This is an archived copy of a post written by Conflict Of Justice (conflictofjustice.com). Used with permission: Conflict Of Justice may not agree with any alterations made.
Among all the Anti-Mormons spin-jobs out there, the revision of Helmuth Hübener’s history stands out as particularly loathsome.
False Claim – Anti-Mormons have taken a story of remarkable courage and righteousness, and they have spun it into an embarrassing scandal of complicity with Nazis. Instead of telling our kids about the Latter-day Saint child who stood up to the Nazis and sacrificed his life for what’s right, we are compelled to run away from the issue or give justifications whenever “historians” bring it up. Helmuth Hübener deserves much better, and so do the church leaders who did the right thing in the face of historic evil. They deserve to have their story told in every meetinghouse in the world. We should revere and honor them as we do every martyr who has given his life and soul for Jesus Christ.
We should also teach the truth about Anti-Mormons who were complicit with Naziism and persecuted the saints for opposing it.
Not A Real Excommunication
Helmuth Hübener was not excommunicated. The apostate church member who tried to excommunicate him did so improperly and lacked authority. It is like a county judge striking down a federal law on behalf of the entire country–he could speak the words but they didn’t mean anything. Like Wesley in The Princess Bride said: “It never happened.” Anti-Mormons inflate the improper procedure to be an excommunication, and they cover up the truth.
On February 5, 1942, Helmuth Hübener was arrested by the Nazi Gestapo and tried with treason and conspiracy to commit high treason. He had transcribed Allied radio recordings and distributed them in French to prisoners of war. Ten days later, branch president Arthur Zander reportedly “wrote ‘Excommunicated’ on Hubener’s membership record.”
And… that’s it. That’s what historians call “excommunication.”
The truth is a branch president cannot just write “excommunicated” on someone’s local record and have that mean anything. An actual excommunication is much different.
- Excommuncation “includes removal of a member’s name from the records of the Church”–the complete removal not just some label marked on it, and removed from the records at official church headquarters not just in the local clerk’s office.
- One reason for excommunication is a “serious civil court conviction such as a felon.” Helmuth’s arrest would fit this qualification. He did, after all, spread direct propaganda from a state enemy in a time of war. The problem is Helmuth was not convicted of anything until six months after his arrest, and the so-called excommunication happened ten days after. There was no valid reason for an excommunication.
- Bishops have the power to be judges, but Arthur Zander was not a bishop. He was a branch president, which is different. When an area does not have enough priesthood holders to form a ward, the Mission President may form a branch, and the branch president acts under the authority of the mission’s district president. Often, there will be a small handful of Melkizedek Priesthood holders in the area, and one of them gets appointed branch president. Zander had reportedly only been a church member for two years before being appointed. The branch erpresident must get the permission of the district president for things such as excommunications, and Zander did not do so.
- Disciplary councils are required by D&C 42:80-93 and D&C 102 for excommunications. “The high council cannot have power to act without seven of the above-named councilors, or their regularly appointed successors are present.” The disciplary council is what decides the course of action for the accused, not a lone leader. Zander did not convene any kind of council as required by scripture and church policy. He acted completely on his own.
“If a member commits a serious sin, formal Church discipline, including official probation, disfellowshipment, or excommunication, may be necessary. The branch president reviews the matter with the mission president, who decides whether a disciplinary council is necessary. Under the mission president’s direction, a district president or a branch president who holds the Melchizedek Priesthood may preside over a disciplinary council. These councils are conducted in a spirit of love. They are intended to help a transgressor repent and once again enjoy the full blessings of the gospel.” (Branch Presidency, Church Branch Guidebook)
Wikipedia admits Zander did not follow the policies “normally prerequisite for excommunication,” but incorrectly claims he was “excommunicated” anyway. They claim he was “posthumously reinstated” back into the church by a Mission President, but provide no explanation for what that actually means. Does that mean the Mission President took an eraser to the word “excommunicated” on his local record? According to a (now not found) Sunstone article, the Mission President “wrote ‘excommunication done by mistake’ on Hubener’s membership record.” That is not how a person rejoins the church, and Wikipedia is lying. Being re-baptized back into the church takes a lot more than just scribbling a note on someone’s local membership record (which would have been removed if he had been excommunicated in the first place.)
What Was Zander’s Intention? – Wikipedia assumes Arthur Zander must have been a “supporter of the Nazi Party” because he placed a notice on the meetinghouse entrance: “Jews not welcome.” That is a likely assumption. But let’s consider the possibilities of Zander’s mindset. I’m not defending Zander–it was despicable and cowardly thing to do in any case. But what was his mindset? Church missionaries were being arrested by the Gestapo, meetinghouses were being raided and shut down, and it was a very precarious time to be a member of the church in Germany. If there were a group of young men in the branch going around spreading anti-Nazi leaflets around town, it seems like a supporter of the Nazis would do a lot more than put up a sign and write “excommunicated” on one kid’s church record after his arrest. I would expect pro-Nazi sermons, public denunciations, investigations, etc.
