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