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Posted 05 Dec 2001   For week ended November 23, 2001
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Sent on Mormon-News: 20Nov01

By Kent Larsen

LDS Missionary, Who Helped East Berliners Escape, Dead at 66

MORGAN HILL, CALIFORNIA -- An LDS man who helped those in East German escape to the west, while he was serving a mission in West Berlin for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, has died. Clarence Fuja, 66, was a Chicago native of Polish descent who joined the LDS Church after his parents sent him to "rescue" and return to Catholicism a brother who had joined the LDS Church.

Fuja was born October 30, 1935 in Chicago to a Polish family that had shortened its family name. Growing up in a Chicago Polish neighborhood, Fuja planned to go into the Catholic priesthood. But before he began, his family sent him to Indiana where a brother had joined the LDS Church. But instead of bringing the brother back to Catholicism, Fuja learne about the church and was soon baptised, leading to a rift with his parents that lasted many years.

In the early 1960s, after serving in the U.S. Army, Fuja was called to serve an LDS mission to Germany, and while serving in West Berlin in the period while the Berlin wall was built, he and a few other missionaries would slip into East Berlin after dark to help the people there escape to the West. Because the wall was under construction, those fleeing East Germany were shot on sight, if caught, "He loved America and he saw these people who had their freedom taken from them and he did as much as he could. He was definitely taking a risk. I am surprised he wasn't shot," said his son, Nathan. But, the son added, "He never bragged about it; he always told me it was frightening."

After returning from his mission, Fuja attended BYU, where he met and married his wife, Nancy, and earned an engineering degree in 1966. For more than 30 years he worked for defense contractor Lockhed, moving to Morgan Hill, California where he worked on defense-related projects such as the Trident Missle and "Star Wars" programs.

To family and friends, Fuja was known as a jokester, continually pulling the legs of colleagues, family and friends. He would make up goofy words and insist on pronouncing his last name differently from the rest of the family. "He was quite a character," said his wife Nancy. "He loved people, and everyone who knew him loved him." He was also known for thinking of others. After one of his best friends and neighbors died, Fuja made sure his widow, Jackie Matthews, was always invited to family outings and got flowers every Valentine's and Mother's day.

Last year, Fuja was diagnosed with cancer, eventually succumbing to the disease on October 31st at his home in Morgan Hill, just one day after his 66th birthday.


Clarence Fuja, aided those trying to flee East Berlin
San Jose CA Mercury News 13Nov01 P2
Mercury News


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