Helmuth Hübener, a 16-year-old Mormon youth living in Hitler’s Germany, exhibited unprecedented moral courage in opposing the propaganda machine of the Nazi regime in the summer of 1941. For his trouble he was arrested on February 5, 1942 (less than a month after turning 17), brutally interrogated and later tortured in Gestapo prisons in Hamburg and Berlin, and then finally beheaded by guillotine in the Gestapo’s Berlin Plötzensee prison on October 27, 1942 as the youngest person (at age 17) to be sentenced by Hitler’s special “People’s Court” and executed for conspiracy to commit treason against the Nazi regime.
By all accounts, Helmuth Hübener was a remarkable boy — a worthy role model for any teenager, male or female, then or now. Unlike his peers in 1941 — most of whom were parading as Hitler Youth  or in the League of German Girls, not to mention the adults in his city of Hamburg (and Germany more generally), most of whom had stood agape on Kristallnacht (the “night of broken glass”) three years earlier in November 1938 as Jewish businesses were destroyed, their proprietors (man, woman, and child) dragged into the street and beaten — Helmuth acted on his discomfort with the ever growing restrictions on civil rights and personal freedoms in the totalitarian dictatorship and specifically with the treatment of Jews. Following his conscience rather than his fears, he secretly tuned into illegal German-language BBC broadcasts and discovered the distortions and outright lies in the Nazi propaganda about the progress of the war effort, as compared to the details provided by the BBC. He discretely enlisted Rudolf “Rudi” Wobbe and Karl-Heinz Schnibbe, trusted Mormon friends from his St. Georg LDS branch in central Hamburg — the largest branch of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in its West German Mission with over 400 members at the time — (and later also his colleague Gehard Düwer) to help him distribute leaflets typed using the branch typewriter, which he kept at home as part of his work as Branch Secretary. As noted, his resolve was fatal.
Mormon awareness of Hübener’s courageous acts in defying Hitler’s regime while majorities did nothing has, happily, burgeoned in the last decade. In fact, in October 2012, to commemorate the 70th anniversary of his execution, the Church highlighted his contributions on its German website (http://www.presse-mormonen.de/artikel/70-todestag-huebener). Before that, however, knowledge about Hübener’s heroism in the face of the most drastic adversity was curiously limited among Mormons. Hübener’s accomplices Rudi Wobbe and Karl-Heinz Schnibbe both wrote memoirs about the events in the 1980s and early 1990s (and BYU Professor Thomas F. Rogers wrote and briefly staged a play based on the events called Hubener), and LDS academics such as Alan Keele and Blair Holmes (among others) contributed further treatments of the activities and sacrifices of Hübener and his group in the mid and late 1990s. The decade of the 2000s saw several media treatments of the Hübener Group’s activities, including documentaries, interviews, stage plays, and even rumors of a feature film. But until the early 2000s, Hübener remained virtually unknown in the Church outside of Germany. Thankfully, awareness of Hübener’s courage and sacrifice has been celebrated for much longer in Germany (both in and out of the Church), where the catastrophe of the war, its immense consequences for the population and its implications for all of Europe immediately prompted generations-long soul searching in 1945 that continues today.
As early as 1969, German author Günter Grass (who later was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1999) memorialized Hübener in his novel Local Anaesthetic (Örtlich Betäubt) as the idol of a student discouraged about the Vietnam War. In the book, a teacher in the tumultuous Berlin following 1968, who has been teaching his students theories of violent protest, sees Hübener’s picture hanging on the wall in his student’s room and asks who it is. The student answers, “‘Who’s that?’… Him? That’s Helmuth Hübener. Belonged to a sect. Something like Mormons. The Church of Latter-Day Saints. Came from Hamburg, but they had their stuff printed in Kiel. They were a group of four, apprentices and clerks. They held out quite a long time. On October 27, 1942, he was executed here in Plötzensee, after being tortured of course.” The student admires Hübener’s example because Hübener’s “enlightened response to an unjustified war was not violence, or that other extreme equally condemned by Grass — apathy — but, basically, peaceful education. By circulating handbills containing information gleaned from illegal BBC broadcasts . . . Hübener and his three friends attempted to change society by legitimate and moral means, even though they were considered criminals by an unjust government” (Keele, “Six Authors in Search of a Character”, emphasis added).
Thus, with the Psalmist, Hübener seemed to be saying “Too long have I had my dwelling among those who hate peace.” His life and actions proclaimed “I am for peace; but when I speak, they are for war” (Psalm 120:6-7). Hübener has been honored many times over the decades in Germany as a hero of the resistance against Hitler. A school is named after him in Hamburg. Students at Hamburg’s Administrative School study his life as a lesson on fundamental values. The room where he was executed by guillotine at the Plötzensee prison is now a national memorial (pictured). How wonderful it is that Germany recognizes this Mormon hero in the fight against Hitler! How wonderful that we Mormons also now recognize him, one of our own, for these heroic actions!
