German Mission Foundation

Returned Missionaries Still Serving
The German Saints

Conversion of Helma Hahn of Rothenburg

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Elder Thomas S. Monson spoke about the missionary who first contacted Helma Hahn, in the October General Conference 1978. His talk was titled Profiles of Faith:
For a second profile, I turn to a missionary at the Missionary Training Center in Provo, Utah, desperately struggling to become proficient in the German language, that he might be an effective missionary to the people of southern Germany. Each day as he opened his German grammar text, he noticed with interest and curiosity that the front cover displayed a picture of a most quaint and ancient house in Rothenburg, West Germany. Beneath the picture, the location was given. In his heart that young man determined, “I’ll visit that house and teach the truth to whoever lives within it.” This he did. The result was the conversion and baptism of Sister Helma Hahn. Today she devotes much of her time speaking to tourists who come from all over the world to see her house. She delights in telling them of the blessings which the gospel of Jesus Christ has brought to her. Her house is perhaps one of the most frequently photographed houses in the entire world. No visitor leaves without hearing in simple yet earnest words her testimony of praise and gratitude. That missionary who brought to Sister Hahn the gospel remembered the sacred charge: “Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost”. (The missionary that Elder Monson spoke about was Joseph Stobbe.)
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Elder Joseph Stobbe

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This is my story of Schwester Hahn and Rothenburg ob der Tauber. My name is Fred Ward. I was transferred to Ansbach on the 24th of Jan. 1967 to be Elder Joseph Stobbe's assistant District Leader, as he was already the branch president. He and Elder Williams had met Schwester Hahn the week before. The next morning, we were on the train to Rothenburg for an appointment with Schwester Hahn. I was fascinated by this quaint village. We walked the cobblestone streets to her door on the upper Ploenlein 2. We knocked and she opened the window to let her key down to us. She didn't know me, so she moved the string over to Elder Stobbe. After introductions and how to pronounce my name in German, everything was fine.

My father worked for the Federal Reserve Bank in Salt Lake, and he sent me with a whole roll of Kennedy half dollars to give out to the Germans. I got one out of my pocket and handed it to her. I was surprised at her reaction. She said: Fuer mich? And she started crying and took off her glasses. Vielen, vielen Dank, she said. She looked at the coin and me, over and over and said, Jetzt bist du mein kleiiner Kennedy! We were fast friends from then on and she always called me her kleiner Kennedy. That coin sat in her curio cabinet from then on.

We got down to missionary work then, completed the 2nd discussion and then gave her the 3rd on the Word of Wisdom. She had been an avid coffee drinker all her life, but she committed to us to quit, which she eventually did. We made another appointment with her and had to run to the Bahnhof to catch the 5:30 train back to Ansbach.

The next several weeks kept us very busy traveling to Bamberg, Fuerth, Erlangen, Dinkelsbuel, and lllesheimfor Elder exchanges. Our visits to Rothenburg were short checks on her progress with reading the Book of Mormon and her struggle with coffee.

We look the train to Erlangen for an exchange and found one Elder had been transferred and a note for Elder Stobbe to call the mission home immediately. The Mission President told him he was going home a few days early for some reason. The next morning, I put him on the train for Munich. His farewell to Frau Hahn was in the form of a long letter.

My new companion came in on the train that afternoon. He was Elder Brent Chambers, another Elder with only months left to serve. We became life long friends, as he later was the German teacher at Provo High school and taught my children.

At our next appointment with Frau Hahn, she got to meet Elder Chambers and she fed us also. We gave her the 4th discussion with good results and a strong spirit. She invited us back the following week for Rothenburg's annual celebration of a medieval siege on the city and we got to watch the parade and the fabulous costumes from her 2nd story windows.

Frau Hahn had invited us to dinner on the 25th. She fed us a delicious meal and was very excited about the fact that she had won the battle with coffee.

On Sunday the 30th’ President Fetzer and his assistant, Elder Oldham traveled to Ansbach and attended and spoke in both our meetings. The members and investigators were overjoyed at this and the house was full. We were especially grateful that Schwester Hahn had come from Rothenburg, had attended the meetings, and got to meet President Fetzer. Unfortunately, they had other meetings and couldn't stay long.

We had made arrangements with Brother Hansen, an American member from the base at lllesheim, to take Schwester Hahn back to Rothenburg in his car.

