Courage to Disobey

Yesterday was the birthday of a brave Latter-day Saint hero.

Helmuth Hübener was born on 8 January 1925 in Hamburg. He was third-generation LDS, part of a largely non-political family at a time and place where politics became an ever-increasingly urgent and potentially dangerous issue: interwar Germany. He was a Boy Scout until that organization was formally suppressed by the newly empowered Nazis. After middle school, during the height of WWII, while working for the Hamburg Social Authority, Hellmuth began, under the influence of some of his communist peers, to listen to enemy radio broadcasts, especially the BBC — an offense considered by the Nazis to be treasonous and punishable by execution. Based upon information gleaned from the radio programs, Hellmuth began to produce and secretly proliferate leaflets criticizing Nazi policies, calling into question the way the war was being reported in Berlin, and accusing Hitler, Goebbels and others of being, among other things, war criminals.

Hübener enlisted the help of a few close friends, Karl-Heinz Schnibbe, Rudolf Wobbe, and Gerhard Düwer, in typing and distributing his leaflets. They inconspicuously pinned the leaflets to bulletin boards, stuffed them into mailboxes, and slipped them into the coat pockets of unsuspecting passersby. In early 1942, as Hellmuth worked on French translations of his leaflets to distribute among POWs, he was denounced by a coworker and arrested by the Gestapo. He sat in prison until August, when he was tried and convicted of “conspiracy to commit high treason and treasonous furthering of the enemy’s cause.” He was sentenced to death and had his civil rights formally and permanently stripped. On 27 October 1942, Helmuth Hübener was beheaded at Plötzensee Prison. He was the youngest German national to be executed by the Volksgerichtshof.

This is a fascinating, provocative, and compelling story. It has been the subject of a number of literary, historical, dramatic, and even cinematic works, including a forthcoming feature film with Haley Joel Osment playing Helmuth Hübener. His was a fearless, morally outraged voice silenced by the violence concomitant with all forms of totalitarian rule. He denounced the “unscrupulous terror tactics” and “tyranny” then rampant in his homeland, warning his fellow Germans that the Nazis had succeeded in making regular citizens, “young and old, men and women” into “spineless puppets to do their bidding.”

But there is a more compelling, deeply unsettling part of this story for Latter-day Saints. You see, Hellmuth, as noted above, was a practicing and fervently believing Mormon. His suspicion of Nazis was catalyzed by, among other things, his LDS branch’s banning of Jews from attending worship services. His branch president, a well respected community member and Nazi supporter who played Hitler’s radio broadcasts during sacrament meetings when possible, excommunicated Hellmuth when his “crimes” were revealed by his arrest. For Hellmuth, doing what was manifestly right, obeying his conscience, meant not only risking arrest and execution but also defying priesthood authority. Hellmuth’s excommunication took place when local German Church leaders were out of contact with LDS authorities in the United States; nevertheless, his moral and mortal courage placed him at odds with and in defiance of his branch president (not to mention the majority of his fellow congregants).

Those LDS familiar with Hübener’s story are often quick to extol his courage in defying Hitler, but slow to remember his courage in disobeying his priesthood leaders. On the day of his execution he penned a letter to a fellow branch member that included the following passage:

“My Father in Heaven knows that I have done nothing wrong…. 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!”


  1. Did’nt he get reinstated after his death by Apostle Benson in the late 40’s or early 50’s?

  2. Yes, he was reinstated posthumously into Church membership, with a side note “excommunicated by mistake.” Still, the “mistake” in question was not a clerical error but a “mistake” on the part of a Nazi-sympathizing branch president.

  3. Jeremy Jensen says:

    Yup. According to Wikipedia, he was reinstated in 1946 and the excommunication was said to be a mistake.

  4. Kevin Barney says:

    I had not heard about the feature film treatment starring Osment. Any more details on when that might come out?


    I do not think its quite as troubling the PH part as your post implies. War and the threat of physical violence causes most of us to make accomodations with evil. The German civilian population was caught up in support of what later as the war dragged on bacome an obvious evil regime. I do not see any reason to think that LDS members in Germany at the time would be immune from the lure of Nazism at least initially in the 30’s and early 40’s.

    Similarily on my mission most of the church members in South Africa voted for the National Party the architect of Apartheid.

    There is a family in my ward who’s now deceased father and husband flew combat missions in the German Air force against the Russians. While shot down in Hungary behind the Russian lines he read the BOM for comfort.

  6. This is a complex story and one worthy of study by LDS and non-LDS alike. Helmuth is at once heroic and tragic. His resistance was brave, almost unbelievable in what he was able to accomplish, and short-lived. His punishment was severe, as he and his friends underwent terrible torture before his beheading and his friends sentencing to hard labor.

    That he could see a clear way and hear his conscience when those around him were all falling into lockstep with the surrounding culture is remarkable.

    The Church’s stand both within and without Nazi Germany is nothing to be proud of, though of course I am speaking only in generalities and not specifics. The Church, including Utah leaders, liked the genealogical aspect of Nazism, liked Hitler’s emphasis on racial purity and good health. The emphasis on obeying leaders, among other things, made Helmuth’s resistance all the more stunning.

    But, regarding his branch president, the card-carrying Nazi who loved Hitler and who excommunicated young Helmuth for resisting the fuhrer – issues still remain. After Helmuth’s and his friends arrest, the church was visited by the SS (if I remember correctly)more than once. While the branch president’s attitude and action may be reprehensible, the excommunication still might have saved members’ lives. Had the Branch President joined with Helmuth or even accepted Helmuth’s resistance, the whole church membership could have been shipped off to concentration camps or worse.

    This is NOT to say the Branch President was right. Rather I am just acknowledging the facts as I understand them.

    It was a terrible time. Helmuth was a shining light. I believe that on his birthday every year people in Germany read out loud the pamphlets he wrote denouncing Hitler. He is considered a hero in Germany and throughout Europe.

    But to us his actions and heroism are problematic, because a young boy could act so fearlessly, while many around him, including church leaders, actively supported Nazism or passively acquiesced.

    On the other hand, perhaps Helmuth could be brave because he was young. He had no wife or children to consider, for instance.

    What does it take to raise one’s voice in resistance and then to act upon one’s convictions? In the Church and within our own society(ies), this question demands revisiting. We do not risk death, only shunning. We risk no torture, only – sometimes – cruel mockery or harsh condemnation. But when one looks at the price of dissent, perhaps compared to Helmuth, the price is not much at all.

  7. bbell,
    That’s the thing—shouldn’t they (we) have been? From what I understand, your average German, early on, may not have known about the concentration camps, but he or she certainly knew about the oppression of the Jews. The regime did not “become” evil; it was evil to begin with.

    Of course, the implications and stakes were high—Hubener was executed for what he did. But what he did was unquestionably “right,” although I can’t say I’d be brave and/or foolish enough. I can only hope I would (while hoping I never have to confront the problems of Nazi Germany transposed to the 21st century United States).

  8. “12. We believe in being subject to kings, presidents, rulers, and magistrates, in obeying, honoring, and sustaining the law.”

    He obviously wasn’t a very good Mormon.

  9. Hubener is one of my LDS heroes, and I think that it is a real shame that we can’t talk about him more in Church as a example of conviction and integrity, because his excommunication (even if wrongful and later admittedly so) seems to be a black mark on the conformity of LDS Church life.

  10. Helmuth is a great hero. I wish his example was more well known, but I fear that both the idea of not following Priesthood and Government (ie 12 article faith) tends to make this story less known.

    His story is a great reminder that there are duties and allegiances higher than nation and church. If only more people had felt the gospel’s call to defend the victims. People like Helmut are a sign that Christ still lives.

  11. It is tragic that both Hollywood and Germany are prepared to honour Hellmuth, but we remain cautious about his story. This boy’s bravery should be extolled in every manual the church prints. “Hellmuth Huebener” should be a household name for every Mormon.

    That final letter home is heartbreaking. He was very sad that he would have to drink wine before the guillotine, a true Mormon to the very end.

    What a hero.

  12. Sam B.

    I have talked a lot with the family mentioned above about Hubener and how the LDS managed as German civilians during the war. As recently as Christmas week. Another commentator “Megan” or M is also in my ward and may have some insights from talking to them as well.

