July 11, 2012
Helmuth Hubener Spread the Truth in Nazi Germany
In researching the Declaration of Independence and other Patriotic documents, we came across a remarkable story of courage. A German teenage boy stood up to Hitler during World War 2!
Helmuth Hubener was a typical German youth, with the exception of his membership in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. He participated in Boy Scouts until Hitler disbanded it. Then he participated in the Hitler Youth, a military-style training required of all German youth. He excelled in his training, often answering detailed questions of policy and procedure to his friends. He even wrote an essay in school extolling Hitler's ideas.
However, when he saw how Hitler's regime began to treat the Jewish people in Germany, his conscience began to bother him. One night called 'the night of broken glass' (Kristallnacht), the Hitler Youth and the Gestapo (German police) broke the windows of all Jewish-owned businesses and threw their goods into the street. Synagogues were burned to the ground. Kristallnacht was particularly upsetting to Helmuth. However, the final straw may have been the sign he saw on the Mormon church house declaring that Jews were not welcome to worship there anymore. This was typical of the times in other churches, but unusual for a LDS congregation. Helmuth had a young friend who was Jewish that attended their church services. Helmuth was deeply disturbed to hear him crying outside the door of the chapel when they began singing the opening hymn without him.
About this same time, Helmuths' brother came home triumphant after a military battle. He brought with him an old broken radio. Helmuth fixed it and began listening to newscasts. There were only three stations to which the German people were allowed to listen. Helmuth found a more interesting one, the BBC or British Broadcasting Corporation. BBC Broadcasters shared the latest news from the battlefront with more detail and a decidedly different point of view. Helmuth discovered that the newscasts were so different that one had to be right and the other wrong. He decided that the German broadcasts were full of lies and propaganda meant to pacify the German people into support of the war. The BBC must be telling the truth.
Helmuth was breaking the law by listening to the BBC, but he persisted and invited his two closest friends to join him. Rudy Wobbe and Karl Heinz-Snibbe were terrified about breaking the law. Daily they heard of people being arrested and tortured for doing just that. But Helmuth had more dangerous plans. He wanted others to learn the truth. And he wanted Rudy and Karl to help him get the word out. They all agreed that the first one caught would confess to everything and not implicate the others. This helped ease Rudy's and Karl's minds.
Because Helmuth was asked by the Branch President to write letters to the young men in the church serving in the military, Helmuth had the church typewriter in his home. Helmuth began to type up small postcard sized notes in several copies using carbon paper, alerting people to the lies Hitler's regime had been spreading. Helmuth brought home from work an official stamp that the Nazi's used to verify that papers were government-issued. Using that stamp, he made the postcards look official. Rudy and Karl took the cards and discreetly taped them to bulletin boards, streetlamps and stuffed them into mail slots and people's pockets. When this worked and no one was caught, they started making full-page diatribes about Hitler's lies. One's headline shouted, "Hitler is the real murderer." Over the course of several months, Helmuth made 60 different pamphlets and hundreds of copies that were spread around his neighborhood in the city of Hamburg, Germany.
The Nazis became aware of the tracts pretty quickly. The Gestapo thought that a college professor had written them, and they looked long and hard for clues to find the perpetrator. Hitler could not risk having people learn what he was really doing or the war would be undermined. The source of this information needed to be stopped, and more—they needed to make an example of him or her. The Nazis never suspected that the author was a 16-year-old boy! That may have helped Helmuth and his friends continue undetected a bit longer. A quote from one tract:
"German boys! Do you know the country without freedom, the country of terror and tyranny? Yes, you know it well, but are afraid to talk about it. They have intimidated you to such an extent that you don't dare talk for fear of reprisals. Yes you are right; it is Germany — Hitler Germany! Through their unscrupulous terror tactics against young and old, men and women, they have succeeded in making you spineless puppets to do their bidding."
Helmuth was caught after asking another friend of his to translate his most recent tract into French. This friend took the tract to an informer who called the Gestapo and Helmuth was arrested within the hour. In his bedroom they found the official looking stamp, the radio and the typewriter with another half-way finished pamphlet still in it.
Helmuth confessed to the charges boldly. He was charged with High Treason and Conspiracy against the government. He was beaten in prison and denied bed or blankets in his cold cell. In addition, although he did give his friends' names to the authorities due to torture, he told them he was the only one who was guilty. He tried to protect them by taking full responsibility for the pamphlets.
Rudy and Karl were also beaten in prison. A trial was held in which Rudy and Karl were given lengthy prison sentences for their 'minimal' involvement. Helmuth was sentenced to death. The court found that Helmut's writings showed an advanced maturity and therefore he was tried as an adult. The family lost the clemency appeal. Hitler himself refused the appeal and ordered the sentence to stand. Helmuth was killed a few weeks later at age 17.
The court allowed Helmuth to write three letters to his loved ones before his death. He wrote one to his mother, one to his grandparents and one to a family, which he knew from church. The last one survived the war, and part of it reads, "I know that God lives and He will be the Just Judge in this matter. I look forward to seeing you in a better world!"
Today these three boys are honored as heroes in Germany as Resistance Fighters. Streets have been named in Helmuth's honor in the city of Hamburg. Several books and a Play have been written and a documentary has been made about Helmuth and his friends.
Helmuth knew what was right and wrong from his study of the gospel of Jesus Christ. Weekly he attended church where he committed to follow Jesus' example and keep the commandments. When he learned of Hitler's true activities, his conscience led him to condemn Hitler and help others to see the truth. Risking all, he shared the truth and urged Hamburg citizens to see what was happening and stop Hitler. In addition, he showed amazing strength of character and courage when he was caught, tried and condemned to die.
I like to think that Helmuth remembered the story of Abinadi as he sat in his cold prison sell alone. Perhaps he drew strength from this Book of Mormon hero who testified boldly in King Noah's court. Surely, God strengthened and supported Helmuth as he had Abinadi.