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Faces of Courage, The Helmuth Huebener Group

The Helmuth Huebener Group

Helmuth Huebener and his friends, Karl Heinz Schnibbe, Rudolf Wobbe and Gerhardt Duewer, were known as the Huebener group. They defied the Nazi regime by distributing leaflets to expose the lies and deceit of Nazi propaganda. This was viewed as a crime by Nazi authorities and was severely punished. Helmuth Huebener was seventeen years old when he was sentenced to death. Karl, Rudolf and Gerhardt were imprisoned and sent to forced labor camps in Russian and Poland.

From 1941 to 1943 they distributed their leaflets to working class sections of Hamburg, a busy industrial city, situated in northern Germany on the Elbe and Alster Rivers. Hamburg was Germany’s second largest city and its biggest port.

Sons of working class families, Helmuth and Gerhardt were administrative apprentices in social administration. Karl-Heinz was apprenticed to a house painter and Rudi (Rudolf), the youngest member of the group, was a mechanic’s apprentice. Full of youthful idealism and exuberance, the Huebener group may not have been fully aware of where their activities would take them.

“Come and visit me. I have something to show you”, Helmuth told Karl at a meeting of young people at St. Georg’s. Karl had no idea of what he would find when he arrived at the apartment later that night. It was dark and quiet in the apartment; Helmuth’s grandparents were already asleep. Helmuth showed Karl a small radio. “The radio has short wave and we can listen to foreign broadcasts.”

“Man are you nuts?” Karl said. “Don’t you know that’s illegal?” He was feeling nervous, knowing that listening to foreign broadcasts was strictly forbidden and severely punished.

“Hitler is making a lot of good things illegal. But we are not sheep, we don’t have to obey all the crazy laws.” Helmuth said, turning on the radio.

A feeble light illuminated the numbers on the short wave dial and they listened to the German language broadcast from the Britain. The broadcast contradicted all the boasts of German victories they were hearing every day.

“Do you realize that we are being told lies. They tell us that hundreds of Russian soldiers are being killed, but they don’t mention how many German soldiers are also losing their lives”.

“Think about it, Germany has no raw materials and is dependent on other countries. When the Allies will start to win, Germany will have nothing. Hitler is leading us to destruction. Don’t you think people have the right to hear the truth”.

The British had already begun to bomb Hamburg. After the broadcast, Helmuth showed Karl a leaflet he had written.

“I know you’ll want to help me distribute these”, he said handing the leaflet to Karl. Karl picked up the red paper and felt it burn his hand, He could not believe what he was reading.

Who is Lying ??????????????????
The official report of the German
High Command of the Armed Forces

Quite a while ago they claimed
The roads to Moscow, Kiev
and Leningrad were opened

And today-six weeks after
Germany’s invasion of the USSR,
Severe battles are still occurring
Far from these places.
This is how they are lying to us!

“This is crazy”, Karl said. “Don’t you know how dangerous this is?”

“It’s only dangerous if we are not careful and we will be careful. People need to be told the truth”.

“But how is this going to help anybody?” Karl asked.

“What we can do is warn people and wake them up. When enough people hear the truth, who knows what can happen”.

Karl was reluctant but he agreed to take seven leaflets. The streets were very dark because of the blackout. Britain had begun their bombing raids on Hamburg. Karl felt sick to his stomach with fear, and looked around him. When he was sure there was no one to see, he placed a leaflet in the telephone box at the entranceway of an apartment house. When he had gotten rid of all the leaflets, he let out a sigh of relief and dashed home as fast as he could.

Two policemen were on the street where Karl lived. Passing them he mumbled “Heil Hitler” and wished them a good evening.

“Where are you going so late?” one of the policeman asked.

“Oh, I was just visiting a friend”, Karl answered in as strong a voice as he could muster.

“Well, good night then. Let’s hope there will be no more air raids.”

Opening the door to his apartment, he felt a wave of relief. He did not want to distribute any more leaflets. If Helmuth asked him at that moment to distribute more leaflets, he would turn him down. But the next morning he felt differently and told himself that he would be willing to do it now and again. If he were careful, nothing could go wrong. HE did not tell his mother what he had done.

Karl was to learn later that Rudi was involved. He did not know about Gerhardt until later. Helmuth tried to protect his friends by not telling them everything. At that time Karl did not know that Helmuth had already written and distributed short leaflets.

The President of the church knew about Helmuth’s good stenographic and typing skills and asked him to type letters to soldiers on the front lines. He gave Helmuth a typewriter and access to paper. Helmuth typed his first leaflet on red paper so it would be noticed and made ten copies.

Down with Hitler.
People’s Seducer
People’s Corrupter
People’s Traitor
Down with Hitler.
He put them in the telephone boxes of apartment buildings with the notice, “This is a chain letter, so pass it on.” The first leaflets were very short and contained brief messages, but listening to the radio broadcasts gave him the idea of writing news reports. With carbon paper he typed seven or eight copies at a time. Realizing that if the information campaign was to be successful, he would need the help of his friends.
Helmuth, Karl and Rudi saw one another often at the church. Karl and Rudi looked up to Helmuth who often had answers to difficult questions. They knew he read a lot of books and knew a great deal about religion as well as history. Karl began to call Helmuth the “professor” because he seemed to know so much. On his part, Helmut trusted Karl and Rudi. They met regularly in the church and often went to a small restaurant afterwards. That is where they told one another about their experiences with the Nazi Youth.

