New film tells story of 79 Latter-day Saint missionaries who escaped Nazi Germany

Apr 10, 2024, 8:47 PM | Updated: Apr 11, 2024, 6:58 am

SALT LAKE CITY — Just days before the start of World War II, Americans, many of them Utahns, escaped from Nazi Germany. They were Latter-day Saint missionaries serving in that country. Now a filmmaker is telling their story.

“And … action!” said Utah filmmaker T.C. Christensen — for the first time since the COVID-19 pandemic. Christensen has written and directed a new movie, “Escape from Germany.”

“I hope that it’s the kind of story that when people come out of the theater, they go, ‘Wow, how did I not know that?’” Christensen said.

The movie trailer shows two men in an office. The older gentleman says to the young man, “It will be up to you to find them and see that they get out!”

Christensen sets the scene: “It’s 1939. And the mission home is in Frankfurt, but they have missionaries all over. This is the Western (Germany) mission. And they have missionaries, of course, clear up into Denmark, or to Denmark, and all the way down into Austria.”

Seventy-nine Latter-day Saint missionaries were serving throughout Germany and had to leave immediately. This was just days before Germany invaded Poland.

Back to the movie trailer — “If I may, sir, I believe that President Heber J. Grant is a better source of intelligence than the U.S. military.”

Again, Christensen explains the scene: “Heber J. Grant, who was the president of the Church at the time, sent a telegram and said, the war is going to start in three days, get those missionaries out. That’s where it all came from Church headquarters.”

Back to the film: “Does President Grant have any idea how hard this is going to be?” Christensen adds. “They’ve got these missionaries all over Germany that they’re trying to somehow to get out and send them to Holland, which then Holland closed their borders and all of those Elders that were all of that away, now had to figure out a new way, which was Denmark.”

What intrigued Christensen about this story is the one missionary sent to find them all — Elder Norm Seibold.

“The mission president, President Douglas Wood, he decided he was going to put one Elder in charge of getting the missionaries out, it’s always two, It has been forever. But he’s decided, I’m going get one Elder. He’s strong, played football, tough kind of a guy. And he’s going to go by himself. Well, I love that as a movie maker, because that’s Clint Eastwood! That’s one guy that’s going out and try to do this whole job by himself. And he did, and he did a great job!” Christensen said.

Christensen took his production team to Budapest, Hungary, to film those iconic railway station scenes.

The extras are a beautiful and unique part of this film. The men, women and children are all descendants of those missionaries who escaped. The production team searched long and hard to find them and every day Christensen would introduce them to the cast and crew.

Just looking at them made him emotional.

“And every morning, I would cry,” he said. “I’d think today I’m not going to cry, cry every day. And I’d sit and I’d look into their faces and they’re so happy to be there because of their grandpa or their aunt or whoever, you know, they wanted to be there and to honor them by being part of this film. So those original missionaries are being remembered and honored so many decades later … The first day that we were filming, my partner, Ron Tanner, came to me and said, ‘How many miracles are in this film?’”

Christensen and Tanner created the film “17 Miracles” and then came the surprise with this new movie.

“So that night, I went through the script and counted what I think are 21 miracles in this film,” He said. “It really did take some miraculous things to happen. And they did in order to get them out all out safely.”

“Escape from Germany” opens in 39 Utah theaters on Thursday.

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New film tells story of 79 Latter-day Saint missionaries who escaped Nazi Germany