Planitz Branch, Zwickau District
Roger P. Minert, In Harm’s Way: East German Latter-day Saints in World War II (Provo, UT: Religious Studies Center, Brigham Young University, 2009), 485-7.
The town of Planitz lies not quite three miles south of the city center of Zwickau, yet the concentration of Latter-day Saints in the neighborhood warranted the establishment of a branch in Planitz.
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The meetings were held at Moritzstrasse 13. Manfred Röhlig (born 1921) later described the setting in that building:
It was a large room that had previously been a shoe factory and there were still iron pillars in the room. One time, I ran into one, and I still have a scar on the left side of my forehead. We also had a coal stove inside so the rooms would stay warm, but when we came on Sunday mornings, we could not breathe. Some of our members worked in a mine, and they made sure that we never ran out of coal. Next to the large room, there were two smaller ones—one for Sunday School and the [Primary] children and the other for Priesthood meeting and Relief Society. . . . There was a picture of Jesus Christ in front of the room. . . . I think that we had a sign on the side of the building saying that [the Church] met there.
The history of the East German Mission has two entries featuring the Planitz Branch just prior to World War II:
Sunday, July 17, 1938: The Planitz Branch, Zwickau District, held a conference. Attendance was sixty-three members and sixteen friends.
Friday, March 3, 1939: A social was held in the Meerane Branch, Zwickau District. It was attended by members and friends of the Zwickau, Werdau, and Planitz Branches. The sum of RM 10.00 was collected for the Meerane Branch Welfare Association.
According to Manfred Röhlig, the branch observed the typical meeting schedule, with Sunday School in the morning and sacrament meeting in the evening. Relief Society and priesthood meetings were held on Monday evening and mutual on Wednesday. When the weather was favorable, they often met outside in a field about two miles away. The locals called it “Mormon Field.” Manfred recalled an average attendance at Sunday School of about seventy persons. With nearly 10 percent of the branch being elders, this was a strong group of Latter-day Saints.
When World War II began, Manfred Röhlig was serving in the Reichsarbeitsdienst in the Palatinate (the territory of the state of Bavaria west of the Rhine River). He was inducted directly into the Wehrmacht, receiving his new uniform as soon as he returned to the city of Kaiserslautern following three days of leave. One of his first assignments after the victorious campaign against France in the summer of 1940 was a leadership position in an office. “I did not think about it much but went along with it, although I could not understand why they chose me. That was the proof for me that Heavenly Father had his hands in these happenings.” He was stationed in Calais, France, on the English Channel until 1944.
At home on leave in 1940, Manfred was ordained a teacher in the Aaronic Priesthood by branch president Albrecht Hochmut. Manfred felt that the gospel knowledge he took with him to military service was what he had received from Sunday School. He was never able to attend church away from home, but he observed the standards of conduct taught to him in his early years, and his comrades respected that. He also found it advantageous to trade his cigarette rations for better food. (“The others smoked and I lived,” he later claimed.)
It was on July 7, 1944, that Manfred married Gertraut Pfrötzschner of nearby Rottmannsdorf. After the obligatory ceremony in the office of the civil registrar in Zwickau, they went to the Marienkirche for the Church ceremony (she was still a Lutheran at the time). The bride was driven to the church in a carriage. Because her aunt had connections to local stores, there was plenty of food available for the wedding dinner that followed. The army had granted Manfred eight days for the occasion, but that included travel time from and back to Calais, France.
A year later, Manfred was transferred to the Netherlands, then to Denmark, and finally to Hungary. On his way to Hungary, he was fortunate to go through Planitz, where he spent a few minutes with his wife; she was employed in an armaments factory there. From Hungary, Manfred’s unit retreated gradually toward Germany. They met up with the advancing American Army in Czechoslovakia in April 1945, and Manfred became a POW. The war was over for him, but the challenges became more difficult. As he recalled his wartime service, he came to the following conclusions:
I never used a weapon nor heard somebody shoot at anything or anybody. I had been issued a weapon, but I never knew where it was, so I could not carry it with me. (To be honest, I was never a good shot, either.) I did not have to walk or march—I was always lucky to have a vehicle to take me places.
By some quirk of fate, Hermann Hans had been wounded slightly and shipped from one army hospital to another, as medical personnel attempted to keep the wounded out of the hands of the invading Red Army. On the morning of May 8, Hermann was evacuated from a field hospital in Aue, just ten miles from his home. By that evening, he was thrilled to watch his transport roll into Planitz. American soldiers monitored traffic at key intersections, but Hermann had the driver stop at an intersection where no guards were present. Hopping off of the truck, he made his way around the corner on crutches and was home in minutes. A few days later, it was announced that anybody harboring German soldiers did so at the risk of punishment, so Hermann went to surrender himself to the Americans. He was interned in town, but with the help of local connections, he managed to be released officially on June 1, 1945.