The three boys were forced to join the Hitler Youth against their will. Strong individualists, they shared an intense dislike of Nazi Youth activities, the pressures to conform, the persecution of Jewish people, and the ugliness and sheer brutality of what they saw around them. Helmuth, Karl and Rudi came from religious families and much of what they saw around them contradicted their beliefs. Hamburg was a working class city with a strong tradition of Social Democracy and many Mormons were Social Democrats who had opposed Hitler. Helmuth thought that the Mormons who supported Hitler were mislead and misinformed like the President of St. Georg’s who was a member of the Nazi party. Helmuth still had respect for the President and knew he was a good and caring man. He could not understand what made him have so much faith in Hitler.

Living in Hamburg, where there was still a strong belief in democracy, Helmuth, Karl and Rudi were skeptical and aware of the cruelties imposed by Hitler. Hamburg never went completely over to the Nazis like other German cities; the city had too many Social Democrats. Hamburg was a sprawling city with many bridges that cross the rivers and canals. Nazi patrols were everywhere. Whenever a flag patrol came along, everyone was expected to stop and raise his or her hands in salute. Helmuth avoided the patrols and when he saw them coming, he would turn and walk the other way. From the corner of his eye, he could see that there were other people managed to avoid saluting too.

As teen aged boys, Helmuth, Karl and Rudi lived with their families. Helmuth’s mother worked as a nurse and when she married for the second time, Helmuth moved in with his grandparents. He was not happy with his new stepfather who was avid Nazi. Rudi lived with his widowed mother, who had strong religious beliefs and encouraged Rudi to be respectful of other people. Their family doctor was Jewish and she refused to find another doctor, even after people were warned not to go to Jewish physicians. Karl’s parents were social democrats.

One evening when Helmuth, Karl and Rudi were walking home from church they defiantly began to sing American songs. They heard the loud voice of a Nazi Youth Patrol ordering them to stop.

“How dare you sing English songs?” the Nazi Youth demanded to see their identification papers and warned them never to sing English songs again.

Helmuth remarked, “Have you noticed that that our country is being run by threats and brutal force”.

“Everywhere you go you see signs that say “Forbidden”, Forbidden on pain of death” “Not permitted” “What kind of country is this, anyway?” Karl added.

“This country is headed for destruction,” Helmuth said in a soft voice.

As young men, the four boys were forced to become members of the Hitler Youth. Helmuth detested the boring meetings, the constant saluting to Hitler, and he avoided going to the meetings. Karl also did not want to go but his father cautioned him that it was dangerous not to attend the meetings and he went against his will, but he refused to wear the uniform and was expelled. Rudi stopped going to meetings after Nazi Youth patrol tried to stop him, because he did not salute. Angrily, Rudi drove his bicycle into one of the members of the patrol, knocking him down. He rode quickly away. That was the last time he had anything to do with the Nazi Youth.

The persecution of Jewish people was deeply disturbing to the boys. It was senseless, cruel and tragic. They saw first hand the increasing brutality and the beatings.

They had Jewish friends who were disappearing. As a painter’s apprentice, Karl-

Heinz worked in the neighborhood where many Jewish people lived. He had just become a painter’s apprentice, when he saw the shattered windows of shops owned by Jewish people. Clothing and other goods were lying in the gutter. Until that night in 1938, that became known as Crystal Night (Krystallnacht), no one thought the Nazis would do go to such violent extremes. The day he saw an old man being brutally beaten by a policeman, he knew he hated everything the Nazis stood for. Rudi remembered the horrified look on his mother’s face when she told him that their family physician had been arrested and sent away.

Helmuth brought a packet of letters he had typed for the president of St. Georg’s and saw the sign on the door forbidding Jews to enter. He wanted to tear the sign down. Soon after, the President asked that a radio be brought into the church so everyone could listen to Hitler’s speeches. Karl’s father who told the President “This is a church of God not a political meeting” and the President relented.

Helmuth discovered that Nazi spies monitored the meetings at the church. One evening Helmuth saw a few Nazi youth enter the church and recognized them. Afraid they had come to make a disturbance, he confronted them. “What are you doing here, You boys are not interested in our church services”. He was surprised that the Nazi Youth left quietly. But it was becoming obvious that people were becoming increasingly fearful, there were very few outspoken objections to Nazi policies.

After he distributed his first seven leaflets, Karl saw Helmuth at church on Sunday.” Well how’s it going? Helmuth asked laughing. If I know you, I know you did everything perfectly”. Both of them were laughing so hard, that Rudi came up and asked what was so funny. Rudi was two years younger than Karl. He had no idea that Helmuth had already spoken to Rudi. Helmuth invited them both to come to his apartment. The best nights for listening to the broadcasts together were Friday or Saturday nights. Karl’s’ mother allowed him to stay out later those nights; during the week he went to church with his parents. The boys met again on the following Saturday and Helmuth told described his plan. He wanted to conduct a full fledged informational resistance.

