Remembering Helmuth Hubener, the teenage LDS rebel who spoke out against the Nazi regime

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.

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About Geoff B.

Geoff B graduated from Stanford University (class of 1985) and worked in journalism for several years until about 1992, when he took up his second career in telecommunications sales. He has held many callings in the Church, but his favorite calling is father and husband. Geoff is active in martial arts and loves hiking and skiing. Geoff has five children and lives in Colorado.

28 thoughts on “Remembering Helmuth Hubener, the teenage LDS rebel who spoke out against the Nazi regime

  1. Wonderful post. Isn’t it interesting that one of the tactics used by Hitler to cause people to turn against the Jews was to label them diseased. Fear always brings out the worst in us.
    My understanding is that Hubner was excommunicated for his rebellion but was later reinstated. Is that right?

  2. Yes, Hubener was excommunicated by his branch president, who of course did not have the authority to do this. Right after the war Hubener was reinstated into the Church posthumously. The video in the OP mentions that the branch president distancing himself from Hubener through excommunication may have saved the lives of other members of the branch who could, in theory, have been implicated in Hubener’s “crimes.”

  3. Thanks for that added info. I look forward to watching the film.
    And thank you for all your great posts. Merry Christmas!

  4. The dilemmas exposed by the Hubener episode are well worth pondering. I will just add two points.

    1. During WWII, there were active, faithful LDS men in both the American military forces and in the German Nazi forces. Not huge numbers, obviously. But there were instances where faithful LDS Germans and faithful LDS Americans were shooting at each other.

    2. As time passes, President Nelson’s admonition, back in 2018, that in a coming day, we won’t be able to survive spiritually without personal revelation is being put in stark relief for us all to see and witness firsthand.

  5. It wasn’t just the branch president. Der Stern, the German predecessor to the Liahona, was praising Hitler. Members compared him favorably to Brigham Young. They saw parallels between Nazi programs and Church programs.

    During the Iraq War, I saw disturbing parallels in both my ward, and at the general Church level.

  6. I am a German and I live in Germany. I am well acquainted with Huebener’s story. It is easy to judge his branch president and other church members who fall for the Nazi ideology. But please keep in mind this is hindsight. And it’s easy to pass judgment on people in the past with all we know now. How could they?

    Well, our children and their children will maybe sometime in the future also judge us about what we should have known but chose to ignore.

    Will our children maybe sometime in the future judge us and ask why we didn’t do anything about the 65 million unborn children who have been killed since Roe vs. Wade?

    The judgment is on us if we do not learn from past mistakes.

  7. @Seb: as a German living in Germany, you should worry about the “unborn children” of your own country before concerning yourself with U.S. laws and the rights of Americans.

    @Geoff: “Hubener” is incorrect, the correct spelling is “Hübener”. “Ü” (with an umlaut) is a different letter in German than “u”, and has a different pronunciation. If there’s no way to produce an umlaut on your device (not likely) than the “ü” can be represented by “ue” – i.e., “Huebener”.

  8. Gunther, noted. I don’t speak German but I do speak several other languages. I am not going to go through my post changing the spelling, but thanks for your input.

    I would usually agree with you that people should principally concern themselves with the laws of their own countries, but in the case of abortion, the massacre of the unborn in the U.S. is such a travesty that Seb is correct, in my opinion, to bring it up. And I have spoken out against this travesty many, many times.

  9. “Der Stern, the German predecessor to the Liahona, was praising Hitler. Members compared him favorably to Brigham Young. They saw parallels between Nazi programs and Church programs.

    During the Iraq War, I saw disturbing parallels in both my ward, and at the general Church level.”

    Huh? You saw members praise Saddam Hussein ?

  10. And what about some of the Brethren meeting with the East-German communist leadership in the seventies and eighties, leading up to the authorization to build a temple, to the exchange of full-time missionaries? History does not look kindly upon the DDR (GDR) and the Soviet Union. Nor should it. But sometimes the Ammons of this world have to meet with the King Lamonis of this world. East-German Latter-Day Saints got their temple in 1985, four years before the Berlin Wall and Iron Curtain began opening. I am sure the Brethren prayed and fasted before making the decision to meet with the communist leaders. This was not an endorsement of communism, especially when President Benson was President of the Quorum of the Twelve and later President of the Church! More like Jesus reaching out to the sinners.The natural man in me doesn’t like that Church leaders met with the communists. Couldn’t the prophets, seers, and revelators have waited just a bit longer? (For the wall to come down). Maybe they didn’t know the East-German regime was on the brink of collapse. Or maybe they did! No unhallowed hand can stop the work from progressing.

  11. In 2021, it is much harder to say “I didn’t know this was going on” than in 1933-1945. We must be anxiously engaged in good causes and if the truth is not comfortable, it is still the truth. This week saw Rand Paul and Berrnie Sanders agree on condemning the Saudis for committing genocide in Yemen and condemning US arms’ sales to the Saudis. Perfect example of siding with “truth”, no matter what. It doesn’t happen very often in politics!