    My impression is that the German LDS members were on average simply average civilians. They were as much as anybody else caught up in the nazi nationalism as everybody else was. As the war dragged on and stories started to circulate from the Eastern front and the concentration camps according to this sister attitudes started to change amongst her fellow branch members. She is 83 or so and was a young married adult at the end of the war

  13. bbell,
    I don’t disagree with you. What I am saying, though, is, as LDS, don’t we have some sort of obligation not to get as caught up in (whatever evil trend there is, in this case, Nazi nationalism) as everybody else does?

    I don’t at all mean to condemn German members; I, as LDS, should do a lot that I don’t—I fall short constantly. But it I excuse my shortcomings (or someone else excuses them for me) because of those around me, I don’t get the same chance to grow and learn I otherwise could.

  14. I first heard about him from the BYU Tv channel. He was portrayed in a very good light and they had interviews from one of his friends who helped him. They didn’t mention his excommunication or reinstatement. He was denounced by his branch president who was very pro Nazi. However, they kind of spun that by supposing that the pro nazi branch president probably kept the branch from being ostracized by the Nazi’s after Helmuth’s efforts were discovered by the Nazi’s. After they found Helmuth, they went to his church where the leader excommunicated him and played Nazi radio for the branch members. To me it all smacks of the Lord doing what he can with the people he has available.

  15. I know it is easy to say how could they get caught up with Nazism, but arent we very caught up with Americanism and Patriotism? Granted there is no holocaust and Nazis were bad, but America and its deeds are not lily white either. What did LDS members do during Japanese interment, Civil Rights Era, or in times of war?

  16. Gunter Grass used Helmuth as a prototype for a character in the Tin Drum – later Grass, when admitting that he had served in the Nazi military as a boy – wondered publicly what was the difference between him and Helmuth Hubener? What made Helmuth ABLE to see and act differently?

    I think the question is critical. As parents, perhaps we need to be teaching our children to be more independent, more critical in their thinking, for instance.

    What I am trying to say is that perhaps we need to study what makes a person able to be a nonconformist, and nurture those qualities.

  17. I remember reading Thomas Roger’s play when it was first published. An interesting note is that the play, in my recollection, was only staged at BYU once or twice, and that at either BYU or the Church’s request, further stagings were discouraged, and Rogers reluctantly acquiesced, publishing the play in a book with three others he had written. The perception at the time was that there was much discomfort with the historical record, although the excommunication was not mentioned in the play, per my recollection.

    I’ve read a couple of other accounts, and the courage that it took to pull off his exploits puts Hubener in a special class of heroes for me. He even managed to slip his mimeographed leaflets into the menus of restaurants frequented by Nazi army officers.

    The branch presidents’ actions are reprehensible, yet it was revealed that Hubener, who served as the branch clerk, was using the church’s mimeograph machine to produce the leaflets. We don’t know for sure, but the branch president may have felt that he had no choice but to disavow Hubener and excommunicate him to save he and his branch members. The branch president was a Nazi sympathizer, perhaps even a party member, and may well have understood the dangers posed by Hubener’s actions.

    I still think the BP was wrong, but faced with being tried for treason, I can see how he justified his actions. Makes our occasional differences with church policy about things like gay marriage legislation seem pretty trivial.

  18. I should make myself a little more clear. Rogers was asked not to allow further staging of his plays, and as a professor at BYU, he agreed not to grant production rights, with the provision that he could publish the play in his book with the other plays. His play has not been performed again, to my knowledge.

  19. This is an amazing, fascinating story. I had no idea, and no one has ever mentioned Helmuth in any church meeting I know of.

    Is anyone concerned about the PR if a big Hollywood movie is made and Mormons are portrayed as Nazi sympathizers who excommunicate anti-Nazi heros?

  20. KevinF
    Just a note. From all accounts (and I think I have read them all) the BP was totally engaged by Nazism. The excommunication was not done to protect members, but rather was accomplished from a sense of righteous indignation.


  21. Meems #19,
    This would be an unfair portrayal. The history of the entire western church during Nazism is not pretty.

    Our sticking point is what has already been mentioned – aren’t we supposed to see things more clearly than others? If not, we should just admit that and, again, study what nurtures clarity of thought, courage of action, in the face of evils both great and small.

  22. Cheryl,

    Certainly the BP was a Nazi sympathizer, but to the extent that we don’t know what he was thinking, even though the external evidence is so damning, I hesitate to condemn him totally.

    I put in in these terms: What if your bishop discovered that his ward clerk was using the ward’s computer to host and maintain a website sympathetic to the Palestinian cause, and the FBI came to the bishop, threatening him with being an accomplice, and suspending the church’s tax-free status unless he cooperates? And all of this is done via a “National Security Letter” that he is not allowed to even acknowledge nor discuss with counsel?

    Wouldn’t that put him in an untenable situation where he might do the wrong thing?

    Hubener is definitely a hero in my book, but that doesn’t mean I have to find a scapegoat to offset him. The BP acted deplorably, but there could be multiple reasons for it. The good news is that the action was corrected, and Hubener’s membership restored.

  23. I saw a documentary about him on BYU TV, probably the same thing Daniel in #14 references, except the one I saw did mention that he was excommunicated and later his membership was reinstated. It’s available as a DVD, I think I ordered a copy for my parents, or maybe just rented it and watched it with them—they’re not LDS but I thought they’d appreciate the story, and they did.

  24. From BYULawReview (F. Gedicks):

    Although the First Presidency approved the posthumous restoration of Hubener’s membership by German LDS leaders following the war…church authorities have declined to endorse the morality of his anti-Nazi resistance and seem uncomfortable with publicity given to Hubener in that respect. For example, BYU Professor Thomas Rogers was pressured by church leaders not to allow further production of his play dramatizing Hubener’s resistance activities following its initial successful run at Brigham Young University in 1977…When asked to comment on the incident, Elder Thomas S. Monson of the church’s governing Council of the Twelve is reported to have questioned the wisdom of examining Hubener’s life at all: “Who knows what was right or wrong then? I don’t know what we accomplish by dredging these things up and trying to sort them out.”

    Monson’s quote must be seen in light of his work to achieve recognition for the church in East Germany,

  25. Ronan,

    Got a date on that Law Review, or Pres. Monson’s quote?

  26. I think the BYUTV doc suggests a change in the air regarding HH. This is to be welcomed.

  27. Kevinf,
    It’s just that the evidence is so damning. Before Helmuth’s heroism, the BP would lock the church doors and force everyone to listen to Hitler’s speeches, sometimes the entire branch membership, other times just the young people during their weeknight activities.

    I don’t mean to scapegoat the BP either. He was what he was.

    And while we can take comfort in the fact that the excommunication was corrected, there is no comfort to be gained by a young boy taken in and beaten, starved, and frozen for a very long period of time, made to answer (and answer he did) before a tribunal of hostile and powerful adult men, and unable to receive any comfort from his church community. The BP (if I remember) commanded the church members to have nothing to do with Helmuth, not to write him, etc. This was not out of fear for his church community, but, again, from all accounts, out of the BP’s sense of what was right and wrong.

    (This was the same BP that wouldn’t let a half-Jewish convert sing in the branch choir or even attend church there – BEFORE Helmuth acted and when there was no danger to his flock.)

    So sure, the excommunication was reversed. To me this is cold comfort. Yet at the same time I am not unsympathetic to the point of view that says people get sucked in. Hitler was a magnetic figure. He promised a lot of good things to his people. He was easy to believe in.

    And, for those new to this story, not all branch presidents were the same, and there were others who tried to help and do what they thought they could during this time.

  28. Rona,

    Disregard, he says, as he follows the obvious link.

  29. kevin,
    2003 no.4

    Better link.

  30. Monson’s quote is referenced in “Huebener Group Lauded in Hamburg”, SUNSTONE, Mar. 1985, p. 49.

  31. In correspondence with Professor Rogers a few years ago, he told me the performances of his play were now permitted. I think it has been performed again, but we’d have to ask him to be sure.

    I saw it during its run at BYU. It is/was one of the best–and most moving–plays I have ever seen or read.