“What do you mean?” Karl asked.

“I mean that the leaflets should report the news we hear from the British. People

have a right to know the truth”.

“You don’t think that the three of us can overthrow the government do you?” Karl took a deep breath. Helmuth was surely going to get them all in trouble.

“No, but we can keep people informed and show them that there is opposition. They will begin to talk to one another and who knows what will happen”

“I’ll have to think about it,” Karl said.

Rudi was also hesitant.

“Most people do not have short wave radios, unless we tell them what is happening, how else will they know?” Helmuth insisted.

Everyone was quiet, then Rudi said, “OK I’ll help you.” Helmuth went into the next room and returned with a pile of papers. He showed them his shorthand notes of the broadcasts and explained how he would prepare the leaflets. Both Karl and Rudi had already seen the shorter handbills. This was the first letter sized leaflet that described the brutal treatment given to Russian prisoners of war.

“Who else knows about these leaflets?” Karl asked.

“No one, only us” but Helmuth told them he planned to ask Gerhardt, his friend at work. The boys agreed not to mention the leaflets to anyone and if one of them was caught, they agreed he should take the blame.

When there was a new leaflet to distribute, Helmuth announced to Karl and Rudi, “Isn’t it time for us to get together to do something?” That was the signal that more leaflets were ready for distribution. At first there was a new leaflet every other week and then every week. Sometimes there were two in a week. Helmuth even got hold of a stamp with an eagle and a swastika and made the leaflets look like the Nazis made them. Gerhardt joined the group and the boys were assigned different neighborhoods. They were distributing about sixty leaflets at a time.

Wandering about the darkened city, they were careful not to be seen as they tacked the leaflets to the bulletin boards in the entranceways of the apartment buildings.

Crossing over the bridges, they went all around Hamburg and got to know which times were the safest to put up the leaflets. When there were air raids, they went to the air raid shelters, but they resumed their work as soon as the all clear sounded. It was tense work, because they never knew when they would be seen or reported. Rudi was less careful than Helmuth or Karl and kept his leaflets in a secret hiding place behind a strip of wallpaper that had become loose. This was like a pocket and when he was ready to leave work, he took leaflets out and distributed them on his way home. He did not always until dark.

Karl almost got into trouble when he was chatting with friends in a nearby café and showed them a leaflet. They were shocked and scolded him. Grinning, Karl told them it was a joke and put the leaflet away. From then on, he did not take any more chances.

For almost two years, Helmuth, Karl, Rudi and Gerhardt distributed the leaflets to apartment buildings all over the city. People were getting desperate as the bombings intensified. There was rubble and bombed out buildings everywhere. And the Nazi patrols were always on guard. But no one was caught.

There were many French prisoners of war working in the factories of Hamburg decided to have one of the leaflets translated into French. Helmuth knew an apprentice who spoke French and before he had a chance to discuss the idea with his friends, he showed the leaflet to the apprentice and asked him to translate it. The apprentice read the leaflet and threw it back at Helmuth. He reported him to the Gestapo that very afternoon in February 1943.

A notice was posted at the church announcing Helmuth’s arrest.

Karl felt sick, he knew he and Rudi would soon be arrested too. The boys had agreed that if one was arrested, he would take the blame and not involve the others. But the following Monday a green paddy wagon, the “Green Minna” came for Karl. There were 20 or 30 other prisoners in the wagon. They were taken to the prison.

The prison guards were sadistic individuals and never missed an opportunity to humiliate a prisoner. The Gestapo wanted the prisoners to feel less than human and they let the prisoners know they could do whatever they wanted. Karl steeled himself to become callous and ignore the cruel comments. He knew that if he let himself care too much, he would go to pieces. He tried to concentrate on something else to be able to stand the long waits and the intense fear; he tried thinking about visits to his aunt in the country.

The prisoners had to wake up at 5 in the morning. They had to make their beds perfectly or they would be punished. A Dutch prisoner showed Karl how to make his bed. Breakfast was a thin crust of bread and ersatz coffee. After breakfast the prisoners were manacled together and taken back to the Green Minna to Gestapo headquarters. The prisoners included physicians, scientists, teachers as well as workers, it didn’t matter, everyone was treated the same.

When Karl saw Helmuth a few days later, he was shocked at the black and blue marks on his face. But Helmuth managed to wink at him and even grin. During the long waits before they were questioned by the Gestapo and wondered where Helmuth was. “A member of our branch Helmuth Huebener has been arrested by the Gestapo. I cannot give you any details to the Frenchmen who were working in Germany.

Helmuth Huebener was seventeen years old when he was executed. He was the youngest resistance fighter to lose his life in Ploetzensee, the infamous Nazi center of death. The other members of the group were imprisoned and sent to forced labor camps in Poland and Russia.

When Truth was Treason: German Youth Against Hitler, The Story of the Helmuth Huebener Group based on the narrative of Karl Heinz Schnibbe with documents and notes, compiled by Blair R. Holmes & Alan F. Keele U. of Illinois Press, Urbana and Chicago, 1995