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Moroni and the Swastika

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Moroni and the Swastika
Mormons in Nazi Germany
By David Conley Nelson
432 pgs., 32 B&W Illus., 3 Maps, & 2 Tables
University of Oklahoma Press, 2015
ISBN: 978-0-8061-4668-3

Reviewed by Harry S. Chou - March 10, 2015

Nazi Germany is well known for the persecution and murder of millions of religious and ethnic minorities that fell under its dominion. Yet, according to David Conley Nelson, in his controversial book, Moroni and the Swastika, Mormons were not persecuted by the Nazis, and they actually prospered under the Nazi regime.

Nelson is a historian whose area of focus is Nazi Germany and the Holocaust. In this eye-opening book, Nelson examines why the Mormons (the name used to refer to members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints [LDS]) escaped persecution. He also looks at how the Mormons in Germany supported the Nazi regime, and how Church leaders rewrote the history of the Mormon experience during World War II to cover up their collaboration with the Nazis.

One of the reasons, according to this book, that the Mormons prospered under the Nazis was the importance that the LDS Church, and the National Socialist placed on genealogy - a task that the Mormons have been and still are, masters of. The Mormon hierarchy also took pains to explain to the powers-to-be in Hitler's regime, just how similar the Nazis and the German Mormons were in terms of ideology and outlook. Throughout this book, Nelson explores the history of the LDS Church in Germany before, during, and after the war. As well, he introduces the key figures in Mormon history in Germany, including American Church leaders who influenced the German Mormons.

Moroni and the Swastika: Mormons in Nazi Germany examines an often overlooked, and nearly undocumented, aspect of World War II history. Nelson's book appears to be the result of intense research and his documentation is accurate. The book includes detailed endnotes, and it also includes an extensive bibliography. He acknowledges that he was not granted full access to LDS Church achieves, and instead had to rely upon interviews, currently available research, and other sources to get the church's version of the story.

In writing Moroni and the Swastika, Nelson has crafted a detailed and authoritative history of the Mormons in Nazi Germany, and their collusion with the Nazis. He explores why the church not only countenanced, but also encouraged, this cooperation. As well, he shows how church leaders coopted church doctrine, namely the "Twelfth Article of Faith" and select portions of the "134th Section of the Doctrine and Covenants" to direct their members to fully cooperate with the Nazis. He looks at the Mormons' role in the Holocaust, and the steps that Church leaders in the United States failed to take to help Mormons of Jewish ancestry escape the Nazis.
"The LDS Church thus erected a firewall between its resources and the Jews who needed them to leave Germany, even if they had converted to Mormonism. It did not, however, refrain from using its influence to seek diplomatic help for those not tainted by a Jewish heritage." (Pg. 274)
Most telling, he also examines how the LDS Church has altered its own history to promote the lie that they resisted the Nazis and that they had no hand in the Holocaust. Gone are the details of how the Mormons in Germany sent their children off to the Hitler Youth, served in the Germany Army (Wehrmacht), and even served as prison guards at concentration camps. Not to be totally negative, Nelson also recounts the instances of true heroism of a handful of Mormons who, on their own account, fought against the Nazis and strove to do the right thing in a world gone mad, even at the cost of their own lives. He also takes a look at what happen to the LDS Church and its members, after the war ended.

Despite being a dense, fact filled history, the writing in this book does not come across as overly academic. Rather, I found Moroni and the Swastika to be a highly readable and totally fascinating book. Nelson not only puts into context the events that he details, but he also offers keen insights into why the Church acted as it did. In total, this book sheds new light on the Mormon experience in Nazi Germany, and it is sure to enthrall anyone with a personal or academic interest in the Holocaust, World War II, or Mormon history. It is sure to engender much debate and I look forward to hearing the Mormon response to this book.


Related Reviews:

What We Knew - Terror, Mass Murder, and Everyday Life in Nazi Germany, by Eric A. Johnson and Karl-Heinz Reuband .
Excerpts from forty interviews with Jewish survivors, and 'average' Germans who lived in Nazi Germany. Includes an analysis, by the authors, on what the average German knew about the Nazi atrocities that were taking place during World War II.

Nazi Terror: The Gestapo, Jews, and Ordinary Germans, by Eric A. Johnson
In this controversial book, Johnson looks at the role that the Gestapo, and Ordinary Germans, had in the mass murder of Jews during World War II.

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