  32. There is a good academic account by BYU history professor Blair Holmes called “When Truth Was Treason” (with a rather convoluted subtitle). Contains many of the primary documents including from the Gestapo which makes the story even more chilling.

  33. John Taber says:

    What amazes me is how many members out there believe the branch president was right to excommunicate, and the Brethren were wrong to overturn that. (Assuming it in fact happened – it’s my understanding that the only direct evidence of this was Hubener’s membership record with “Excommunicated” on it.)

    There have been times in the last few years (especially early 2003) when my ward has seemed a lot like that branch . . .

  34. John,

    Don’t regard my reticence to condemn the BP as thinking he did the right thing. I believe he was wrong, but his motives in the excommunication are unknown to us, which makes it difficult to judge.

    Also, Hubener was an AP holder, and as such, a branch president could have convened a disciplinary council (church court in those days) and excommunicated him. Had he been a MP holder, it would have required a council convened by the stake or district president. Current practice normally is that a bishop considering excommunication of a non-MP holder still consult with his SP before proceeding. Records of disciplinary councils are normally very closely held, and often shredded under some circumstances (normally when action is not taken, or at the end of informal or formal discipline when a person has had all restrictions removed. Excommunications I think require keeping the minutes, but for how long, I don’t know.

  35. Ronan,

    Thanks for the link and Monson reference.

  36. John Taber says:

    Salt Lake currently requires much more documentation than simply “Excommunicated” or “Disfellowshipped” written across a record. I have no idea what was required then, or how far it had to make it, but I don’t think there’s even preponderance of evidence that everything was kosher. (Especially if you consider all the circumstances.) And that could have been part of the First Presidency’s reasoning to declare the excommunication a mistake.

  37. Josh Smith says:

    “It was a close place. I took it up, and held it in my hand. I was a-trembling, because I’d got to decide, forever, betwixt two things, and I knowed it. I studied a minute, sort of holding my breath, and then says to myself:

    ‘all right, then, I’ll go to hell’–and tore it up.”

    –Huck Finn

  38. The Branch Presidenct cannot excomunicate anyone by simply writting “excomunicated” like he did. It takes a stake or mission presidency and a church court to do so. He was never really excomunicated, regarless of what that Nazi BP wrote on a piece of paper.

  39. Carlos,
    Unless I’m mistaken, a BP can excommunicate an Aaronic Priesthood holder, as young Hellmuth was. A MP holder needs authorization from higher up the chain. I also suspect that if his ex was illegitimate, there would have been no need to formally reinstate his name into membership records.

  40. Kevin Barney says:

    Like many Mormons I have a strong pragmatic streak, but I certainly thrill to Huebener’s courage and idealism. While Mormon pragmatism usually serves us well in disparate countries and political systems and times and circumstances, I certainly have to admire the Jehovah’s Witnesses who refused military service in Nazi Germany and were therefore severely persecuted, sent to prisons and even killed in concentration camps. This was a drop in the bucket next to what the Jews suffered, of course, but it was a hell of a lot more than what the get-along Mormons endured.

  41. Carlos, as noted in # 33 and # 39, a bishop or branch president can excommunicate non-Melchizedek PH holders, but doing it the way the article referred to in # 36, it would be categorized as wrong, or as Pres. Monson says, “a mistake”. One other item of concern would be that under current policy, someone accused of a felony would normally not be brought into a disciplinary council until the final verdict was rendered. In this case, the excommunication happened immediately after the arrest, while the boys were awaiting trial, also by today’s standards, a mistake.

    But I fear that we have gotten a bit far afield from Brad’s post, which was talking about defying your PH authority.

    Anybody have a recent example where you have been tempted to resist your bishop or SP?

  42. Cany anybody recommend a good book about Hellmuth’s story? I’ve seen/perused several, but am curious which one might be best to acquire.

  43. I wonder what punishment would have been received by an American or English youth who distributed leaflets during the war parroting German propaganda and accusing Roosevelt and Churchill of war crimes. Probably not death, but probably not nothing.

  44. Kevin,

    I for one am glad that the 2-3 German LDS people I know who survived the war did not die in concentration camps.

  45. I have to second kevinf’s recommendation. While I have immensely enjoyed the comments thusfar, disobedience to Priesthood authority in the face of ethical imperatives is at the very heart of my post. Whether the BP in this case was right or wrong or followed the technically proper protocals in taking the positions he did or excommunicating Brother Hübener is beside the point. Young Hellmuth’s courageous acts were in direct contravention to the express wishes of his priesthood leader.

    He knew he was disobeying God’s representative on earth (the BP was the highest priesthood authority, duly ordained, with which Hellmuth had contact during the period of his resistance), but chose to obey God instead.

  46. Brad,

    Here’s a not-so-hypothetical example:

    Last year, when the most recent legislation concerning same-sex marriage came up in the Senate, our SP asked stake and ward leaders as a group, I believe at the request of someone higher up the chain in authority, to write to our Senators expressing our opposition to the legislation.

    I agonized for a couple of days, as I had mixed feelings. I have long looked at civil unions as being an acceptable arrangement, but ultimately have taken the approach towards same sex marriage as something I disagree with, but which I see no harm for me or for society.

    I prayed about it, got no answer, and so I went ahead and wrote a brief letter indicating that while I supported civil unions, something about a slippery slope regarding same sex marriage made me uncomfortable. In reality, I was uncomfortable writing the email in the first place, knowing it was not what I truly felt. As soon as I had sent the emails, I regretted it. It wasn’t really how I felt, and I’m not happy that I did it. I’m sure that many would disagree with me, but if it comes up again, I intend to keep to my convictions.

    Kind of lame, I think, for what you were asking, but it shows how hard it is to go against the direction of our leaders. I’m not proud of myself.

    Note, this is not meant to start a discussion about the merits of SS Marriage, only about the difficulty we have as a culture, going against the expected norms of behavior.

  47. Within a mission, only the mission president has authority to convene a disciplinary council. He may delegate that authority to any three elders, but their decision is subject to his review and approval.

    If the same policy were in effect in 1942, there would have been no way to convene a church court for Huebner–since there was no mission president in Germany and there would have been no way to communicate between the responsible brethren in the U.S. and the German church leaders.

    Of course, who knows what policy was in effect in German-occupied Europe during 1942.

  48. Mark,

    I am assuming you mean a mission where there are not stakes. Otherwise, none of the 7 stakes in our mission could conduct DC’s, so you must be referring to areas where the only local authorities are district and branch presidents. I’d have to see the Handbook to verify, but that could be correct.

  49. kevinf (#46):

    When my state’s SSM vote came up a couple of years ago, I was uncertain how to proceed as well. Me feelings about the issue were similar to your conclusions. But I was unsure how to vote even while standing in line. In the end, I had arrived too late and the polls closed before I could get in to vote.

  50. Kevin Barney says:

    bbell #44, as am I.

    My point is that I know my own character, and I’m a very practical and pragmatic person. So my guess is, were I in Huebener’s situation, I probably would have tried to fly under the radar, live day to day, try to get along, and survive to fight another day. That probably would have been the smart play. Or if I did print and distribute the flyers, I would have kept it all closer to my vest and been more circumspect about who I let in on the secret.

    Knowing that I probably would have played it safe just makes me admire all the more the stubborn actions of folks like Huebener, who were willing to put their lives in jeopardy for the sake of principle.

    I kind of think of it like a quarterback on third and ten dropping back to pass, the receivers are all covered and the blitz is bearing down hard. The smart, experienced quarterback throws the ball away, doesn’t turn it over, the team punts the ball and turns it over to the defense. In other words, you live to fight another day.

    But some quarterbacks, the ones that are likely to capture the public imagination, prefer to play it high risk/high reward, to fling the ball into double coverage and take their chances. They might win the game on one throw, or they might be intercepted for a touchdown and lose it just as quickly. That’s probably not the smart play, but it certainly has more drama, and I can admire that quarterback’s chutzpah, even while recognizing it’s not what I would do.

  51. #46, The letter to American Saints regarding the Senate vote regarding the marriage definition asked members to “express themselves” on the issue. The letter also reminded church members of the position of the 1st pres and 12 apostles. The letter did not explicitly say HOW members should express themselves.

