President Uchtdorf Shares Personal Childhood Experience as a Refugee

One of the top leaders for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints speaks from experience when he encourages members to help the refugees fleeing the Middle East.

President Dieter F. Uchtdorf, second counselor in the Church’s First Presidency, sat down with KUTV to share his story of being a refugee as a young boy during World War II—twice.

In 1944, Uchtdorf’s mother led him and his siblings away from their home in Czechoslovakia during one of the coldest winters they’ve seen. The family boarded a refugee train headed west, but ran into complications along the way.

“The train stopped, my mother went out and tried to get food,” Uchtdorf explains. “When she tried to find the train, the train was gone with her four children in there.”

His mother eventually found the children on a train at the station, and the family continued on their way. Uchtdorf remembers eventually arriving safely in East Germany. As refugees, Uchtdorf’s family was malnourished and he remembers living off of peaches and cracked wheat that the Church had sent to help those in need.

After seven difficult years in East Germany, Uchtdorf’s family was on the move again. As a soldier in the German Army, his father’s life was in danger as he opposed the communist regime. Splitting up and fleeing once again, the family made their way to Frankfurt.

Uchtdorf remembers the difficulty of fleeing and leaving everything behind, completely starting over with nothing. He said,

It was a hard time because we came into a society where people knew that we were in need but they struggled themselves. We were not always welcome. They even had names for us as refugees, so as a child it felt pretty sad at times.

Despite instances of not feeling welcome, Uchtdorf explains the the safety the family experienced while fleeing was largely due to the kindness and help of others. “There were so many who were willing to help regardless of religion, of race, of background, and that’s what we’re trying to do now,” he said.

Knowing what being a refugee is like, Uchtdorf encourages members of the Church to extend a helping hand to those fleeing from dangerous areas in places like Syria right now. He explains that it is our responsibility as Latter-day Saints and followers of Christ, to help those who can’t help themselves.

“Helping them to continue on and having hope for the future, that is the important thing,” Uchtdorf said. “We need to reach out irrespective of political aspects and help those in need.”

The Church had committed to an additional donation of $5 million—in the form of clothing, food, shelter, and other supplies—to help displaced families in Europe.

Can we help everyone? No. Can we do a lot? Can we help individuals? Yes.

Watch the KUTV report, shared above, and visit Mormon Newsroom for more on Uchtdorf’s story.