Olga and Jirí Snederfler kept their secret well. They didn’t even tell their young son and daughter that they were members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. As young parents in 1950s Czechoslovakia, their country’s Communist regime forbade religious freedom, so it was too risky to openly acknowledge one’s religious convictions. So the couple raised their children in a Latter-day Saint lifestyle without ever speaking the name of the Church.
“Our children knew we were different from their friends’ parents because we didn’t smoke or drink,” Olga told the Ensign in 1997. But the children didn’t know why their family was different until they were 12 and 8 years old and their parents began speaking more openly about the Church.
Years later Olga and Jirí would be crucial to the Church being officially recognized by the Czechoslovakian government. In a post on Facebook and Instagram on Tuesday, President Russell M. Nelson shared the Snederflers’ story, saying that official recognition “simply would not have been possible without the Snederflers’ courage and faith to follow the Savior.” The post came on World Freedom Day, commemorating the 1989 fall of the Berlin Wall and the collapse of Communism in Europe.
“Today is … a day to remember the bravery of valiant men and women who fought, and continue to fight, for freedom throughout the world,” President Nelson writes in the post.
He then recounts how the Snederflers, “despite great personal risk and sacrifice,” helped the Church “petition for recognition so that our members in that country could worship openly, instead of in secret.”
In a 2002 Ensign article, President Thomas S. Monson provided some background to these events. “When the Church wanted the Czechoslovakian government to again recognize it officially, the Communist leaders told us, ‘Don’t send an American or any other foreigner. Send a citizen of Czechoslovakia,’” President Monson recalled. “That was frightening because to admit then that you were a leader of any church meant that you might be in danger!”
With Brother Snederfler’s help as a Czech citizen, Church leaders, including then-Elder Russell M. Nelson, were able to meet with government officials. “I will never forget one pivotal meeting when Josef Hromadka, the new deputy prime minister of the Republic of Czechoslovakia, promised us that this recognition would come,” President Nelson says in his post.
But in the meantime, Snederfler had some work to do. He told the Ensign that during one of his meetings with government authorities, “the officials of the secretariat showed their true faces. … They tried to intimidate me into withdrawing the Church’s petition for official recognition. They even used threats, telling me what might happen to the Church members if we continued to pursue it.”
At his own peril, Snederfler responded forcefully: “I lost my patience and told them they had only two alternatives in order to get rid of us: either grant us official recognition and permission to worship publicly—or eliminate, lock up, or kick all of us out. I knew I could have landed straight in jail for saying that! But surprisingly they started to treat me with courtesy.” Despite that courteous treatment, Jirí still found himself on the secret police’s list of people dangerous to the state and was interrogated monthly.
Finally, after the Berlin Wall fell in 1989, the Communist government in Czechoslovakia began to crumble. Snederfler finally made significant headway with the new administration, and on March 1, 1990, the Church gained official recognition, bringing the gospel out of the darkness in Czechoslovakia. Later Jirí and Olga Snederfler served as president and matron of the Freiberg Germany Temple in former East Germany.
“As I think about Olga and Jirí Snederfler,” President Nelson writes in his post, “I am reminded that much of the bravery in the world goes largely unseen, and that the Lord often uses the unlikely to accomplish the impossible.”