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Guest Post: In Memory of Karl-Heinz Schnibbe

By: Steve C - May 18, 2010

I was saddened when I read of the recent passing of Karl-Heinz Schnibbe.

Karl-Heinz Schnibbe was the last surviving member of the Helmuth Hübener group, a trio of Latter-day Saint teenagers from Hamburg, Germany who, during World War II, organized an anti-Hitler resistance group. Karl-Heinz, Helmuth and Ruddi Wobbe produced and distributed leaflets throughout Hamburg denouncing the corruption of the Nazi regime. In early 1942 the three were arrested and that August the group went on trial before the notorious Volksgerichtshof (People’s Court) in Berlin. Karl-Heinz received a five-year sentence, Ruddi a ten-year sentence. Helmuth Hübener, the ringleader of the resistance movement, was sentenced to death. His execution—by beheading—was carried out at the infamous Plötzensee prison in Berlin in October, 1942.

Karl-Heinz and Ruddi spent most of the remainder of the war in a labor camp. In the final days of the conflict, the Nazi regime released its political prisoners so they could help defend the crumbling Reich. Karl-Heinz was released from prison, issued a uniform and sent to Czechoslovakia as a “soldier.” He was quickly captured by the Red army and, since he was a German soldier, was sent to a prisoner-of-war camp deep within the Soviet Union. There he spent the next four years as a POW.

When he returned to Germany in 1949, Karl-Heinz was sickly and near death. He survived physically; however, it took him a while to recover emotionally. He eventually migrated to Salt Lake City where he spent the remainder of his life.

He wrote an account of his experiences entitled The Price. Later, it was revised and published as When Truth Was Treason. I read this second book while I was in graduate school. It ultimately influenced my decision to do dissertation research on the Latter-day Saints in the Third Reich.

In the spring of 1998, I traveled to Salt Lake City to begin researching. I contacted Karl-Heinz Schnibbe and arranged to meet with him for an interview. On the evening of 2 May, I went to his home in Holladay and spent the next several hours talking to him about his role in the Helmuth Hübener group. Karl-Heinz was very friendly and hospitable. He offered me something to drink (juice or a Coke—I had the Coke). He described to me the conditions in which he lived as a young Mormon in Hamburg. Kristallnacht (The Night of the Broken Glass), an all-out attack on German Jews that took place on 9/10 November 1938, Karl-Heinz explained to me, was a turning point in his life. From that time on, he knew the Nazis were evil. When, in 1941, Helmuth Hübener approached him about the resistance group, Karl-Heinz said he was prepared.

In our conversation, Karl-Heinz asked if I had ever seen the movie Schindler’s List. I said I had. He told me that in real life it was five times worse. He told me of his experiences in Russia as a prisoner of war and how difficult it was when he returned to Germany. As he explained to me, what got him through was that he forgave all those who had wronged him. He had a clear conscience.

Our interview turned to the gospel. He had a strong testimony. He related to me an experience he had as a Salt Lake temple worker. One morning he was working the desk at the underground entrance used by the General Authorities. On this particular morning, Elder Howard W. Hunter came through. Karl-Heinz waved him on through. A minute or so later, Elder Hunter came back and told Karl-Heinz that he had not asked him for his recommend. The lesson Karl-Heinz learned, which he taught me as well, is that the General Authorities are treated the same as any other member. We discussed the beauty of life and the evil that is in the world. When I commented to him how I considered him heroic for what he did, he quickly stated he did not consider himself a hero—he was just following his conscience.

Two months after my interview with Karl-Heinz Schnibbe I was once again in Salt Lake City for my sister-in-law’s wedding at the Salt Lake temple. As I was leaving the temple, I saw him at the recommend desk. I took a minute to say hello. He remembered me and our interview. In his hospitable manner, he invited me to bring my family by his home. Unfortunately, I did not have much time and did not take him up on his offer.

Though I never met up with Karl-Heinz Schnibbe again, my interview with him left a great impression on me. Recently I taught the Gospel Doctrine lesson on Joseph in Egypt and discussed how he forgave his brothers who had sold him into slavery. I used the example of Karl-Heinz to emphasize the principle of forgiveness. To me, Karl-Heinz exemplified what it means to be a Christian. And I will never forget this.



