Film Tells Anti-Nazi Mormon's Story
Helmuth Huebner, center, with friends Rudi Wobbe, left, and Karl-Heinz Schnibbe, gathered for this photo taken about 1941. Huebner was executed for anti-Nazi activity.
BY PEGGY FLETCHER STACK
THE SALT LAKE TRIBUNE
Ear pressed to a contraband French radio for hours during the summer of 1941, Helmuth Huebner discovered Nazi lies through British news reports on BBC.
It would cost the 16-year-old Mormon boy his life.
As a youngster, Huebner had been involved in the Hitler Youth organization, caught up in the National Socialist Party's promise of restoring order and pride to Germany. But slowly, he began to see the racism and brutality of that movement. For his efforts to alert the population, Huebner was executed.
His story has been told in a play, several articles and books, including The Price: The True Story of a Mormon Who Defied Hitler by Karl-Heinz Schnibbe, Huebner's friend, with help from Brigham Young University scholars Alan Keele and Douglas Tobler.
Now it is the subject of a documentary, "Truth & Conviction," written and directed by Matt Whitaker and Rick McFarland and produced by Covenant Communications in Orem. It features interviews with several German Mormons who knew Huebner or the LDS branch where he worshiped, as well as Schnibbe, Keele and Tobler.
It will be aired on KBYU in February and is also available on video and DVD.
This is a revealing tale of how The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints struggles to survive in every society, even those run by dictators.
Huebner's tiny LDS branch in Hamburg was divided in its support for Hitler. Arthur Zander, the branch president, was a member of the Nazi Party. He sometimes brought his radio, locking the door so members would have to listen to Hitler's speeches. One Sunday in 1938, Zander posted a sign, "Jews Not Welcome Here," on the church's front door.
"Zander wanted to show that Latter-day Saints were good Germans," said Tobler, who teaches history.
Two years later, with newfound knowledge filling his head, Huebner decided it was time to take action. He churned out critical leaflets, by hand and on the church's typewriter. In 29 different fliers, he contradicted the government's assessments about the war, satirized Nazi propaganda and even called Hitler the great "Anti-Christ."
He enlisted his two best friends, Schnibbe and Rudi Wobbe, both church members, to help him distribute the fliers surreptitiously on city streets.
Within six months, the three were arrested by the Gestapo.
Wobbe and Schnibbe, who dismissed their efforts as a childish prank, spent the rest of the war in a German prison. Some years later, the two separately emigrated to Salt Lake City.
Huebner, who took full responsibility for his writings and stood by them to the end, spent eight months in prison. On Oct. 27, 1942, at 8:15 a.m., he was executed by guillotine.
Huebner's life and work were not automatically celebrated by other Mormons in Germany, said Keele, a German cultural historian, in the film.
To many, it was a question of survival under Hitler's regime.
In 1937, LDS Church President Heber J. Grant had visited the country and urged the members to stay there, try to get along, and not cause trouble. It is not surprising, Keele said, that some saw Huebner as a troublemaker whose actions made things tough for other Mormons.
A few days after Huebner's initial arrest, Zander had scrawled, "Excommunicated," on the young pamphleteer's Mormon membership records.
By contrast, Zander's first counselor, Otto Berndt, was sympathetic to Huebner and critical of the Nazis. Some thought Berndt might have been behind Huebner's activities. He was briefly questioned by the Gestapo, who let him go, Schnibbe says in the film, but gave an ominous warning -- "After Jews, Mormons will be next,"
In 1946, Huebner's church membership was reinstated, with a new note: "Excommunicated by mistake."