Helmuth spoke indeed for peace, or at least for rejection of the Nazis’ war. Nearly 150 years before Christ, the prophet Abinadi quoted Isaiah in similarly condemning a corrupt and self-serving tyrant, proclaiming “how beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of those who shall hereafter publish peace, yea, from this time henceforth and forever!” (Mosiah 15:17). But like Abinadi, though he spoke and published peace, Hübener’s voice did not ring timid. Quite the opposite, in fact, as he stood before Hitler’s red-robed Blood Tribunal on August 11, 1942 and thundered a response of righteous indignation. Indeed, we can see a fulfillment of Jesus’ words in Hübener’s posture before that court: “When they bring you to trial and hand you over, do not worry beforehand about what you are to say; but say whatever is given you at that time, for it is not you who speak, but the Holy Spirit” (Mark 13:11)!
The infamous People’s Court (sometimes referred to as the “Blood Tribunal” because between 1942 and 1945, 90% of the cases before the court resulted in a death sentence or life imprisonment) usually did not allow the accused to speak in their defense, and defense lawyers rarely said anything at all in the show trials held there. Even the high-profile participants in the July 20, 1944 conspiracy to assassinate Hitler were shouted down or forced to be silent when trying to speak in their own defense. One of the conspirators in the assassination plot, Erwin von Witzleben, was famously able to interject “You can hand us over to the hangman. In three months the enraged and tormented people will drag you alive through the muck of the streets” as he was standing in the dock hearing his charges and sentence (pictured). No picture survives of Helmuth standing in the prisoner’s dock before the Blood Tribunal but both Rudi Wobbe and Karl-Heinz Schnibbe separately remembered that he — a mere 17-year-old boy without the significant social standing or high military rank of Field Marshall Job Wilhelm Georg Erdmann Erwin von Witzleben — shouted back at the President Judge of the People’s Court, Otto Georg Thierack, “You have sentenced me to death for telling the truth. My time is now — but your time will come!” (Minert, 130). According to Minert, both Wobbe and Schnibbe “believed that Helmuth had been particularly bold in court in an attempt to absorb the majority of the guilt and thus draw attention away from his best friends” (ibid., 137, note 6). Indeed, “[t]hey had agreed in advance that if caught, they would do their best to shoulder the guilt individually and thus attempt to avoid burdening each other with guilt” (ibid., 129).
Sentenced to death, Hübener was then returned to the cheerless cell where, stripped of his civil rights, he awaited his execution for over two months, while suffering mistreatment including being deprived of bedding and blankets. As the appointed date drew near, he wrote several letters to family and friends, only one of which survived the devastating and all encompassing allied firebombing of Hamburg (my translation):
I am very grateful to my Heavenly Father that my miserable life will come to an end tonight — I could not bear it any longer anyway. My Father in Heaven knows that I have done nothing wrong. I am just sorry that I had to break the Word of Wisdom at my last hour. 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!
Your friend and brother in the Gospel,
[Ich bin meinem himmlischen Vater sehr dankbar, daß heute Abend dieses qualvolle Leben zu Ende geht, ich könnte es auch nicht länger ertragen. Mein Vater im Himmel weiß, daß ich nichts Unrechtes getan habe, es tut mir nur leid, daß ich in meiner letzten Stunde noch das Gebot der Weisheit brechen mußte. Ich weiß, daß Gott lebt, und Er wird der gerechte Richter über diese Sache sein. Auf ein frohes Wiedersehen in einer besseren Welt!
Ihr Freund und Bruder im Evangelium
* * *
Hübener was moved by the Spirit to pen these words as his final, simple, powerful testimony to survive the ages. He regretted that he would probably be forced by the Gestapo to drink wine before the execution as part of their standard protocol. But he affirmed that “My Father in Heaven knows that I have done nothing wrong.” Hübener died with a clean conscience, summarily executed for engaging in acts of heroism against a truly evil totalitarianism. Because “the Spirit speaketh the truth and lieth not” and “speaketh of things as they really are, and of things as they really will be,” it is “manifested unto us plainly” in this simple sentence that Hübener acted as inspired by the Spirit and was morally right in doing so (Jacob 4:13).
He also testified that “I know that God lives and He will be the Just Judge in this matter.” Indeed, “all of us must appear before the judgement seat of Christ, so that each may receive recompense for what has been done in the body, whether good or evil” (2 Cor. 5:10). And we know that the Lord “executes justice” (Deut. 10:18). How much better, then, to have Hübener’s standing at that Judgment Seat than that of the judges of the People’s Court, or the agents of the Gestapo who brought the Hübener Group before them, or myriad other perpetrators in the Nazi regime! Resistance was possible, and moral, but it came at a very high cost. “[W]hat doth the Lord require of thee, but to do justly, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with thy God?” (Micah 6:8). Those who opposed the regime exemplified this injunction. Unlike the three Hebrew boys in the fiery furnace whose lives were spared by an angel, many who openly opposed and raised their voice in Hitler’s Germany suffered instead the fate of the three girls at Pharaoh’s court witnessed by Abraham (Abraham 1:11). Let us be forever grateful that they left us this legacy of holy dissent in spite of the risk, and, for many such as Helmuth Hübener, at such high a cost.
