Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Mormon who defied Hitler dies in Utah

Excerpts of Mormon who defied Hitler dies in Utah By Brandon Loomis, Salt Lake Tribune
He and two fellow German church members paid for spreading the word against the Nazis.

Karl Schnibbe was young and, he later would say, felt immortal in 1941, when he and two other Mormon lads denounced Adolf Hitler in leaflets they distributed by night around the working-class section of Hamburg.

Busted by the Gestapo and sent to torturous prison camps -- first by the Nazis and then by the Soviets -- Schnibbe lived to age 86 before dying Sunday from complications of Parkinson's disease in Salt Lake City, the community he adopted after World War II.

His friend and pamphlet ringleader, Helmuth Huebener, was beheaded in 1942 at age 17. His other collaborator, Rudolph Wobbe, also immigrated to -- and died -- in Utah.

Schnibbe retold the horrors and courage of their ordeal to Orem filmmaker Matthew Whitaker for a PBS documentary that frequently airs on KBYU. Later this year, Whitaker will retell it Hollywood-style in a feature film starring Haley Joel Osment as Huebener and Max von Sydow as the Nazi judge who sentenced the boys. The film, "Truth and Treason," is planned for release in fall 2011.

Huebener listened to British radio -- banned in Germany under threat of death -- and enlisted Schnibbe and Wobbe to wage a propaganda war telling Germans how they saw the war. Early versions were postcard-size with slogans such as "Hitler is a murderer," Keele said, and the boys moved about at night tacking them to bulletin boards, leaving them in phone booths and slipping them into pockets at opera-house cloak rooms. They kept it up through much of 1941, with the later leaflets describing the hopelessness of the German war effort based on the Third Reich's lack of oil, fights on multiple fronts and America's imminent entry.

A work colleague who Keele believes Huebener tried to recruit to the effort ratted out the trio. Huebener got death. Wobbe was sentenced to 10 years in a labor camp. And Schnibbe  got five years.

In all, he spent seven years in forced labor and emerged weighing less than 100 pounds and with poor night vision from malnutrition.

Tens of thousands of Mormons lived in Nazi Germany, Keele said, and they covered the political spectrum. Many of the boys' church mates kept their heads down even if they opposed the regime, he said, and their branch president was a Nazi Party member.

When they were caught, Keele added, the Gestapo started coming around to church meetings to "find out what was the deal with this American sect -- did they want to overthrow the government or what?" Ultimately, the secret police were satisfied the boys acted alone.

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