Latter-day Saint WWII concentration camp survivor discusses the atrocities of war and why we must build peace

Morgan Pearson is photographed with Marie Vischer Elliott, who survived a concentration camp as a young girl during WWII.

The Book of Mormon speaks of being poisoned by degrees (Alma 47). Although the story of Lahonti and Amalickiah is about war and deception, I’ve always thought it to be representative of the way evil works: subtly and ever so slowly easing us into extreme danger. As host of the All In podcast, I recently listened to Marie Vischer Elliott describe her family’s experience of becoming confined in a concentration camp, and I couldn’t stop thinking about this scripture.

“It came slowly, it came very slowly. And then you realize when you’re in the camp and then life in the camp became like it was always going to be like that. As a child, you didn’t know that there was going to be an end to this. In the beginning, the gate was opened,” Marie said. “My mother and I were still able to on a bicycle and buy stuff from the market, the open-air market, from the Javanese people. But eventually, the gates were closed and we just weren’t able to get any more food.”

As I listened to Marie describe the teaspoons of peanut butter she lived off in the beginning before going three days without food at times or as she spoke of losing her little brother Georgie following the war because of what he’d experienced, I found myself not wanting to ask the next question I’d prepared. I was asking someone to relive the worst memories of their life.

Finally, I told her this. I will always be grateful for the wise response of my new 85-year-old friend as she warned against the dangers of war and the need for peacemakers, not only in the world at large but in our families.

Listen to my full conversation with Marie Elliott in the player below or by clicking here. You can also read a full transcript of our conversation here.

The following excerpt has been edited for clarity.

Morgan Jones Pearson: I’ll be honest with you, sitting here and asking you questions and asking you to relive these things, I feel bad asking you to do that. And so when there are so few people that went through what you went through still able to share their stories. Why do you feel compelled now to share your story and share what you experienced and what you learned from it?

Marie Vischer Elliott: Okay, first of all, I want to say that to me, it’s incredible that you or other people don’t know and haven’t experienced what I experienced. To me, [it’s incredible] that other people are so interested in what I experienced, [because] to me it was a normal part of my life. I went through it and it was hard, but it is kind of incredulous that other people haven’t been through similar things or haven’t done this or known it.

I feel that people today and people to come need to know how bad war is—how bad. There are no winners in a war, there are only losers. Everybody loses in a war. People need to know that. Now, they started a war in Ukraine. My heart bleeds for those people. People need to know how bad and how awful a war is. They need to know. They mustn’t take for granted everything they have because tomorrow, the people in Ukraine, one day they had everything, the next day it was gone. They are in a war, they are fighting, and bombs are falling.

So every day, we have to live our lives to the best we possibly can. And remember, things will change tomorrow. We may have a disease so it may not even be war. It may be cancer, it may be something that just hits you. Today, you’re fine. Tomorrow, it’s gone. So every day, we need to be grateful for what we’ve got, the food we have, thank heaven for the food we have on the table, for everything that we have every single day, do not take it for granted. And people need to know.

Morgan Jones Pearson: Listening to you say that reminds me that if there are no winners in war, that causes us to want to build peace more. And so hopefully, that’s what your story will remind people of—the value of peace and building peace. And I just am so grateful to you for being willing to share it because like I said, I know that asking you to relive those things is not a pleasant thing. But you have been willing to do that for us today and in this book. And so thank you so so much.

Marie Vischer Elliott: Can I just say something? There are so many families, if we cannot have peace in our family, how is the world going to have peace? So I would like people to know how to make peace. If there’s a brother or a sister or whoever you have in the family that you haven’t spoken to, speak to them, make peace, love them. Love everybody you come in contact with. And you be the one that loves everybody and then you spread the love. And that’s how peace will go because if you cannot have peace within your family, the world is never going to have peace. There’s always going to be fighting.

Watch the All In conference special that featured Marie by clicking here or in the player below.

► You may also like: Watch: ‘All In’ podcast goes visual in a new KSL TV special

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