The story of Helmuth Hubener is one of heroic opposition to an evil regime. This much is clear. But it also should raise questions for all of us regarding our own stances on moral issues. In short: when must we speak out against tyranny in our own lives?
Hubener lived in Hamburg, Germany and belonged to an LDS branch in that city. He was a loyal German who wrote a paper when he was young praising Hitler, and he was a member of the Hitler Youth. But over time Hubener became disillusioned with the German regime. The key turning point appeared to be the time when his branch president, a Nazi party activist, put a sign on the church door saying no Jews were allowed in church. The branch had one young Jewish member who was excluded, and Hubener was upset.
Hubener’s older brother, who was a soldier, gave Hubener a shortwave radio, and Hubener began to listen to the BBC in German. This was illegal. Hubener began writing pamphlets against the Nazis and passing them out in Hamburg. One pamphlet called Hitler a murderer. Hubener, then only 16, recruited two of his teenage friends from church to help him pass out the pamphlets. Hubener seemed obsessed with telling the people of Hamburg the truthful things he had learned via shortwave radio, things that contradicted the propaganda from the media in Germany.
Hubener was eventually caught by the Gestapo, tortured and sentenced to death. His two friends were sentenced to years of hard labor. Hubener’s family was killed in the war, but his story was later discovered by Germans and publicized in the 1960s and 1970s. Hubener is now recognized as a hero in Germany.
Here is a very well done documentary about Hubener that I highly recommend watching:
Hubener’s case raises hundreds of moral questions for future generations to consider. Hubener broke the law, yet he is seen as a hero today. How do we know when laws are immoral and can be broken? President Heber J. Grant came to Germany in 1937 and did not tell Church members to rise up against the Nazi regime, and in fact the evidence indicates he encouraged them not to rebel. Did Hubener violate prophetic counsel? Hubener’s branch president was a supporter of the Nazis. How was it possible that an apparently good Christian like this man could support such an evil group? Was Hubener justified in acting in a way that his branch president condemned? Remember, he went against the wishes of his local priesthood leader. After the war, tens of millions of Germans regretted not speaking out against the Nazis. What can we learn from that regarding our own behavior during difficult times?
I could go on an on about the moral dilemmas raised by Hubener’s case. One of the primary lessons, it seems to me, is that people who are quick to condemn others as they struggle with worldly moral issues are on the wrong track. Life is always more complex than it seems. Hubener was certainly not considered a hero in the 1940s, but just 20 years later he began to be lionized. What are we to make of Hubener’s Nazi branch president, who sincerely seemed to believe that Hitler was doing good things for Germany, and was a good family man and a good branch president, but also excluded Jews from church and tried to get members to perform the Nazi salute at church?
It seems to me that Hubener, only 16, was clearly inspired by the Lord to see through Nazi propaganda. Very few Germans in those days had the vision to see that the BBC was telling the truth and the Nazis were lying, but Hubener could see that. What does this say about the propaganda in our own media today? How many people do you know who can see through the lies in today’s media?
On the day that he was killed, Hubener wrote a letter to an LDS family in his branch. He never apologized for his actions. He maintained that he had done nothing wrong. Indeed, we can see that listening to a radio and passing out pamphlets insulting political leaders should not be considered “wrong.” Yet is was illegal. Are there things today that are illegal that are also morally incorrect? How do we justify Hubener’s actions with Articles of Faith 1:12?
Hubener was a champion of fairness and liberty. His writings were quite sophisticated for a 16-year-old, and he quoted philosophers and even Shakespeare in his pamphlets. As I say, he seems to have had special inspiration and an extra measure of courage. There are so many things we can learn from Hubener’s example, and I am grateful for his passion and tenacity.