One of President Ezra Taft Benson's most sobering experiences was a first-hand look at "the terrible ravages of war."
On Jan. 29, 1946, he was sent to Europe as president of the European Mission to reorganize the branches and distribute relief supplies following the end of World War II.At one time while he was away, their daughter, Beth, then 19 months, was critically ill with pneumonia. "It was a great shock," he recalled later. "I went immediately to my knees in prayer and then placed a call for Flora in Salt Lake. . . . I was greatly relieved to hear her say that Beth was well on her way to recovery. She had been administered to by President George Albert Smith. . . ."
During the 10 months in Europe, he traveled through the most devastated areas, visiting and comforting the members who had suffered extreme privations. Throughout his absence his wife, Flora, and children supported him by mailing packages of supplies, which he gave to those in need.
He described the city of Hamburg, Germany, where allied bombers "by the hundreds and by the thousands
hadT continued to pour bombs on this once proud and beautiful city. When the fires finally subsided and the smoke cleared away, Hamburg had been leveled to the ground. . . . Somewhere in all the debris were thousands upon thousands of dead and many more thousands wounded."
During his visit to the members there, he found, "Many of those in attendance were thin, weak, and hungry - their clothes threadbare and hanging loosely from their starved bodies - but in their eyes shone the light of truth and from their lips came a testimony of faith and devotion that should be a testimony to all the Church."
Later, he observed "people along the road and ditch banks in the country who had walked for miles on Sunday to try and find a few dandelions or other herbs to take home for food. Some take ordinary grass and weeds and cut them up to mix with a little chicken feed and water, which is their meal. I noticed between meetings some would take out of their pocket a little cup partly filled with chicken feed or cereal and water which they would eat cold. This was their entire lunch."
As the last meeting in Hamburg drew to a close, "I had all the children 8 and under line up in the middle aisle and, as they walked past me, I gave each one some gum or candy. . . . President
MaxT Zimmer said they'd been sent by my family for the German children. There must have been 50 to 75 children. I had to break some of the gum and candy (Life Savers) in two to make it go around.
"These sweet, eager but polite little ones almost broke my heart as they looked up with their large eyes and pale faces filled with gratitude. . . .
"Then I had all the mothers with babies come up, and I distributed a bar of soap to each and a few safety pins, needles, and thread, and an orange which we had coaxed from the army chief in Bremen. . . . These women hadn't seen an orange in six and one half years and hadn't had a bar of soap or any pins or needles for years. They couldn't hold back the `ahs' and `ahas' as they saw them and yet they were most polite. You could see they'd starved themselves to try to give to their children in the true mother spirit."
"I shall ever remember the scene of these sweet, innocent victims of the ravages of war - humble in their gratitude for the gospel, with no trace of enmity or hatred in their hearts. Surely when the Lord chooses the most faithful, these, His suffering children, will be among the most blessed. I shed tears with them, gave them what encouragement I could, and left my blessing and love with them." (A Labor of Love, The 1946 European Mission of Ezra Taft Benson.)