Helga Meyer's life experiences have been so intense that the mere memory of them revives smells, sights and sounds. Her story is one of deliverance.
The Salt Lake City resident and German native has faced many trials during her life, including the death of loved ones, death threats, physical injury and scorn. Many of the challenges and the hope that followed them came as a direct result of her faith in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
Meyer's mother and grandmother joined the church in the town of Tilsit, which was then part of East Prussia and is now part of Russia. A family of members lived nearby and introduced them to the church. But her grandfather did not approve of the church, and her mother had to sneak out the window to go to Mmutual during the week.
Meyer, born Oct. 1, 1920, grew up being taught the gospel by her mother and grandmother.
"I had a very happy childhood, in spite of hard times, or the war," Meyer said. "I had a good youth. We as a family were a knitted family."
In school one day, Meyer had to identify her religion along with other information about her for her teacher. Her teacher scoffed at her faith, calling it "a sect and a bad one." The principal also came to the classroom to degrade her in front of all her classmates. The other children, too, began to persecute her for her beliefs, throwing rocks at her, spitting at her and wiping their noses on her coat. Through these experiences, Meyer never doubted nor denied her faith.
"(I held) my head high, because I loved my religion," Meyer said. "For some reason it did not make me feel bad. Inside, I was standing especially straight up."
She calls experiences like these "great ... because I loved the church."
This sentiment has kept Meyer fighting onward and doing so optimistically, despite the difficulties through which she has passed.
Meyer has suffered many deep losses in her life, including the death of her first husband, two brothers and cousin, all of whom died fighting in World War II. After the war ended, while nearly starving, Meyer saved scraps of food for her ill father. Lark Galli, Meyer's biographer, has noted her persistent optimism as she talks to Meyer weekly.
"Her life could be put forward as a series of disappointments," Galli said. "I love the fact that she says her life has been everything she could have wished for. It's so paradoxical, and gets to the heart of the gospel."
The joy found in her life increased at the age of 10, when she was baptized. She had to wait until a large enough group of people was ready to be baptized. Members of her branch went down beneath a bridge on a quiet night where Meyer became a member of the church.
"That happiness has never left me. This is what makes me strong," Meyer said. "The joy just wanted to come out, and instead of walking along nicely to church that Sunday, I was hopping along because I was full of joy and happiness."
The losses came later.
Meyer married Gerhardt Birth on a Wednesday and he left for the war the following Sunday. She never saw him again.
"I really didn't want to get married after Gerhardt," Meyer said. "To this day I am a part of Gerhardt's family."
She married another man later, and they had five children: Nia, Siegfried, Heidy, Tini and Andreas, who passed away. Since her divorce years ago, Meyer was sealed, with her children, to her first husband, Gerhardt.
Meyer came to America with her children in 1959. She currently attends the Garden Park Ward and the German-speaking Douglas Ward every week in Salt Lake City.
Through times of trouble, Meyer has remained steadfast. Her experiences have left her with an unshakable conviction of the gospel.
"That is my greatest blessing I ever had, and still have: the knowledge that the gospel is true, that God is my Father in Heaven, and that Christ is my Savior and Redeemer."
Meyer, 87, recently visited Tilsit, which she had last seen in August 1944. She says she has long wanted to go to the home of her earliest memories, "only to cry (her) heart out.""I think back, and I feel the day when I was there," Meyer said. "To have a memory this is a great gift."
E-mail: [email protected]