Schwester Blei, a widow and one of our staunchest members, had met Schwester Hahn in church, and had been invited to visit her in Rothenburg. On the 5th, a Thursday, brother Hansen drove us all to Rothenburg, where we had a fabulous meeting with Schwester Hahn. It actually turned into a very movng, spiritual, testimony meeting. The sisters talked for hours, and even Brother Chambers could hardly get a word in edgewise. The Hansens enjoyed the time sightseeing.

At our next meeting, we had just begun finishing the 4th discussion, when a neighbor and close friend knocked on her door and we spent our remaining time talking and answering questions for her.

The following Monday morning, on a phone call to the Mission home, I was told I was being transferred to Hof as the Branch President. The next morning, the Zone leaders. Elders Schellenberg and Van Orden, came in their car and hand delivered my transfer. We all drove to Rothenburg so I could say goodbye to Frau Hahn. That was a very sad and tearful farewell.

From there we drove to lllesheim, so I could say goodbye to the Hansens. Early the next morning I boarded the train to Hof and sat next to Elder Cordell Bott, who was being transferred to Bamberg. So ended my time traveling between these beautiful, quaint, towns.

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Joe Stobbe and Fred Ward at a missionary reunion.
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Max Chambers who also taught Sister Hahn with Fred Ward

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Helma Hahn at the left, with the senior missionaries
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Rothenburg showing the steep roofed building where Helma Hahn lived, on the second floor.

Gary McClennen helped teach Helma Hahn the fith discussion after Elders Stobbe, Ward and Chambers were transferred.

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I was Kim's companion for 6 months in Ansbach and he has asked me to help complete the rest of Helma' story.
After she had gone through four of the discussions, there was a short lull in her teaching until Kim Young and I visited her in the summer of 1967. I remember going back to her home and helping with the 5th discussion. Shortly after this, the mission office transferred two missionaries into Rothenburg to help teach her and provide support. (Elder Bert Winterholler and Elder Harold Sellers.)

When the time came for her baptism, she had chosen to wear the dress that she had made for her burial. It was made out of heavy white cloth and worked perfectly for the baptism. I remember her being very happy with her decision to join the church. She attended the Ansbach branch as often as she could even though transportation was a challenge.

I was able to return to Germany in 1971 to perform with the BYU Young Ambassadors and was able to visit Helma again with several cast members after the tour had ended. She was very cordial and talked about her wonderful missionaries who had brought her the gospel. While she was speaking with us through an open window on the second floor, one of her friendly pigeons flew right up to the window to greet her.
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Former missionary, Gary McClellan, visiting Helma Hahn while he was touring Germany with the BYU Young Ambassadors.
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BYU "Startime" performers visit Sister Hahn - August 1969

Bert Winterholler and Harold Sellers Prepared Sister Hahn for Baptism

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Through the concentrated efforts and prayers of several missionaries over a period of approximately seven months, Sister Helma Hahn, the first member of the Church in the quaint medieval city of Rothenburg ob der Tauber, was finally led into the waters of baptism on August 12. Little Sister Hahn, a widow, has throughout her seventy-six years been seeking that which is, shall we say, "missing" in the church founded by Martin Luther's followers in the beginning of the sixteenth century and has not only investigated the Church of Jesus Christ, but also has had much association with the Seventh-Day Adventists and Jehovah's Witnesses, having also investigated quite intensively the teachings of both.

This proved to be one of the decisive factors in her later conversion to the restored Gospel. In January, because of the cleverness and spirit with which Br. William Stobbe went about his work, Sister Hahn began investigating something which had to do with "the Gospel in America." The spirit which ruled the last few weeks of teaching and prayer was one of humbling magnitude; giving both Br. Sellers and me the confidence that we were the tools of the Almighty in opening those last few doors in the final preparation of Sister Hahn for baptism.

Not to be overlooked however, is that part which the adversary attempted to play as he tried to create an atmosphere of confusion and chaos on up until the last few hours before baptism.

This sister bears testimony to the message of salvation which we, as chosen messengers of the Lord carry to her people and has that excellent character and spirit necessary to make the pioneer beginning in this city of Rothenburg o. T.

Sister Hahn, Br. Sellers, and I wish to express our gratitude to those who have taken part in the conversion and teaching, giving special thanks to Br. Kim L. Young and Br. Gary McClellan for their support and help during these
last few weeks.

Elders Winterholler and Sellers - from the mission newsletter 1967-68

Kimball Young, district leader, interviewed Helma Hahn for baptism.

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I remember interviewing Sister Hahn for baptism and the ordinance performed in Nuremberg.