Manfred Röhlig’s comfortable life ended for a time in May 1945, because the Americans turned him and his comrades over to the Soviets. As POWs, they were marched through Austria to Romania and from there to the Soviet Union. For the next two years, his wife did not know of his whereabouts. Like any common soldier, Manfred was required to perform hard labor during his time in the Soviet Union. While he spent some of the time in a kitchen, he also worked for three years in a mine and in a quarry. At one point in time, he was so ill from dysentery that he nearly died. In fact, he awoke one day and found that those around him in the hospital had died.
Part of the program of Manfred’s Soviet captors was a detailed education in socialism. Manfred used the writing materials provided to write copious notes about that philosophy because he did not wish to simply sit around and waste his time. When he was released, a guard took his papers from him and threw them away. He was told that if he did not yet have the knowledge in his head, the notes would do him little good.
Herta Hans (born 1911) had to survive wartime Germany without the assistance of her husband, Hermann, who had been in the army since 1933. He was gone all during the war, with the exception of a few furloughs. They had married in 1938, and their son, Peter, was born in 1940. Sister Hans moved to Dresden for a time during the war, then back to Planitz. A small miracle occurred in her life when her husband arrived at home on May 8, 1945—the day the war ended.
When Manfred Röhlig was released from the Soviet POW camp in June 1949, he reentered Germany at Frankfurt on Oder. There he was given 50 marks, which he used to buy some white bread “and ate it fast!” as he recalled. He then took the train to Zwickau, arriving after the last bus left for Planitz. However, it was still light, and he simply walked the last two miles to his home. He had served for ten years in a German uniform. Unlike most German POWs in the Soviet Union, he had been fed fairly well; his wife was surprised by his good condition.
Looking back on his life as a young Latter-day Saint in the German army, Manfred said that “without prayer, nothing worked for me. . . . The connection to my Heavenly Father never broke down. I could not have survived without that connection. . . . After the ten years I was gone, I went back to activity in the Church as if I had never even been gone. I was only absent physically.”
The following members of the Planitz Branch did not survive World War II:
Heinz Albert Hochmuth b. Planitz, Sachsen, Zwickau, Sachsen 19 Dec 1924; son of Albrecht Max Hochmuth and Martha Camilla Hertel; bp. 31 Aug 1932 or 1933; d. 20 or 22 Apr 1945 (CHL CR 375 8 2458, 1522; IGI)
Margarete Alma Hoffmann b. Halsbach, Freiberg, Sachsen 21 Feb 1888; dau of Karl Emil Hofmann and Alma Hulda Froebe; bp. 20 Jul 1926; conf. 20 Jul 1926; m. 6 Jan or Jun 1908, Ernst Krügel; d. esophageal tumor 28 Oct 1944 (CHL, LR 6986 21, no. 25; IGI)
Willy Rainer b. Planitz, Zwickau, Sachsen 16 Aug 1944; son of Erich Alfred Mueller and Elfriede Lina Dietel; d. tongue inflamation 1 Nov 1944 (CHL, LR 6986 21, no. 96; IGI)
Heinz Georg Stribrsky b. Buchholz, Chemnitz, Sachsen 7 or 15 Mar 1915; son of Johann Georg Stribrsky and Hedwig Johanne Mueller; bp. 12 Apr 1923; conf. 12 Apr 1923; ord. teacher; m. 21 Dec 1940, Johanna Elfriede Kehrer; soldier; k. in battle 31 Aug 1942 (Sonntagsgruss, no. 20, Oct 1942, 80; M. Roehlig; CHL LR 6986 21, no. 63; FHL Microfilm 245277, 1930/
 Presiding Bishopric, “Financial, Statistical, and Historical Reports of Wards, Stakes, and Missions, 1884–1955,” CR 4 12, 257.
 Manfred Röhlig, interview by the author in German, Planitz, Germany, June 3, 2007; summarized in English by Judith Sartowski.
 East German Mission History Quarterly Reports, 1938, no. 31, East German Mission History.
 Ibid., 1939, no. 59.
 For some reason, the civil registrar did not present the newlyweds a copy of Mein Kampf by Adolf Hitler, nor did he give them a family book to record major events in their lives.
 Hermann Hans, autobiography (unpublished); private collection.