* * *
Otto Olsson, Psalm 120 from “Six Latin Hymns,” for a cappella choir, Op. 40 (1919)
The Feast of Helmuth Hübener, 1942
The Collect: Heavenly Father, the Just Judge, we appeal to Thee to give us the pure moral courage of Helmuth Hübener to raise our voice when inspired by Thy Spirit to speak and publish peace, and give us the strength to follow the example of the Hübener Group to do justly, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with Thee even in the face of the strongest adversity, we pray, in the name of Thy Son, Jesus Christ, our Lord and Savior, who lives and reigns with Thee and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.
* My translation of the Announcement:
Having been sentenced to death and the permanent deprivation of his civil rights by the People’s Court on August 11, 1942 on charges of conspiracy to commit treason and treasonously aiding and comforting the enemy, the 17 year old
was executed today.
Berlin, this 27th day of October, 1942.
OFFICE OF THE HIGH IMPERIAL PROSECUTOR, PEOPLE’S COURT
† My translation from the website: “The Exhibit is open in the Administrative School Monday through Friday from 9am to 2pm on the third floor of the Center for Education and Training at Normannenstraße 26, 20537 Hamburg (Borgfelde). You can reach the Administrative School by telephone on 040 42831-3030 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org”
 Hübener’s accomplice Karl-Heinz Schnibbe, who was one year older than Hübener, said that “[m]y life changed drastically in 1938 with the Night of Broken Glass. All of the Jewish businesses were destroyed. I was very angry and decided to leave the Hitler Youth.” Roger P. Minert, Under the Gun: West German and Austrian Latter-day Saints in World War II, BYU, Religious Studies Center, 2011, p. 163 (quoting interview by author in German of Karl-Heinz Schnibbe, Salt Lake City, February 3, 2006).
 For example, since about 2004 a number of Mormon bloggers have written posts applauding the legacy of Hübener and his group, including several here at By Common Consent, e.g. Courage to Disobey and Karl-Heinz Schnibbe, RIP.
 I speculate as to reasons for this in the comment linked here: https://bycommonconsent.com/2008/01/09/courage-to-disobey/#comment-76630
 For example, Blair R. Holmes and Alan F. Keele, transl. and ed., When Truth Was Treason: German Teenagers against Hitler — The Story of the Helmuth Hübener Group Based on the Narrative of Karl-Heinz Schnibbe, University of Illinois Press, 1995.
 As Alan Keele has written,
In 1945, when the obscuring smoke of pyrotechnics and propaganda began to clear, when the stench of death began to diffuse, when the strident pandemonium of war was finally stilled, one sound replaced all the screams, explosions and harshly amplified official voices: out of the silent intellectual German landscape one faint but persistent query began to go up: ‘why?…why?…why?…’ Seldom before has that question been asked by so many of so many for so many years. Seldom before has there been on such a broad scale a more searching, introspective kind of mass-psychoanalysis than that to which German thinkers have subjected themselves since 1945. Seldom before has the study of history been so pandemic, so immediate, so relevant, or so imperative, not only in its traditional, organized, scholarly forms, but in its personal everyday manifestations and especially in its artistic incarnations. From 1945 on, nearly all of intellectual, artistic, religious Germany was obsessed with examining the past, examining the events, the rhetoric, the very language of yesterday, in an attempt to try and find out what had gone wrong. (Alan F. Keele, “Six Authors in Search of a Character: The Importance of Helmuth Hübener in Post-War German Literature”.)
„Entscheidet Euch, noch kann eine entschiedene Tat Euer Volk und Land vor dem Abgrund retten, an den Hitler es mit süßen Worten geführt hat. Entscheidet Euch, ehe es zu spät ist!“
“Make a decision! A decisive action can still save your People and Country from the precipice to which Hitler has led it with his soothing words. Decide before it’s too late!”
 It is well known that the Branch President of the St. Georg Branch in Hamburg, Arthur Zander, excommunicated Helmuth Hübener at the time for his treasonous behavior and that the Church ultimately nullified the excommunication, reinstating his membership, after the war. The excommunication of Hübener is a perplexing episode. It is true that Arthur Zander was “enthusiastic in his support of the Nazi regime” (Minert, 128), which Rudi Wobbe claimed was very rare among the Mormons in the Hamburg District. But regardless of Zander’s own political leanings, when Hübener was arrested it put the whole branch in great danger. The branch came under the scrutiny of the Gestapo, which was a terrifying prospect, especially for any in the branch who sympathized with Hübener. After the arrest agents frequently attended meetings, taking notes. The Gestapo naturally believed that adults in the branch had influenced Hübener and his friends to act (ibid., 129). In fact, the acting District President of the Hamburg District, Otto Berndt, was interrogated for four days by the Gestapo following the Hübener arrest (ibid.). Berndt miraculously survived the interrogation without incriminating himself in the eyes of the interrogators by accidentally contradicting himself as he answered questions not only about the Hübener group’s activities but also “about the teachings of the Church, the relationship of the Church and the state, the philosophy of the Church regarding Jews, and several other topics” (ibid., 130). Apocryphally, Berndt is said to have been told after these four days of relentless interrogation that “after the Jews, the Mormons are next.”