in Germany were briefly evacuated to Holland during the fall of 1938 when Hitler threatened to attack Czechoslovakia. But the missionaries returned despite the increasing talk of war. Montague believes that the missionaries were allowed to stay so long "because they were the backbone of the missions. The people needed them. They did very little tracting and baptism." Montague writes, "For many branches, consisting mostly of women and small children, the missionaries were their only priesthood authority."
But on Aug. 24, 1939, the West German Mission received word through England that the president of the LDS Church, Heber J. Grant, had said, "In three days the German Army will invade Poland." A military attache at the U.S. Embassy in Berlin had no knowledge of a military buildup, but on the word of a prophet the call for evacuation of the missionaries in the East and West German missions went out.
The missionaries received telegrams and headed to the Dutch border. During her research, Montague recorded each story and pieced them together in chronological order. "Sometimes to get it minute-by-minute I had to cut and paste, even cutting sentences in two," she said.
It was a time of chaos and tension. Telephone and telegraph lines had been appropriated for military use. Train stations were jammed with soldiers reporting to the front and civilians trying to escape the coming war. But the worst of it was the Dutch had closed their border to refugees fearing a repeat of what happened during World War I when their food supplies had been devastated by those fleeing war. Apostle Joseph Fielding Smith was to set up temporary headquarters in Holland but was told the missionaries would not be allowed to enter. Because Elder Smith had a ticket to sail from France, he and his wife were permitted to cross into Holland.
One by one, the missionaries were stranded at the Dutch border, caught in a 1930s version of Catch-22. They were not allowed to take more than $2.50 in cash out of Germany. They would not be allowed into Holland without the funds to purchase a ticket to leave.
Missionaries from the southern and eastern parts of the West German Mission stopped in Frankfurt at the mission home on their way out of the country. The mission president, M. Douglas Wood, had received word of the border closure. Norman Seibold volunteered to carry 500 German marks and train tickets to London and Copenhagen to the missionaries stranded at border towns.
As he stopped at the train station in Cologne, Siebold wondered how to find the waiting missionaries without also attracting the Gestapo. Finally, he climbed up on a baggage cart and whistled the first four notes of the Mormon hymn, "Do What is Right," over and over. Soon Elders Ferryle McOmber, Dean Griner, William Manning and Vern Marrott had appeared out of the masses of people and received their tickets to freedom.
Elder John Robert Kest of the Dutch mission carried 300 Dutch guilders to Bentheim, Germany, to rescue six stranded missionaries. Kest bought 10 tickets to Copenhagen and took a train to Bentheim, hoping he would not be arrested for lack of a visa.
Quickly stopped by German Blackshirts when he arrived in Bentheim, Kest's visa-less passport aroused suspicions. Kest was searched, but the 10 precious train tickets he laid out on the table in front of him were somehow unseen by the Blackshirts as they went through his pockets. The Gestapo gave Kest 40 minutes to find his friends and leave. At a nearby hotel, Kest located the six West German missionaries and with only minutes to spare, they made the train out of Germany.
Montague still has feelings of awe at the faith and courage shown during the evacuation and how the stories uplifted her. "Norman Siebold doesn't like to talk about this," she said, "but he can't whistle. He could never whistle - just for three days in August 1939."