Hübener at Dixie State College

Although I was in St. George last weekend, on March 11 and 12, I was not able to take the time to go see the Dixie State Theater production of Thomas Rogers’s play Huebener. I have long wanted to see this play performed and wonder how the Dixie presentation went. Did anyone in the Bloggernacle see it? Helmuth Hübener would have been 80 years old on January 8, 2005 if he hadn’t been executed as a traitor by the Gestapo in Berlin 63 years ago.

Helmuth Hübener was beheaded on October 27, 1942 at the age of 17 for the resistance he had attempted against the Nazis as a 16 year old apprentice in Hamburg, Germany. Earlier, he had faced beatings and torture while in Gestapo custody in Hamburg as he endured rigorous interrogation (“hartnäckiger Überzeugungsarbeit” as it is described in the official Gestapo report) about his accomplices. He faced further such interrogations in Hamburg custody and after he was transferred to a cell in Berlin.

The Hübener story has always been particularly moving to me. Of course, it is well known that Hübener’s Branch President was a member of the Nazi party and had Hübener excommunicated after his arrest. This is fertile subject matter for plenty of criticism in the Bloggernacle. But in truth, the Branch President was placed in a very difficult situation of either supporting Hübener and thereby putting his congregation in danger, or acting in the interest of the congregation and trying to gain favor in the eyes of the government. Whether his decision was just or not, only God can judge. But Hübener’s fate with the Gestapo was sealed regardless of any ecclesiastical action taken by the Branch President against him.

Hübener’s story is moving precisely because I identify with Hübener–he was LDS through and through and the Gospel and LDS culture permeated everything he did, including his resistance and his composure during his horrifying experience in Gestapo custody. This lasted until the very end, when, on the day of his execution in Berlin, he wrote a letter to a Hamburg branch member:

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

This is particularly moving in the original German. Here is my rough 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,

This is the only extant letter that Hübener wrote while in custody (I think any others are presumed to have been destroyed in the Allied firebombing of Hamburg). This letter is astounding in many ways. First, it is a simple and direct testimony. It reveals how truly LDS Hübener was in all aspects of his life. He regretted being forced by his Nazi executioners to drink wine before his beheading. Second, he provides some insight into the value of the “I know that God lives”-type testimony that seems to bother some in the Bloggernacle. When Hübener says “I know that God lives and He will be the Just Judge in this matter,” after having been tortured by the Gestapo and while facing imminent execution, I believe him and it strengthens my own testimony.

Hübener’s courage, however, inspires not only Latter-day Saints such as myself. It is true that Hübener’s 1941/1942 resistance with two friends in Hamburg is not very widely known in Germany. But none other than Günter Grass, one of Germany’s most well-known intellectuals, has included Hübener’s resistance activities in his writings. Two years ago, professor Hans-Wilhelm Kelling asked my assistance in translating an interview he had done with Günter Grass about Hübner in preparation for BYU’s documentary on Hübener called Truth and Conviction: The Helmuth Huebener Story. I was already familiar with the subject matter and Grass’s own interest in it since I had heard Karl Heinz Schnibbe (one of Hübener’s accomplices who also suffered tremendously for his resistance activities) speak of his relationship with Hübener and their resistance activities, and I had also read much of Alan Keele’s book When Truth Was Treason, which documents this resistance movement. So I was grateful for the opportunity to translate the interview for Kelling for use in the documentary. Unfortunately, I have not yet seen Rogers’s play Huebener. I was very happy to see that Dixie was doing a production of it; I hope that other Theaters might also follow suit.

11 Responses to Hübener at Dixie State College

  1. J. Stapley says:

    You are correct. Reading that testimony is truely inspiring.

  2. Nathan Mark Smith says:

    After I watched the documentary, I wanted to name a son Helmuth. My wife wouldn’t do it though. She thinks “Smith” is just phonotactically incompatible with German names.

  3. john f. says:

    You could have made it a middle name or reverted to Schmidt.

  4. Zach says:

    That’s an amazing story. It continues to pique my curiosity that testimony seems to grow and flower in adversity. I think that those who feel that simple, forceful, unapologetic testimony is somehow inappropriate have the luxury of not being forced to rely on their faith.

  5. Stephen says:

    The play was put on at BYU, then halted out of concerns that it would cause members to martyr themselves resisting communist eastern european governments.

    Rogers went on to become a branch president in the missionary training center and to do other plays, including one on L. of Arabia’s last day. He is a great guy (or was when I met him).

    In a twist of fate, a communist readers theater in San Francisco put the play on and it became a leftist cult classic.

    Great play. Utah Holiday Magazine ran a story about the true story, including that the branch president relocated to Salt Lake and Hubner was reinstated as a member.

    • Mark says:

      The play was burried by Thomas Monson who didn’t like the way it cast an unfavorable light on the church. Contemporary LDS policy regarding the Third Reich is embarrassing. My 17 year old son and I stood in the execution chamber where Helmuth was beheaded. It’s honestly an insult to his memory that the kibosh was put on the play in the 70s.

  6. john f. says:

    Zach, that’s an interesting point, but it might be a little harsh on people who complain about the “I know that God lives”-type testimonies. Rather than presuming that they haven’t been forced to rely on their faith, which I think likely isn’t true, I think it just stems from an over-intellectualization of something that is by nature not intellectual but rather irrational, i.e. faith and testimony.

  7. Dave says:

    Nice post, John. That young man was truly a hero under the most trying of circumstances. I have always admired others like Marc Bloch and Dietrich Bonhoeffer who died under similar circumstances. But it requires more courage, I think, for relative nobodies who will likely never be noticed by future historians to hold true to their principles and beliefs, and make the ultimate sacrifice.

  8. Bit of skating there around the role of the Branch President, Arthur Zander, protecting his congregation.. he was actually a Party Member and did not need to be,, in modern parlance, Helmuth was hung out to dry. Did he need to be excommunicated? Did the Gestapo come around in the dead of night asking for this final insult? Hmmmmm..

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