    #47 Regarding Church discipline, I don’t know what church policy was in Europe during WW2, but according to 1998 CHI, “The bishop administers most Church discipline. He has authority for the discipline of all members in his ward, except the excommunication of a member who holds the Melchizedek Priesthood.” Since Helmuth was 17, I assume he did not hold the MP. As such, a Bishop (or BP) could have excommunicated him if policies were the same as CHI 1998.

  52. Perhaps I have been fortunate, but I have never had a priesthood leader ask me to do something with which I had an ethical conflict. If that were to happen, I hope I would act the same way I have with managers at work who have demanded such actions – by simply stating that I couldn’t do it in good conscience. If the leader insisted, I would promise to pray about it and give my answer the next day. If my prayers changed my opinion, I would do it; if not, I would renew my refusal – hopefully in a humble and simple manner.

    At least, that’s what I hope I would do.

  53. A couple of earlier posts seemed to imply that the church hasn’t been promoting this due to either indifference or because its an awkward subject. A number of years ago, I’m pretty sure Deseret Book heavily promoted a book about Hübener in Utah, radio and print ads and all. Not that they’re an official mouthpiece, but of course they don’t touch material that’s awkward to the Church. I didn’t read the book, so I couldn’t tell you what it said about the branch president. While the Church is pretty good at emphasizing core history and events that have directly affected the church, I’ve never gotten the sense that publicizing this kind of thing was a priority at headquarters. Maybe Elder Jensen will eventually be able to influence that as well.

    In Milwaukee, our stake patriarch had grown up a church member in Germany and fought (and nearly died) in the German army. One of the most spiritual men I’ve ever met — he was on the high-council speaking schedule if for no other reason than his talks were spiritual feasts of a apostolic order of magnitude. His assessment of the attitude of Germany toward the church was, “You stay out of our way and we’ll stay out of your way.” He told me that he had been leery of the Nazi cause, but fought for his country because that was what he’d been asked to do and he wasn’t in a position to decline. I got the sense that he saw this as a pretty common attitude among his fellow members.

    I bring this up only because he certainly didn’t risk and sacrifice all like Helmuth Hübener. One could even say he acquiesced to evil, although I never heard this patriarch describe his service for Nazi Germany in anything but the most straight-forward terms. There was no sense that he felt he needed to explain himself or beat his breast for firing on Americans in service of Hitler. He did what he thought he had to do, and I believe the Lord accepted his sacrifice just as He certainly accepted Hübener’s much more daring sacrifice. I’m uncomfortable with what amounts to judging the German members for not behaving more like Hübener. We don’t have all the same gifts or missions in life. This spiritual giant was comfortable with his decision in a very awful circumstance, so I’m a little less prone to question someone who chose not to openly defy those who would kill them for their defiance. I hope I never learn what I would do in such a circumstance.

    One minor point: As to Hübener’s branch president, whether he had earthly authority or not to excommunicate is mostly a moot issue, and calling it a mistake on church records was nothing more than a formality. Just as no earthly ordinance is effective in heaven until sealed by the Holy Spirit of Promise, neither is an excommunication effective in heaven unless ratified by the same Spirit. (Hope that doesn’t turn into a thread-jack!)

  54. Thomas Rogers was asked to not promulgate his play for fear it would cause LDS members in Eastern Europe to become martyred. I’ve a copy of his Lawrence of Arabia play somewhere around the house.

    I’m hoping the movie is based on the play.

    BTW, in an ironic twist, Communist readers theatres in the Berkley area put on productions of Hubener.

    I’d also note that the bishop eventually ended up living in Salt Lake City and the play is very kind to him.

    I’d note that when I was at BYU there was at least one professor in the German department who had been in the armed anti-Hitler resistance. There are still heroes.

  55. #53 – Thanks for that insight.

  56. It is disheartening to me to see how few of the comments above reject the premise that disobeying priesthood leaders is courageous. The Lord compared priesthood leaders to watchmen on the tower. The implication is that they are able to “see” things that the rest of us can’t. This does not mean that they are perfect, but it means that they are intended to be a check against misperceptions of the Spirit and general wackiness. In our day, the General Authorities did not encourage rebellion against totalitarian regimes, even though it may have been justified under other circumstances. The reason is that they had a vision of the future in which the growth of the Church would be benefited by that approach. Having seen the results often enough, I can assert that disobedience against priesthood leaders is usually not courageous, but spiritually very risky.

  57. Rick, so you’re siding with Hubener’s branch president?

  58. disobedience against priesthood leaders is usually not courageous

    Such disobedience may or may not be courageous. But siding with murderous totalitarian regimes to save one’s skin, no matter how pragmatic, is never courageous.

  59. #16 above correcting myself.

    Gunter Grass wrote Ortlich Betaubt (Local Anesthetic) based on Helmuth Hubener and his group (not Tin Drum as I wrote).

    Also, regarding the THomas Rogers play, Dewey writes in Hubener vs. Hitler that in was produced by BYU in Oct. 1976, was restaged at BYU in 1992 and by Rogers in Bountiful in May 2003.

    Regarding the question in the post and reiterated by Brad in #45, I think that obedience to authority – no matter the authority – has to be informed and thoughtful, and should never be a “given.” Obedience by its nature is vertical and hierarchical, while true relationship is horizontal.

    IMO, of course.

  60. Hübener’s story was also documented in the 2003 movie, “Truth & Conviction,” written and directed by Rick McFarland and Matt Whitaker. The movie was sponsored by the BYU College of Humanities.[2]

    The book “Faith in Conflict, Vol. 1: Hübener vs. Hitler; A Biography of Helmuth Hübener, Mormon Teenage Resistance Leader,” by Richard Lloyd Dewey, was published in January 2004.

    “Truth & Treason” is a movie in pre-production for a 2008 release. Haley Joel Osment has been cast as Helmuth Hübener. The script is by Ethan Vincent and Matt Whitaker who is also the director.

  61. Also, regarding the BP (Arthur Zender), the survivors of the Hubener group (Rudi Wobbe and Karl-Heinz Scnibbe) never spent much time condemning him and in fact maintained some kind of relationship with him for many years.

    I think the value for us in remembering Helmuth is
    1) the same as it is for other non-LDS who remember him: he becomes an example of standing and acting for the right in the worst kind of circumstance.

    2) As LDS the story of Helmuth Hubener provides for us a cautionary tale of what church membership provides and doesn’t provide in terms of seeing clearly the culture around us.

    3) It doesn’t take personal experience to recognize prejudice for what it is. Helmuth didn’t know very many Jewish people, and as far as anyone knows had no Jewish friends, except for the half-Jewish convert already mentioned who was forbidden to worship with the saints in Zender’s branch, and who ended up in Auschwitz. Yet Helmuth’s pamphlets included arguments against the Jewish persecutions encouraged by Hitler.

  62. Sam Kitterman says:

    Having served my mission in Southern Germany and during my mission, having spoken at length to Germans (members and non-members) about what it was like in Nazi Germany (visiting the camps gives one no idea of what it was like for your average German living under Nazi rule), I can only suggest we who never lived in such a climate have no real inkling of what it was like for members during that time period. Why the German people followed or otherwise did not resist Hitler has been the subject of so many books and viewpoints that that should make one point clear, the issue is not as easy as some would believe.

    Yes, the historical documentation makes it evident the BP was a devout member of the “Party” and did use his position as BP to keep his congregation “faithful”. But as some of the members of that branch indicated in letters or interviews, members of a church founded in America put you under scrutiny of the local police and Gestapo. They sought to separate what they saw in their BP’s “faith” in Hitler from what their faith in God taught them to follow. But to simply brush the BP as a Nazi regarding whatever action he took is akin to those who brush Mormons with the brush of “cult” or “lemmings”, or any group. If he had not taken that action, that branch in itself would most likely not have been allowed any type of activity, if not faced interrogation and other actions once Huebner’s activities were discovered and his use of church equipment was confirmed.