She was very happy, humble, teachable, and filled with the Spirit. She was always a joy to be around. Her greeting from her second story apartment window when we rang her door bell in “the world’s most photographed house,” was always happy and welcoming.

She would drop the key, we would enter and climb the uneven steps to her apartment, and she would enthusiastically greet us.

I don’t think any part of the ancient structure was level. Despite that she navigated the “flat” well and resided there for years.

Sister Hahn’s contact and conversion, especially happening in the home depicted on the MTC training manual, was a dream come true.
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Sister Hahn at the window of her famous home, feeding her pigeon
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1896 photo of Helma's home.
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General Authority Hartman Rector and his wife Connie included the story of Helma Hahn in volume one of their series of books about conversions stories titled "No More Strangers"

A Promise Kept In Rottenburg

Like the proverbial bumblebee, the young missionary did not know that it couldn't be done. Impressed by the picture of the famous old house in the ancient German city, he determined that he would be the means of converting someone who lived there. He carried this resolution throughout his mission. Elderly Helma Hahn lived alone in the house. The missionary's inspiration was vindicated when she proved receptive to the gospel. Looked down on by the other citizens, she thanks God for the gospel, for the missionaries who brought it to her, and for the LDS visitors from far and wide who are constantly calling on the "only Mormon in town."

The background for the conversion of Sister Hahn of Rottenburg (pronounced Ro-ten-bearg), Germany, goes back to the Language Training Mission (LTM) in Provo, Utah. The cover of the textbook used by the missionaries to study German, called Deutsch fur Missionare, features a picture of one of the most famous houses in the medieval city of Rottenburg. While studying in the LTM, an Elder Stobbe, knowing only that he was called to go to the Germany South Mission and not realizing that Rottenburg was not open to missionaries, became enchanted with the romance this picture represented. As he studied, he made a silent vow to himself that he would bring the gospel to someone in that house. He did not then know that only one person lives in this famous old house-Helma Hahn.

Near the end of his mission, Elder Stobbe was transferred to Ansbach, about twenty miles from Rottenburg. Knowing this was as close to Rottenburg as he would get, he went with his companion to Rottenburg to search out the house pictured on the textbook. It was easy to find, because it is one of the most photographed houses in Rottenburg, which in turn is the most photographed city in Germany.

The door on the ground floor was open, so the elders entered, walked up the steep, ladder-like stairs and knocked on the door of elderly Helma Hahn's living room. The two elders were each about six feet tall. The little house is more than five hundred years old, and the ceilings are quite low.

Sister Hahn relates her experience in these words: "I answered the knock at the door and was immediately shocked and frightened to find two giants standing before me. I would have closed the door but for their smiling, pleasant faces and honest look. They introduced themselves as missionaries of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. When I heard the name of Jesus Christ and Latter-day Saints I was impressed, and I thought to myself, 'They cannot be bad men.'

"I invited them to come in. They told me the story of the restoration of the gospel. After they had finished their discussion, they asked if they might hold a prayer with me. Because of this, I invited them to return.

"As they continued to teach me, my feelings of having been brought the truth increased rapidly. I knew it would be necessary for me to be baptized again because my earlier baptism as a child was invalid, but I was fearful. My legs are not good, and it is difficult for me to get around, so I wondered how the baptism could be performed. However, I was determined to do it-and with the Lord's help I did! I made my own baptismal dress especially for this event, and upon it I used the embroidery I had been keeping for my burial dress."

Most of Sister Hahn's neighbors are members of the same families who have lived in Rottenburg for centuries. They dislike and are suspicious of change-and have kept their little city very much as it was in the twelfth century. They turn their backs on Helma Hahn since she has become Rottenburg's sole Mormon, this being the attitude she predicted but hoped would not occur. She is consoled in the knowledge that she has done the right thing, and she loves the restored gospel with all her heart. She enjoys sitting at her table by the window and reading the Book of Mormon which is always open there. Now she receives many letters and more visitors than she ever had before in her life-new friends from all over the world, so many Latter-day Saint tourists come to Rottenburg and the news gets around that she is there alone.

What is most important, there are many, many things to learn and very little time to do it in, as the gospel reached her very late in her life. She is very grateful to the special missionary who knew in his heart that there was someone there in Rottenburg who was ready to hear the message-someone who wouldn't mind being "the only Mormon in town."

Information about the conversion of Sister Hahn was supplied by Orville Gunther, former President of the Germany South Mission. Photo shows Sister Hahn lowering a key to President Gunther and his wife, when they came to visit her.