Sunstone Magazine claims Zander wrote that on Helmuth’s local church record “with the apparent consent of Interim West German Mission President, Anton Huck,” but I have found no evidence of this. I don’t know how they would come to this conclusion, or why a Mission President who would certainly be knowledgeable about the correct nature of excommunications would consent to this. If the Mission President really were aware of what was going on, perhaps context missing from Wikipedia’s article on Helmuth Hubener could provide a clearer picture.
Witch-Hunt By Nazi Anti-Mormon
Helmuth did not act on his own. He produced the pamphlets “on the typewriter belonging to his LDS branch and recruited two fellow Mormons to distribute them.” Two other young Latter-day Saint children of the branch were part of his team transcribing Allied anti-Nazi radio broadcasts and distributing them around the German town. Again, it seems like a fervent Nazi supporting branch president would quickly take action on this.
But it wasn’t Zander who caused trouble. Helmuth Hubener was ratted out by a non-member superior named Heinrich Mohn at the city’s social welfare agency office where he worked. Now, I don’t see Wikipedia or any historians mention what religion Heinrich Mohn belonged to. Why is that? Who was this Heinrich Mohn? What ever happened to him? What religion did he belong to? When I look up “Heinrich Mohn” I find something very disturbing… but I cannot verify this is the same Heinrich Mohn so I will not go more into it. I plead with professional historians to look into this.
Gestapo Vows To ‘Eliminate’ Mormons – As for what happened after the arrest, according to Sunstone, it was Helmuth’s Nazi step-father–a bitter Anti-Mormon–who jumped on Helmuth’s arrest to instigate a crack-down on “Mormons” by the Nazi government.
“Throughout their investigation of the case, the Gestapo strongly suspected that Hubener had been acting as a ‘front’ for some mysterious agent. Hugo Hubener, the Storm Trooper who had always distrusted the Mormons told the police that he suspected ‘that liberal’ Otto Berndt of corrupting his stepson. (District President) Berndt was picked up for questioning and held for four days at Gestapo headquarters. As president of the Hamburg District, Berndt knew that the Gestapo’s judgment of him could affect every Church member in Germany. He prayed earnestly for guidance and, as he reports, the Lord supplied him the right words throughout his four days of detention. Finally, at the end of that time, the Gestapo, apparently satisfied, he was released. Although Berndt remembers nothing he said or did during those four days, he does vividly recall his release, when a Gestapo officer accompanied him from his cell to the exit. ‘Make no mistake about it, Berndt,’ the man told him, ‘When we have this war behind us, when we have time to devote to it and after we have eliminated the Jews, you Mormons are next!'” (Sunstone Magazine, article now “not found”)
Of course! An Anti-Mormon!
Why is it when I look into sinister and embaressing episodes of church history I often discover Anti-Mormon persecution lying concealed behind the surface? Why is that? When I looked into the church’s history with racism, I found that Latter-day Saints were subject to Missouri’s state-sponsored “extermination” because Anti-Mormons didn’t like that the church opposed slavery. Historians have not given us a fair picture of Anti-Mormon hatred targetting the church in tandem with infamous historical movements of atrocity. Wikipedia and other media organizations do not provide this vital context of Anti-Mormon Naziism. Instead, Anti-Mormons are out on social media saying we worked with the Nazis.
Is this a case of a Latter-day Saint leader betraying a child-hero? No, this is an Anti-Mormon expoiting the murder of his own step-son to instigate a Nazi crackdown on Latter-day Saints.
Not only did Zander’s district president Otto Berndt not provide the necessary support of an excommunication, the district president was also arrested and interrogated by the Gestapo for being a threat to the Nazis. The Gestapo vowed to take on the cause of Anti-Mormons and “eliminate Mormons” after they got done with the Jews. This district president boldly stood for the right in the face of enormous threat. Isn’t it interesting that Anti-Mormons frequently bring up (and lie about) what happened to Helmuth Hubener and yet they never mention this, do they? It turns out we had another extermination order coming because of Anti-Mormons, but luckily the Nazis were stopped and their atrocious evil was exposed for the world to see.
The Nazi government continued to arrest Latter-day Saint missionaries, take church property, and closely monitor church activities. According to accounts, Latter-day Saints generally tried to lay low and not arouse the government’s anger, but the arrest of Helmuth Hubener caught widespread Gestapo attention.
“Otto Berndt had done a short stint in the Luftwaffe but had spent so much time in hospitals with minor illnesses that he was classified as unfit for duty and sent home. He admitted that his health was not seriously impaired, but the change in status allowed him not only to avoid military service for the duration of the war but also to travel without restriction—both evidences to him of God’s protecting hand….