    I am also not attempting to justify what the BP did. I have read most of the books, including the original historical documents in German, and thus, can only say the focus on Huebner’s story should be an example of what it means to do what you know what is right “no matter what follows”. It is evident from the book detailing one of his friend’s involvement with him that although they knew what they were doing was in violation of the law, they did not think it would result in his being executed (beheaded). In the beginning it was to them more of a “lark” or a “dare” but as they became more involved, they began to realize there were true danagers to their activities but they didn’t stop. Listening to the BBC at night gave them real reason to realize the Government was not telling the truth (geez, who’s in the role of the BBC for us these days?).

    Those of us who had real issues with the SSM amendment could have learned from that. I did not support the local activities, refused to participate in the “voluntary” walks around our neighborhoods. On the other hand, I didn’t put my name in the limelight as being a Mormon who was against the SSM amendment, or anything along those lines. I did talk to members if they asked me but I didn’t put out flyers like Huebner.

    However, I do remember telling my bishop at the time I did not support the Church’s position to which he stared at him and say with a tone of concern, “But, Sam, it’s from Salt Lake!”.
    And I simply reminded him agency was a principle even God can not set aside. He can make it difficult when He wants a servant to do something but it is still eternal.

    And the story of Bruder Huebner is for me one which is on my bookshelf next to any hero from the scriptures or from history (church or otherwise)

    My apologies for the length of my response….

    Sam Kitterman

  63. Sam #64,
    Excellent comments.

    Excellent discussion generally.

    Brad, thanks for the post.

  64. Thanks for your participation as well, Cherylem.

  65. I don’t quite follow how Hellmuth’s political activities and even “criminal” activity amounts to not following his priesthood leader. Hellmuth’s political views differed from those if his BP-so what? Many church members have political disagreements with church leaders. Those disagreements, even accompanied by arguments and shouting matches, do not add up to “defying priesthood authority.”

    Any Mormon can, with a clean conscience, vote different than his or her priesthood leader. They can even, with spiritual impunity, publicly advocate the adoption of policies with which their priesthood leader may personally, strongly disagree. That would not be defying priesthood authority because in those circumstances there is no priesthood authority. Local priesthood leaders do not have any priesthood authority to promote or attack a particular political ideology or to spiritually punish members who disagree politically, even with their strongly held political views.

    So far as can be gleaned about this fascinating, tragic story, Hellmuth’s activities did not publicly call into question any church doctrine or teaching. Political disputes, even between a proponent of a murderous, fascist regime and a proponent of something else, do not carry the patina of priesthood authority where one proponent is the priesthood leader.

    At best, Hellmuth disagreed with another member of the Church on a political matter(s), who also happened to be his BP. Unless the matter was something that involved the Church or its doctrines or the personal worthiness of Hellmuth, there was no priesthood authority to defy. The priesthood isn’t used to browbeat members into following one political ideology or another, no matter how corrupt, evil or vile a particular ideology may be.

    I write this with the standard caveat: Hellmuth was clearly on the correct side and his BP on the wrong side. As a lifelong, active member this is the first I’ve read about Hellmuth, and that is a tragedy. We should all be as familiar with this story as we are with the more pedestrian Utah/Idaho/Arizona farmer triumph over tragedy bon mots we are regularly fed during GC and other settings.

  66. #57 should have referenced #47, not #43. I wasn’t trying to thank myself. (I promise, Steve.)

  67. I don’t think this has been mentioned so far in the thread, but here is a link to the upcoming film’s website: Truth and Treason.

    The production company, Kaleidoscope Pictures, has a Provo address. Noticing this, I first wondered whether the film, if made by Mormons, would gloss over Hubener’s excommunication. However, the description of the company’s other upcoming film, The Color of Love, seems to indicate that the company is not afraid to approach controversial subjects. One can only hope that they’ll have the courage to tell Hubener’s full story.

  68. #67 – Excellent point.

  69. Steve #59, and Brad #60:
    I am not siding with the BP. Clearly, my point is that disobedience to priesthood leadership is not a virtue, contrary to the tenor of much of the discussion, as well as the title of the post.

  70. 55: Nope, Tom Rogers was not asked not to promulgate his play. (I was in it.) We were scheduled to take the play to California. Thomas Monson came to see it, and suddenly the trip to CA was canceled. VARIOUS reasons were given (the most prominent which I remember being, “Huebener wasn’t Joseph Smith,” whatever that means). And the “kindness” Tom did to the branch president was to use a pseudonym for him. Otherwise, the character was a true Nazi, fully committed to National Socialism and not at all averse to putting a “Juden Verbotten” sign on the church door.

    Tom actually went to the bakery where the real former BP (still an active Mormon) was working in Salt Lake. Tom didn’t introduce himself, but simply observed the man. During the run of our play that former BP had a heart attack. According to Tom, the guy had a genuine fear that a Jewish organization would come after him as they had Eichmann. (The former BP, whose name I still don’t know, has since passed away.)

    I like Tom’s play, especially the fact that it relies so heavily on the actual court documents. It was also interesting to have people who had known Huebener (including two co-conspirators, Rudde Wobe and Karl Heinz Schnibbe) attend the play. Others, including Neal Chandler, have written about Huebener as well. I would love to see another playwright–maybe Tim Slover–take it on from the perspective of the BP.

  71. So far as can be gleaned about this fascinating, tragic story, Hellmuth’s activities did not publicly call into question any church doctrine or teaching.

    “We believe in being subject to kings, presidents, rulers, and magistrates, in obeying, honoring, and sustaining the law.”

    my point is that disobedience to priesthood leadership is not a virtue

    My point is that sometimes it is.

    In this particular case, it is obedience that is not a virtue, at least that’s the way I’m reading it. If you’re inclined to disagree, that’s your prerogative, but blanket statements about the un-virtue of disobedience don’t exactly ring in harmony with claims that you’re not taking the BP’s side. If you’re saying that Hellmuth was un-virtuous for disobeying the BP, I’m not sure what other conclusion to draw.

  72. Brad #73:
    You’re setting up a straw man; I didn’t even mention Heubner in my comment. I stand by what I wrote: disobedience to priesthood authority is not a virtue. Like every virtue, obedience may lose its value when practiced to extreme or in the wrong context. That doesn’t negate its status as a virtue.

  73. As #67 says so well, a priesthood leader’s words are not always spoken through Priesthood *authority* – especially when that leader uses compulsion to try to elicit that obedience. “Amen to the Priesthood of that man” couldn’t be any clearer. Therefore, disobeying a priesthood leader can be very different than disobeying Priesthood authority. That seems to me to be the central distinction in this case. (and I say this as one whose default is to do what I am asked to do by my Priesthood leaders)

  74. Rick,

    In my opinion, the idea that anyone has any general obligation to obey a priesthood leader is a first class heresy. The Church is not a divinely ordered despotism. D&C 121:41-43 is there for a reason.

  75. Guy Noir Private Eye says:

    John Doyle Lee, who was scapegoated by BY re the Mountain Meadows Massacre, was also ‘reinstated’ by LDS Inc.
    Same lesson: Sometimes it is better to disobey.

  76. Stephanie says:

    This is so interesting to me. I have always been uncomfortable with the 12th Article of Faith. I’ve wondered if people who were involved in such resistance would be considered disobedient…

    Here is a link to the upcoming film’s imdb page:

    #15 – I know it is easy to say how could they get caught up with Nazism, but arent we very caught up with Americanism and Patriotism? Granted there is no holocaust and Nazis were bad, but America and its deeds are not lily white either. What did LDS members do during Japanese interment, Civil Rights Era, or in times of war?

    I would even take this a step further and mention getting caught up in the “War on Terror” and other such Bush nonsense.

  77. Stephanie,

    The twelveth article of faith notwithstanding, I don’t think any responsible person is going to say that there is never an occasion when civil disobedience is justified.

    The reason why we obey the laws of civil authority is that the consequence of not doing so would be far worse. The primary purpose of government is to maintain a monopoly on coercive force. Much better to be coerced by the legislature than any random guy walking down the street.

  78. If we invoke the “kings and rulers” passage from the 12th article of faith, what do we make of Abinadi? I think there’s a loophole that both Abinadi and Hubner would fit through: we are subject to governmental leaders to the extent that that adherence constitutes “obeying, honoring, and sustaining the law.” If the law is corrupted and thus dishonorable (as was the case with Hitler’s case as well as King Noah), can we really be held to it under article 12?

