Documentary reveals ‘Truth and Conviction’

It is hard to find any public memorial of the Third Reich today in Germany. But there are memorials throughout Hamburg and Berlin — and now a documentary released this month in the United States — paying homage to the anti-Nazi activities of three young Latter-day Saints who resisted the regime.

Helmuth Hübener, then 16, Karl-Heinz Schnibbe, then 17, and Rudolph Wobbe, then 15, led a quiet resistance more than 60 years ago, distributing fliers throughout Hamburg denouncing Adolf Hitler and his propaganda machine.

"Truth and Conviction: The Helmuth Hübener Story," tells their experiences through the eyes of Brother Schnibbe, the group's last surviving member, and others.

"Nazi Germany was a time when good people were forced to make difficult decisions based on what information they had," said Brother Schnibbe. "For many of us, it was a time when patriotism and faith were at odds."

The one-hour documentary premiered on BYU Television Dec. 13. The video, by Matt Whitaker and Rick McFarland and distributed by Covenant Communications, is available at bookstores. "Truth and Conviction" will air again on BYU-TV Dec. 21 at 2 p.m.

Speaking to the Church News about the documentary and recalling his own story, Brother Schnibbe of the Valley View 3rd Ward, Holladay Utah North Stake, said most people today don't have any idea what it was like to live in Nazi Germany.

"It was terrible," he said.

Born with a "tender heart," Brother Schnibbe personally knew some of Germany's Jewish population; the doctor who delivered him was Jewish, as was one member of the branch of the Church that all three members of the Hübener group attended.

Then came the defining moment for Brother Schnibbe. In November 1938, on the "Night of the Broken Glass," the homes of Jews were destroyed and synagogues burned throughout Germany.

Brother Schnibbe's mother, aware her son could not change what happened, told him to forget the night.

But, he said, "I could not forget it."

Brother Schnibbe said he knew Helmuth Hübener from the time the two were little boys. Both members of the Church, they grew up surrounded by faithful Latter-day Saints in an environment where every member paid tithing and it was common for the branch to have 100 percent attendance.

Still, in the oppressive environment of Nazi Germany, Karl-Heinz, with another Latter-day Saint, Rudolph Wobbe, followed Helmuth's lead; their actions were contrary to the pro-Nazi views of their branch president and others.

Helmuth was smart, well read in the scriptures and politically aware. He also had access to a typewriter, paper and information gleaned from BBC radio broadcasts — heard from a shortwave radio during a time when the government had restricted listening to any radio broadcasts other than the approved party station. With information from the British, Helmuth wrote anti-Nazi fliers, which Karl-Heinz and Rudi distributed.

"Helmuth wasn't so stupid and naive to think we could bring German leaders to their knees," Brother Schnibbe said. "No, Helmuth wanted people to think."

However, when a flier found its way to the wrong hands, Helmuth and, later, his two friends were arrested. In August 1942, the three teens were accused of and tried for preparation to high treason and aiding and abetting the enemy. They stood before the highest court in Germany — the Blood Tribunal — and were found guilty.

Helmuth was sentenced to die. Karl-Heinz was sentenced to serve five years in a German labor camp; Rudi was sentenced to serve 10 years in a labor camp.

The hardest thing Brother Schnibbe has ever done was say goodbye to his friend Helmuth. He told Helmuth he would see him again and hugged him.

With tears in his eyes, Helmuth said, "I hope you have a better life and a better Germany." Then he cried.

"I will never forget that," said Brother Schnibbe. "That was so heartbreaking."

On Oct. 27, 1942, Helmuth was executed.

Rudi was released from prison in June 1945. Although still a political prisoner, Karl-Heinz was forced to march with the German army weeks before the end of the war and was captured by Russian forces. He was a prisoner of war in Russia for four more years. Both Karl and Rudi immigrated to the United States in the early 1950s.

In 1942, many considered the teens' actions foolish and wrong. Vindication came years later when Helmuth Hübener, Karl-Heinz Schnibbe and Rudi Wobbe were officially honored by the German government as resistance fighters against the Third Reich. BYU professor of history Douglas Tobler said the Hübener group and other resistance fighters provide the moral soil for the rebirth of Germany. Brother Wobbe died of cancer in 1992 at the age of 65.

It took years for the healing to begin in Brother Schnibbe, even longer for him to tell his story. "It was a long, dangerous road to freedom," he said. "It was a long, long road to become a human being again."

Even today, Brother Schnibbe finds himself uncomfortable with all the attention. Given the choice, however, he would do it all again. He has never regretted speaking out against Nazi Germany.

"Helmuth is the hero," he said. "Helmuth is my hero."

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