The Gestapo theory that the boys had been enlisted by conniving adults was pursued aggressively, and district president Otto Berndt was summoned to Gestapo headquarters as part of the investigation….
His description of the setting gives a clear picture of Hitler’s police state:
“I felt the presence of evil and knew that I was in a dangerous situation and could not escape. Before entering the room I had said (‘screamed’ would be a better word for it) a quick prayer to my Heavenly Father. I cried for help from the depths of my soul; no sound escaped my tongue. When I sat down, all fear left me and I was encompassed by total peace. . . . I knew that God had heard my prayer and that I was under His protection. I noticed that a higher power had taken control over my body and this feeling stayed with me for four days—the duration of my interrogation. There is no other way to explain it; there is no other way that I could have answered all of those questions honestly and quickly and to the satisfaction of the Gestapo.”
In his recollection, Otto Berndt was questioned about the teachings of the Church, the relationship of the Church and the state, the philosophy of the Church regarding Jews, and several other topics….
Branch meetings were observed by government agents for some time after the incident, and the Church equipment used by Helmuth to produce the handbills was confiscated and not returned.” (BYU Religious Studies Center, Hamburg District)
Honoring Helmuth – Of course, that is nothing compared to what Helmuth endured. During his eight months in prison, he was legally subject to torture. Due to the instigation of the Hitler’s Youth and Anti-Mormons, the government decided to pursue the death penalty, and as a child he he became the youngest German ever executed by the Nazis. Through it all, he did not relent in his opposition to Nazi’s evil and his dedication to Jesus Christ. He will go on as a beloved and honored Latter-day Saint hero.
His brave stand reminds me of the prophet Abinadai before King Noah:
“I am very grateful to my Heavenly Father that my miserable life will come to an end tonight–I could not bear it any longer anyway. My Father in Heaven knows that I have done nothing wrong. I am just sorry that I had to break the Word of Wisdom at my last hour. I know that God lives and He will be the Just Judge in this matter. I look forward to seeing you in a better world!
Your friend and brother in the Gospel,
In order to appreciate Helmuth’s martyrdom, we need to approach this issue in an honest way. In today’s internet culture, history gets hijacked by ideologues with a political agenda, cut up and repackaged into a phony narrative, and few do this more than Anti-Mormons. We need to get rid of the Presentism that so many fall victim to, and understand that we can’t really understand the whole picture unless we were there. We weren’t in Germany at this time, we don’t really appreciate all that was going on, and we do not know the enormous pressure to conform. Let’s not judge too quickly. We don’t know the cover-ups of atrocities and the glorified propaganda that convinced so many Germans to go along with it. We all want to be super-heroes that stand for what’s right in the face of death, but I think in the end few people have the courage and integrity of Hemuth Hubener.
Figure Out The Correct Side First – He did violate the law. As far as the law is concerned, strictly speaking, it is like someone transcribing a radio broadcast of an overseas terrorist and distributing it to the public. It would result in a person’s arrest and excommunication. One might ask: Our belief in honoring and sustaining the law goes both ways, right? Well, I think that’s part of why Anti-Mormons exploit this issue. I often see Anti-Mormons agitate for an elimination of the separation of church and state–taxing churches and so forth. I believe in keeping religion and politics separate, yet in a case like Nazi Germany should they have just sit idly by and refused to stand up for what’s right? Helmuth had a religious motivation to oppose the Nazi government. Meanwhile, Anti-Mormons complain about the church “getting involved in politics” yet get upset in cases like this when they say the church should have gotten more involved. They’ll complain either way.
I think a major difficultly was knowing when it was appropriate to be Abinadai and knowing when they should keep out of it. It would have also been hard to know if they were on the right moral side. The common German knew little of what was really happening at that time–hindsight is 20/20. Helmut’s job gave him access to important literature, and his daring transcription of Allied broadcast helped him closely study out the issues. He devoted a lot of time and effort to figuring out which side was right, and he had the fortitude to go against the entire popular culture he was living in. He stood up for the persecuted minorities.
Of the hundreds of elderly church members I have personally met who were alive during World War 2, none supported the Nazi regime. Well, I suppose it would be easy for a person to deny it many years after the fact, right? That’s just what they told me. Did they ever wonder if 50 years from then when whether they would honestly be able to say they were on the right side? Helmuth was on the right side because he avoided getting caught up in emotional trends and conspiracy theories, and he called out the morality of actual events for what they were. The warning signs were there in 1940’s Germany, and the kids in this Hamburg branch recognized them.
It is a great story that we as a church can be proud of. The dear Latter-day Saints in Germany I have gotten to know and love continue this legacy of strength and integrity. They do not deserve the smears coming from the Anti-Mormon community. They do not deserve the scapegoating and spite. Some of the noblest acts in the restored church have been achieved by children, and Helmuth Hübener will go on as an example for us all to follow and cherish.