    I felt strongly enough in the negative that when the documentary on Hubner came out I approached my Stake President and asked if I could show it to the teachers quorum (I was YM 1st counselor at the time). My SP gave it his full support. His son was among the boys in the teachers quorum.

    Hand-wringing over Hubner’s defiance of his Nazi bishop is nonsense. Pure nonsense. Anyone who sees his story as a slipper slope is in desperate need of better shoes.

  79. Woops — make that “slippery slope.”

  80. To be honest, this is the first blog I have ever read or responded to (an ‘age’ thing, I guess). But i learned a great deal from it:

    1) The Huebener story has perennial appeal.

    2) Each succeeding generation re-discovers it; and the forthcoming feature film, whose script’s principal author/director and producer have graciously shared it with me while designedly avoiding my treatment, will broadly promote further awareness of the subject: I anticipate that it will be artistically arresting and have immense impact.

    3) As earlier, it’s a tremendous catalyst for thoughtful and at times heated discussion of both grand principles and also such seemingly unrelated issues as SSM.

    As a playwright, I was very fortunate to get in on that discussion’s ground floor.

    Tom Rogers

  81. Invoking the 12th article of faith suggests that Hubener got what he deserved with respect to the Church. He intentionally and purposefully broke the law, i.e. did not honor or sustain the law. Therefore, according to your stretching of the story, not only did Hubener risk his mortal life by standing up to the Nazis, but he risked his spiritual life as well!?!?!? That is an odd construction of possible penalties for civil or criminal disobedience.

    The story is fascinating on its own, without trying to turn Hubener’s situation into something it wasn’t. C’mon already, the young man was beheaded by a monstrous regime for nonviolently speaking out against the regime. He was an outstanding example of LDS faith. I think you’re reading way more into his dilemma by adding a faux element of defying priesthood authority. It’s not there.

    Turning to today, if a member is involved in defrauding people and ends up convicted, has she also defied priesthood authority? If a member intentionally violates election law through shady fundraising activities in support of X candidate and that member’s priesthood authority is strongly opposed to X candidate, has that member then defied his priesthood authority? There may be grounds for some type of church discipline in both cases-I’m not sure-but if so, it won’t be because of defying priesthood authority.

  82. Tom Rogers says:

    PS to Maggie (Margaret Blair Young):

    At such a young age, you were magnificent as Helmuth’s mother in the premiere performances of the play. Look forward to re-visiting those evenings in the forthcoming Spring issue of “Dialogue,” which will feature an in-depth interview with Yours Truly about his Mormon plays, including a publicity photo featuring you and your then heart throb, the actor who portrayed Huebener with equal artistry and passion, Russ Card. (Orson Scott’s brother, of course. Where is he these days?)

    Tom Rogers

  83. Nick Literski says:

    I would point out that the scriptures indicate virtue in resisting priesthood authority for the right reasons. In particular, I’m thinking of Abraham and Moses. Each of these men received direction directly from deity, which came into conflict with their own compassion toward their fellow men. In each case, they refused to simply obey the original direction. Instead, they actively negotiated with deity, and prevailed. Moses even went so far as to demand that his own name be blotted out from the “book of life,” if he was expected to follow the original direction from deity.

    I’m sure some will be uncomfortable with these accounts. Some will even resort to silly rationalizations about how “that’s what deity really wanted all along.” There is nothing textual to support this, however. These men resisted priesthood authority to the point of refusing to obey the direction of deity, and they were actually blessed for it.

  84. Kevin Barney says:

    Tom, what an honor to have you join in the conversation here. Thank you so much for stopping by. I’ll look forward to the Dialogue spread you mention.

    (Tom and I sat in a number of classes together, because he used to audit Greek classes I was taking as a young student. I was so impressed that an established scholar was willing to do that. And he was a great mission president in St. Petersburg; my friend [now deceased] Jeff Flint raved about him.)

  85. Steve Evans says:

    Bye, Guy Noir.

  86. A blast from the past:

    Sunstone review of Huebener

  87. When was Tom Rogers MP in Russia?

  88. Kevin Barney says:

    93-96. You can read all about it in his fine book, A Call to Russia.

  89. I seem to remember the BYU doc I saw mentioning something about the church members being fearful of the Nazis either harming them, or the church’s standing in Germany, and that may have motivated the excommunication. But my memory isn’t the best. Can someone with more knowledge add any light?

  90. Wonderful to communicate with one of my heroes (Tom Rogers) via the bloggernacle. I understand you’re serving as a Patriarch in Russia, Tom. How wonderful!

    As for Russ–I think he became a businessman.

    I will indeed look forward to the upcoming _Dialogue_.

  91. 93-96. You can read all about it in his fine book, A Call to Russia.

    Ha, what a coincidence. I just bought that for my wife for Christmas (she’s an RM from St. Pete.)Hot diggety.

  92. Brad–thanks for this post. My Grandparents lived across the street from Rudde Wobbe and I remember reading his book, Before the Blood Tribunal when it was still in self-published format. I was in junior high, I think, when I read it and I remember thinking how brave all of the young men involved were to stand up to the Nazis. Even at that idealistic age I wondered if I would have had the courage to do what they did.

  93. That was really cool to see Tom Rogers here.

    Hübener’s story is very compelling and one worth telling and retelling. I have been blessed to hear Karl-Heinz Schnibbe speak about his experience and to hear him describe first hand the treatment that he and Hübener received at the Gestapo detention center in Hamburg before Hübener was tranferred to Berlin and then beheaded as the youngest political opponent sentenced to death under the Nazi regime.

    I was also highly privileged to have studied under Alan Keele at BYU who has become an authority on Hübener and his resistance movement (Alan F. Keele, When Truth Was Treason: German Teenagers against Hitler, Champaign, University of Illinois Press, 1995), including its influence on German Noble Prize for Literature winner (1999) Günther Grass, who built the story into his post-war fiction.

    But despite my deep interest in this episode, I have never been able to see Thomas Rogers’s play Huebener performed, although I have really wanted to do so. I almost caught a showing at Dixie State College three years ago and also blogged about him at that time over at ABEV.

    We will never know the real reason that Hübener was excommunicated by his local church leader (he was not excommunicated by SLC and SLC immediately reinstated him after the war). There is good reason to believe that he did so purely out of devotion to the Nazi party, I suppose. But despite what we do not know about the Branch President’s intentions, we do know that when Hübener was arrested it put the branch in danger. The branch came under the scrutiny of the Gestapo — a terrifying prospect. Those in the branch who sympathized with Hübener were questioned, such as Otto Berndt, a man I have met and spent time with in Germany. Members of the branch, including Berndt, were threatened.

    As to the point of this post, that sometimes it is optimal or the most moral thing to disobey priesthood leaders, I think it might be a strawman because we would have to know at least two things to conclude that Hübener was defying priesthood authority or disobeying his priesthood leader by opposing the regime:

    (1) Did the Branch President instruct members of the ward not to oppose the regime (this is not the same as openly supporting the regime, I would think);

    (2) Did Hübener view his actions as defying or disobeying a priesthood leader?

    I do not think it is enough to point out that the Branch President excommunicated Hübener. That is something that happened after Hübener acted.

    Another reason that this could be a strawman is that, to my knowledge, the Church does not teach that there is never an exception to the general principle of obeying or sustaining priesthood leaders. Nick L. points out some good scriptural examples above. There is also no rule that people must follow the political leanings of a priesthood leader; to the contrary the Church continually makes statements against the latter.

    Hübener was likely not disobeying priesthood authority at all; he surely knew of his Branch President’s political preferences and acted differently but it is a leap to suggest that this equated with defying or disobeying a priesthood leader any moreso than you voting contrary to your Bishop’s strongly held political views. Excommunication after the act, especially in this case, is not evidence that when Hübener acted he was defying or disobeying the leader.

    Nevertheless, I agree that what Hübener did was right; I just don’t see it as an instance of defying priesthood authority.

  94. Perhaps this is moving a little too far from “disobedience to Priesthood leaders”, but it may be interesting to note that all first year law students take a course that explores what “law” is. I specifically remember several classes where we discussed whether patently unjust laws even qualify as “law” (would you expect anything else from a law school?).