  12. Laurent, good points. I think people forget sometimes that the Gospel is for everybody and the Brethren cannot ignore entire populations because they don’t like the politics of the various tyrannical regimes in the world. This applies to the Nazis, the Communists and others. Which church is it that is actually expanding in Communist China these days? That would be our church, building a temple in Shanghai. How is that not a good thing?

  13. No, there were discussions in Sunday School, before the war actually started, about its feasibility. (Neither the time nor the place.) There were lots of sacrament meeting talks supporting the war, especially after Pres. Hinckley’s misguided placing of it as part of the “war on terrorism” – some talks said that justified the “war on terrorism”. Lots of gushing about George W. Bush. Members openly expressed views in meetings like the September 11th attacks were “God’s punishment for the Clinton era”. One of the counselors in the bishopric was a federal judge, and he gave a Sunday School lesson right before the November 2004 election about the Saints’ “duty to vote the right way”. (At the time, I was afraid if he knew how I felt about the war, he could have made a few phone calls, and I could have been grabbed off the street and sent to Guantanamo or a CIA black site.) When Saddam was captured, I knew church would be three hours of “We got him!” so I stayed home. (Meetings were actually cancelled due to snow, but no one told me.) Memorial Day 2004 sacrament meeting was all about the need for the US military to liberate the world, and to start wars elsewhere to keep from being invaded. One member would pass the Wall Street Journal editorial page around during priesthood opening exercises.

    Huebener’s branch president would play Nazi propaganda during meetings, locking the door so no one could leave. In my ward he wouldn’t have had to lock the door.

  14. John Taber, I am embarrassed that I ever supported the Iraq War, which was NOT conservative and was a disaster morally and politically. I have become an outspoken voice against subsequent wars in Libya, Yemen, Afghanistan and Syria, and you can look up my writings on M* on these subjects. Now having said that, I would say that it is not clear at all that Pres. Hinckley endorsed the Iraq War. In fact, I was living in Brazil at the time, and Brazilians interpreted his talk as justifying self-defense, as in Iraqis and Brazilians defending themselves from foreign attackers. I wrote about that on BCC here:

    But it is certainly true that individual members became cheerleaders for the war and I heard people speaking out at church in favor of Pres. Bush and the war from 2003 until 2008 multiple times. So I understand your point. But I never heard of a bishop or branch president bringing up Iraq War-supporting talking points at church, not once. But I am sure it happened in other wards and branches. Is it the equivalent of supporting Hitler in the 1930s? I think most people would say no, but, depending on how you count, the disastrous decision to invade Iraq did result in hundreds of thousands of deaths, deepened U.S. debt problems and caused multiple humanitarian crises in the Middle East. I wish more Latter-day Saints could see what a huge mistake it was, especially given the warnings in the BoM.

  15. John T, okay, thanks. Now I see the perspective from which you made the comment.

    I will agree that we need to keep politics out of church meetings.

    Yet certain _social_ issues do intersect with gospel concerns. And these days, social issues overlap with politics, so it is a delicate tightrope that we walk at the chapel each Sunday.

  16. I’m not saying it was the same thing. I’m just saying it felt like the same thing to me as an individual member. Things have gotten better since – I’m still in the same ward, though many of the more vocal members on that subject have moved out, or calmed down. That federal judge who was a bishopric counselor, is now stake president, and I’m stake financial clerk, and we get along fine now.

  17. Great post. There are some deep and disturbing questions here. Thank you.

    Where can I find out more details about his excommunication and reinstatement? Was this understood as a reversal of the excommunication or simply that the excommunication was un-authorised and the records corrected?

  18. I am currently reading a book called “They Thought They Were Free: The Germans, 1933-45” by Milton Mayer. The author interviewed 10 German Nazi’s and its just fascinating to hear the stories of these men and how they perceived the time period they lived in. Here are a few interesting quotes from the book

    “Only one of my ten Nazi friends saw Nazism as we—you and I—saw it in any respect This was Hildebrandt, the teacher. And even he then believed, and still believes, in part of its program and practice, “the democratic part.” The other nine, decent, hard-working, ordinarily intelligent and honest men, did not know before 1933 that Nazism was evil. They did not know between 1933 and 1945 that it was evil. And they do not know it now. None of them ever knew, or now knows, Nazism as we knew and know it; and they lived under it, served it, and, indeed, made it”

    “The Nazi slogan in 1932 was, If you want your country to go Bolshevik, vote Communist; if you want to remain free Germans, vote Nazi.”

    “None of my ten friends, even today, ascribes moral evil to Hitler, although most of them think (after the fact) that he made fatal strategical mistakes which even they themselves might have made at the time”

    So despite living right in it, they didn’t have the same perceptions as we do as outsides looking back at the time period through a historical lens. Just as we often view the somewhat repressive policies that govern our lives in regards to the Covid pandemic depending on where we live in the world (some places are a lot worse than others), many people still look to their Governments and Health officials as the answer to fighting an even worse enemy, the virus itself. The Nazi’s similarly viewed national socialism as the answer to fighting an even worse enemy: Communism.