16 Comments »

  1. Thank you, Steve.

    (The first attempted post lost the ending — please be sure to reread if you saw this post early this morning.

    Later — The repost still lost the last line, which I have now added. I’m really sorry for all the scrambling, Steve — this is a beautiful tribute with glimpses of the man that were not part of all the press coverage.)

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — May 18, 2010 @ 7:54 am

  2. My daughter just wrote a paper about Hubener, so my family has been thinking and talking about this story a lot lately. I’ve not given a lot of thought to the men who worked with him. Thanks for helping us to appreciate Schnibbe as well.

    Comment by Jami — May 18, 2010 @ 9:09 am

  3. Thanks, Steve! A wonderful tribute to Brother Schnibbe.

    Comment by Mark B. — May 18, 2010 @ 9:10 am

  4. Thanks for sharing this, Steve.

    I’m always in awe of those persons who are able to see through the quotidian things of life and perceive where injustice and evil exist in society. “He was just following his conscience” is truly easier said than done, I think.

    Thanks again for this — it was wonderful.

    Comment by Hunter — May 18, 2010 @ 9:17 am

  5. Thanks, Steve.

    Comment by J. Stapley — May 18, 2010 @ 9:30 am

  6. I was fascinated to read that Brother Schnibbe could pinpoint the moment when he knew that he was witnessing evil. Truly an exemplary gentleman. Thanks, Steve, for posting this.

    Comment by Alison — May 18, 2010 @ 10:59 am

  7. In many ways, Brother Schnibbe’s story is more remarkable than Hubener’s in that he survived the war years, the years in a Soviet prison camp, and emerged with the ability to forgive those who had wronged him. To then go on and live out the rest of his life in a rather normal manner amazes me. Truly a wonderful man. His example, along with Helmut Hubener and Rudi Wobbe, should be celebrated.

    Comment by kevinf — May 18, 2010 @ 11:14 am

  8. Thank you, Steve. What an amazing story.

    Comment by Researcher — May 18, 2010 @ 12:13 pm

  9. Thanks, Steve. A fitting tribute to a brave man.

    Comment by Anne (U.K) — May 18, 2010 @ 1:51 pm

  10. Steve, thank you for sharing your personal feelings about this incredible man.

    Comment by Maurine — May 18, 2010 @ 4:14 pm

  11. Thank all of you for allowing me to say a few words about Karl-Heinz Schnibbe. What impressed me most about him from the few hours I spent with him (which went by too fast) was that he was as friendly, kind and humble as he was courageous and brave.

    I hope all of you can read one of the books about the Helmuth Hübener group and get to know the three a little better.

    Comment by Steve C. — May 18, 2010 @ 5:19 pm

  12. I appreciate this post. This story has always interested me, but I’m soaking more in as I recently found out that my mom’s cousin is Karl-Heinz Schnibbe’s wife. It’s interesting how a personal connection like that immediately increases my desire to learn more. Personal experiences people have had with him are a blessing to read.

    I’m going to pass this along to my mom. Thanks, Steve.

    Comment by Michelle — May 19, 2010 @ 12:38 am

  13. Nice tribute, Steve.

    I picked up a copy of The Price a few years ago when I found it in a pile of discarded books from the meetinghouse library.

    Comment by Justin — May 19, 2010 @ 8:09 am

  14. Steve, thank you for sharing your personal feelings about this incredible man.

    Comment by Bruce — May 21, 2010 @ 4:00 pm

  15. Dear Steve, Thank you so much for the kind words you have written about my Father. As I read through your article I could still hear his voice. This has not been easy on any of us, but it is people like yourself that will help keep the memory and story of my Father alive. Thank you again,
    Respectfully Tracy

    Comment by Tracy Schnibbe Nielsen — July 24, 2010 @ 10:08 pm

  16. Tracy: I was honored to have been able to have met your father, Karl-Heinz Schnibbe and spend a brief evening with him. It is an experience that I will never forget. He was a great person whom I will always respect.

    Comment by Steve C. — July 25, 2010 @ 2:36 pm

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