    So what does “obeying, honoring and sustaining the law” mean? It is probably less clear (and almost certainly applies with exceptions, e.g. Nephi slaying Laban) than simply never doing anything contrary to any governmental legislation.

    Applying it to Hubener, it seems likely that he never did anything contrary to the basic expression of faith in the 12th AoF because the “law” (“conspiracy to commit high treason and treasonous furthering of the enemy’s cause”) appears overreaching and unbalanced.

    Another interesting BoM corollary to the topic is the story of Moroni and the king-men who refused to defend the Nephites from the attacking Lamanites. Moroni was furious; time was of the essence; yet he requested the consent of the governor of the land. Not until the consent was granted by the voice of the people did he compel the king-men to defend the country or put them to death.

  95. This has had me musing on Diana Mosley and Marlene Dietrich through the day.

  96. Great topic, Brad. Of course, it would have been nice if the branch president had been more heroic but that is not a legitimate expectation.

    Whatever his ideological commitments may have been, he had an obligation to protect the members of his branch. One way to do that was to abandon Helmuth Huebener.

    To be sure, the branch president’s behavior might have been a mistake but none of us is in a position to judge him.

    What is much more problematic is how little Church leaders appreciate Huebener’s martyrdom. Contrast our treatment of Huebener with how the Catholic Church celebrates Carl von Ossietzky and the Lutheran Church Dietrich Bonhoeffer.

    Even the Church of England celebrates Helmuth Huebener in Westminster Abbey.

    One would think that we could dedicate at least a lousy dorm to our martyr. In some ways, Huebener is the most important twentieth century Mormon, arguably more important than several dozen people whose names adorn various buildings on Mormon campuses.

  97. Sorry, the Church of England celebrates Bonhoeffer, not Huebener, in Westminster Abbey.

  98. Hellmut,
    I expected you earlier in the game.:)
    Thanks for the comments.

  99. Sorry, Brad. I didn’t check in sooner. It’s a great topic, especially in light of how we are getting treated during the primary elections.

  100. I’ve often wondered about the poor ex-branch president, living in fear in Salt Lake City.

    I also enjoyed Tom Rogers giving us a fireside and providing me with a copy of his L of Arabia play (which taught me caution about motorcycles) when he was a branch president in the MTC. I’m glad to hear that he is a patriarch in Russia and to see him stopping by here.

    BTW, the D&C calls for obedience to civil government. It was interesting when Ezra Taft Benson did not take action against communist members of the Church in Latin America who were actively resisting military regimes.

    I remember discussing that at BYU with Molly and others.

    Humans can be so frail, and so in need of kindness some times.

    BTW, you can still buy a copy of the play (and two others) on Amazon for $3.02. The inexpensive copies haven’t all sold yet.

  101. Anyone have a link to where a copy of the BYU treatment of the story can be purchased? Most of the BYU channel movies are also available for purchase.

  102. BTW, the Deseret Book blurb:

    “Rudi Wobbe: Charged with Preparation to High Treason and Aiding and Abetting the Enemy”

    Thus began the trial of Rudi Wobbe and two of his teenage friends as they stood before the justices of the dreaded Voksgerichtshof, the infamous supreme court of Nazi Germany. All the power and indignation of the Third Reich now focused on these three young men who dared to distribute the truth about the war to their neighbors. If found guilty, they faced imprisonment–and perhaps even death.

    Why did they do it? Because the teachings of their parents and the Church taught them to respect individual liberty and to rely on their conscience in choosing between right and wrong. Now their naive confidence was shaken by the torture they’d endured at the hands of the Gestapo. Yet, their brilliant young leader, Helmuth Huebener, whose intelligence and conviction stood out like a beacon of truth in the oppressive courtroom, faced his accusers with confidence. It was his finest moment . . . would it be his last?

    Published: June 2002
    Pages: 192
    Audio Length: 3 hours

    Publishers and Authors: upload descriptions and images

  103. Young Latter-day Saint teenagers in Germany risked their lives distributing anti-Nazi literature during World War II, according to a new documentary produced by Covenant Communications in Orem.

    The documentary, “Truth & Conviction,” was written and directed by Rick McFarland and Matt Whitaker and sponsored by the college of humanities at BYU.

    It tells the story of Helmuth Huebener, 16, and his two friends, Rudolph Wobbe, 15, and Karl-Heinz Schnibbe,17, who distributed anti-Nazi fliers opposing Hitler.

    The documentary is now available on video and DVD at Seagull Book and Tape and will be broadcast Feb. 2 on KBYU at 9 p.m.

    Huebener’s small LDS branch in Hamburg, Germany, was divided in its support of Hitler. The branch president, Arthur Zander, was a member of the Nazi party.

    “There were good people, members of the church, who were members of the Nazi party,” Whitaker said. “Zander was a faithful member of the church, and he was a good branch president, but he supported Hitler. That was one of the intriguing things for me. There were a lot of complex issues going on.”

    While in his youth, Huebener was a member of the Hitler Youth organization, which promised a “better life and better Germany,” but after a few years, Huebener realized the Nazis were lying.

    In the summer of 1941, Huebener defied the Nazi regiment by listening to outside news reports from the BBC in London.

    Taking action to let Germans know the truth about Hitler, Huebener typed fliers, using a church typewriter, that contradicted the German government’s decision about war and that called Hitler an “Anti-Christ” and seducer of the people.

    Doing this cost Huebener his life.

    After distributing fliers for six months, the three teenagers were caught by the Gestapo.

    Wobbe and Schnibbe spent the rest of the war in prison. Huebener took full-responsibility for the group, his actions and the distribution of the fliers.

    On the evening of Oct. 27, 1942, after spending eight months in prison, Huebener, was beheaded at the guillotine in Berlin.

    “One of the very compelling parts of the story for me, even from the beginning, was when I learned that Huebener had been executed; beheaded with the guillotine,” Whitaker said. “He was seventeen. He wrote fliers about the government, and they cut off his head. I just couldn’t believe that.”

    After the war, Wobbe and Schnibbe immigrated to Salt Lake City. Wobbe passed away ten years ago, but Schnibbe, 79, continues to live in Salt Lake City and share his experiences about the Helmuth Huebener group.

    “When I was told that they wanted to do a documentary about the Helmuth Huebener group, I was first a little doubtful, because many people in the past had said that they wanted to do it, but never follow through,” Schnibbe said. “After seeing the documentary, I was elated. I think it’s wonderful and very tasteful.”

  104. Story 1 – Helmuth Hubener Updated 7/23/2004

    “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 Hubener

    Still can not find the video, though I’ve found blog posts by people who have ordered it. Seagull Books had nothing.

    Someone drop me an e-mail, please?

  105. So was the BP named Zander or Zollner? Or are they both americanizations of the same name? I’ve seen both in some of the posts and links.

  106. Tom Rogers says:

    In the play, to keep him a little more anonymous, I gave Arthur Zander the pseudonym “Zoellner,” which in German means ‘publican’ ( a customs official or tax collector, with all that word’s New Testament connotations).

    Hello also–Kevin, Stephen and others–from the now far distant past. It’s great hearing from you.


  107. Hellmut: I agree with you that he could be considered among the most important of Twentieth Century Mormons. I also agree with you that it is perplexing that in the post-Cold War world the Church does not celebrate Helmuth Hübener more prominently in an official capacity. Several factors may contribute to this:

    (1) I believe the primary contributing factor relates to the Cold War. As you know, immediately following the war Eastern Europe and (particularly relevant for this issue) East Germany fell under Soviet control. This control was characterized by the well known tyranny and despotism of Stalin’s repression and oppression back in Russia. On the ground, the oppression and lack of freedom for the citizens of countries behind the Iron Curtain was arguably as bad as it had been for German citizens in Nazi Germany.* This situation had at least two implications that the Church was forced to consider, I would imagine, in relation to whether it would publicly celebrate Hübener’s actions:

    (a) The close of the war years saw massive migration of ethnic Germans from their homelands in areas that had traditionally been part of the eastern peripheries of territorial Germany to what is now Germany as they fled the advance of the Red Army into those areas. Some of these refugees chose to flee from those areas all the way to the western part of Germany and therefore settled in a place that would guarantee their fundamental rights. Many, however, fled their homelands and came to Berlin or other areas that eventually became East Germany and therefore got caught behind the Iron Curtain in a country that abused their fundamental rights. Although the war and its aftermath precipitated a great deal of migration of Latter-day Saints from Germany to the United States, many Latter-day Saints were in this other situation of having fled native homelands in Königsberg and surrounding towns, Stettin, and Schlesien, among others, to end up behind the Iron Curtain in East Germany.