    With that being said it would have been very hard to be a Helmuth Hubener back then just as today it is hard to stand up to what we face considering we are urged by the church to follow all of the protocols and fall in line with everything we are being told to do by our Government leaders

  19. Matt, good comment. I could not comprehend how an entire population of intelligent, well-meaning people like the Germans could act the way you describe re: the Nazis until the last 20 months. But the pandemic has shown us that it is actually quite easy to manipulate an entire population of intelligent, well-meaning people into acting in an insane manner. Reading the BoM helps our understanding as well. I have written a few posts on this subject that readers might enjoy:

  20. @Geoff,

    The most difficult part for me of the last 20 months is the fact that my own father has bought into the COVID narrative. I have heard him say things I never thought I would ever hear him say regarding personal liberty and personal medical choices, and it has been very distressing.

  21. Momof6, if it is any consolation, you are not alone. Nearly every person I know has suffered through family feuds regarding the pandemic. And then you have mass murdering cretins like Fauci trying to tell people they cannot spend the holidays with their own family members because — gasp! — they might catch the Omicron variant that is so far much, much less harmful than the flu. It seems to me we should direct our ire at the real tyrants, the Faucis and the Cuomos and the Newsoms and the Bidens of the world. They are the ones manipulating our family members. This is why I have no problem with the Church’s response to the virus — the people at fault at the bureaucrats and politicians pushing The Narrative. We and the Church are their victims.

  22. @Josiah: Wiki has an entry on HH that includes info on others in his resistance group. It also links to 3 other teenage resistance groups. HH was not the only group-leader to be executed.

    According to the Wiki entry, after the war, the mission president reinstated him, indicating the excommunication was unauthorized — the BP needed higher approval. But also, HH had a proxy baptism in the temple along with the other proxy ordinances.

  23. “And what about some of the Brethren meeting with the East-German communist leadership in the seventies and eighties, leading up to the authorization to build a temple, to the exchange of full-time missionaries?…”

    There were already Latter-day Saint families in East Germany’s territory when World War II ended, and they managed to keep the faith despite adverse circumstances. Building a temple in Freiberg wasn’t what Church leaders first had in mind when they were meeting with the East German government; they were negotiating for the Saints to get permission to visit the temple in Switzerland. And to their surprise, the government officials responded by asking why they couldn’t just build a temple there. Needless to say, once that offer was made, they took it.

  24. Germans chose Nazism in 1932, before the camps and all the rest. At the time, the choice was Nazism, Bolshevism, or continued anarchy. In 1938, the President of the Church visited Germany and advised the Saints there to do the best they could. What else could he have said?

  25. ji: Good point. The German people allowed themselves to be put in a situation where they only had bad choices.

    According to Solzhenitsyn, a similar thing happened in Russia. He said the Bolshevik revolution happened because “people forgot God.” That’s from his Templeton address.

    All of Europe, especially Germany, was morally corrupt between the two World Wars: prostitution was rampant, girls were being sold into sexual slavery, and especially Jewish girls were being sold and shipped from Russia and Eastern Europe to Western Europe and all over the world. It was so bad, “Jewess” became a word meaning prostitute in places where Jews were not a significant portion of the population.

    Obviously, this is not “the” reason for WW 2, but I mention it as a parallel to biblical and BoM accounts of various civilizations being conquered, where among the many reasons ancient prophets gave were crimes against children and extremely widespread sexual sin.

    By trying to find parallels between the mass deaths of the 20th century’s world wars to scriptural accounts of destruction, I conclude that some important factors of WWs 1 and 2 have not made it into history books.

    We don’t yet have the God’s-eye-view of what really happened to cause those world wars, and why God allowed it to happen. But the scriptural parallels are striking. Read what led up to Moses’ war against the Canaanites, what led to the conquest of the Northern Kingdom, and what led to the conquest of Judah: idolatry, child sacrifice, and “groves” which was a euphemism for religious-based prostitution.

    Not just present day europe, but now also the US are about as wicked overall and are destructive to children (especiallly in sexual matters) as inter-war Europe.

    As Solzhenitsyn woud say, we have forgotten God.

    The Bible says that God “shaved” Israel /Judah with a “hired razor” (Assyria and then Babylon).

    Who’s going to shave us and Europe?

    Btw, my source on inter-war trafficking of Jewish girls is Jewish historians.

  26. Bookslinger, I think we may be the razor hired to shave ourselves (or cut our collective throats)
    When a corrupt nation is too powerful to be destroyed from without (at least immediately) it tends to destroy itself from the inside.
    While Germanic tribes ultimately overran the Roman Empire, it was only after two centuries of internal rot.
    We may see something similar here.

  27. I appreciate all that be learned from this post and the opinions
    expressed in the comments.

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