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.