    Because there were still many members of the Church behind the Iron Curtain, primarily in East Germany but also in isolated pockets elsewhere, the Church was put into a position of acting for the safety of its members behind the Iron Curtain. Conscious that these states, particularly East Germany, abused the fundamental rights of their citizens in much the same way and with very similar propaganda as in Nazi Germany, the Church likely did not want to encourage its members to martyr themselves in fighting these regimes, all of which, like Nazi Germany, responded very drastically to actions such as those taken by Hübener against the propaganda machine of the regime.

    (b) Although it seems logical that celebration of a person who opposed the Nazi regime would actually ingratiate an organization such as the Church with the dictatorship of East Germany, this was unfortunately not necessarily the case. To be sure, the East German government had no lack of references to the evils of Nazism, transforming it into a synonym for social democratic capitalism, i.e. using it as a propagandistic tool to aide in the continued repression of East German society (as is well known the Berlin Wall itself was billed by the East German government as the “anti-fascist wall of protection” implying that the social democracy of West Germany and the rest of the West were fascists against which East Germany was only protecting itself by erecting a wall preventing its citizens from leaving the country). But ultimately the dictators within the East German government were aware of the lengths to which they were going in abusing their people in order to maintain their power and therefore were conscious of the parallels of their own actions to those in power in Nazi Germany. They were reticent to promote any kind of activism or opposition to the ruling regime, including through celebrating specific anti-Nazi activists, precisely because the action of those dissenters could so easily be applied to the current situation in East Germany.

    The Church had thousands of members in East Germany and wanted them to be able to experience the blessings of the Gospel in their lives despite living under a despotic regime. The Church was aware, I think, that it needed to tread very lightly to achieve this and preferred to forego making Hübener into a public hero in the interest of lobbying for the freedom to be a Mormon and even to have a temple in East Germany. It is for this reason, I believe, that President Monson made the statement in the early 1980s that Ronan quotes above (#24), although that seems to relate more to the actions of the Branch President than to Hübener.

    Four years ago Fred Gedicks’s excellent law review article that Ronan linked above, The “Embarassing” Section 134, 2003 BYU Law Rev. 959, brought the ideas and elements underlying Section 124 into stark relief for me. What I think we learn from the Church’s cautious approach to Hübener, particularly during the Cold War era, is that there can be a conflict between the Twelfth Article of Faith and the spirit of Doctrine and Covenants Section 134 when the former is considered outside the context of the latter. But I wonder whether the Church’s approach to East Germany (and thus as a derivative its approach to Hübener) did not actually result from an attempt to harmonize the Twelfth Article of Faith with Doctrine and Covenants 134:7, which provides:

    We believe that rulers, states, and governments have a right, and are bound to enact laws for the protection of all citizens in the free exercise of their religious belief; but we do not believe that they have a right in justice to deprive citizens of this privilege, or proscribe them in their opinions, so long as a regard and reverence are shown to the laws and such religious opinions do not justify sedition nor conspiracy.

    It seems evident that Church leaders were taking this at face value and trying to provide a situation in which East Germany would allow Latter-day Saints to live their religion because those religious opinions did not “justify sedition or conspiracy”. Arguably, promoting Hübener in an official capacity would have been justifying sedition or conspiracy in the eyes of East German dictators.

    (2) The age-old (unfortunate) Utah-centricity of the Church that results, not from hubris or bad intentions, but simply because that is the geographical area relevant to the life experiences of most General Authorities, although that will continue to change gradually with time as General Authorities are called from the greater area that now represents Church membership (as opposed to the area that represented Church membership at the time that the General Authorities who were in position during the early years of the Cold War).

    Church leaders’ approach to Hübener, therefore, is unfortunate perhaps in the bigger picture of Church history and even world history but can be understood on these grounds. What is more perplexing is that Hübener is not celebrated more prominently in the post-Cold War era.


    * The deprivations and suffering resulting from the war itself made life much worse during the war years in Nazi Germany than in Soviet satellites or Russia. Obviously this is not referring to the experience of Jews and others deemed unworthy of life in Nazi Germany, for whom nothing could be more terrible than being a Jew in Nazi Germany (followed closely by being a Jew in Soviet Russia).

  108. Tom Rogers invited me to join the discussion and I do so with some eagerness. I am preparing a paper for an Ethics Symposium on the Virtue of Courage, and I am using Rogers’ play and the Huebener incident as the topic for my presentation. I am most intrigued by the “tragic” nature of the story, if we take Hegel’s definition of tragedy as the conflict between two goods, e.g., Hamlet who wrestles between two commandments: Honor thy Father, and Don’t Kill! Huebener and his friends also wrestled with this paradox, obedience to the Twelfth Article of Faith or obedience to DC 134. I don’t know if there is an resolution to this paradox, but Martin Luther King, Jr., in his “Letters from a Birmingham Jail” gives some nice guidelines for engaging in civil disobedience. I apologize for the length of the entry. I shall be more brief in the future.


  109. Grant, if that is verbose, I’m in real trouble.

    (just wanted to say it before Steve did)

  110. Grant, please tell me more about your presentation. Do you view Hubener as someone with truly two good choices before him?

  111. Part of the principle behind non-violent civil disobedience is that you are willing to suffer the consequences of your “illegal” actions, thus exposing the inherent problems with a law or regime. To the extent that Huebener (I can’t get my computer to produce the umlauts) was willing to take the responsibility for the group, he seems to fit in this role. He did, however, consciously engage in what could be seen as treason and sedition, however much we applaud his actions, as I do. That puts him in my mind in a class with Martin Luther King Jr and Ghandi.

  112. Tom Rogers says:

    It’s good to see Grant Smith join the fray!

    I’ve always thought that the dilemma posed by Sophocles’s “Antigone” is the best equivalent in classical tragedy. Corneille’s “Le Cid” would be another.

    My wife often likes to reference this line from Helmuth’s last letter, also cited in the play: “I know that God lives and that He will be the final judge of this matter.” Good advice for the rest of us!


  113. Tom Rogers, as in Thomas F. Rogers? I can’t think of a cool way to say this. Oh well. I’m a bit star-struck.

    Thank you for your work. I’ve been delighted by your plays in print and hope I will have the opportunity to see them performed sometime!

  114. #43: in addition to other books mentioned here, I like two by Helmut’s surviving co-conspirators: The Price by Karl-Heinz Schnibbe, and Three Against Hitler by Rudi Wobbe. Not scholarly, but very human, and their experiences are interesting as well.

    As mentioned above, Dixie College staged the play Huebner in 2005.

  115. Hellmut,
    I think it would be wonderful if a BYU dorm was named after HH. Perhaps someone could start a campaign…?

  116. Kevin Barney says:

    Students at the University of Washington are campaigning to get a statue on campus for Bruce Lee, who attended there for three years. So far there is little interest from the administration, but I think it would be a cool idea. A Huebener Hall at BYU would be a nice start…

  117. Today at 4pm on BYU tv in Utah they are broadcasting a doc on Helmuth.

  118. #119 – Is that a doc on Helmuth or Hellmut? Just curious.

  119. Reid May says:

    I have known of the heroism and death of Helmut for at least 48 years. Much of this time I served as a Priesthood teacher in both Aaronic and Melchizedek Quorums. I have probably told the Helmut Heubener story one humdred times. I think he was a great patriot. We should all have to courage to speak the truth. Reid May

  120. Reid May says:

    I have known of the heroism and death of Helmut for at least 48 years. Much of this time I served as a Priesthood teacher in both Aaronic and Melchizedek Quorums. I have probably told the Helmut Heubener story one hundred times. I think he was a great patriot. We should all have to courage to speak the truth. Reid May

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