German Heroes Immigrate to Utah

Kent Powell
History Blazer, February 1996

During the 1950s nearly 4,500 Germans left their war-torn country and immigrated to Utah. Most were members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and nearly all had family members or knew former missionaries in Utah who helped arrange for a place to stay and work once they arrived. All who left had remarkable stories about their experiences during Adolf Hitler’s Third Reich and the terror of World War II. However, none of those who arrived and made Salt Lake City their home could relate a more incredible experience than Karl-Heinz Schnibbe and Rudolf Wobbe.

As teenagers in Hamburg, Germany, the two boys and their friend Helmuth Hubener listened to BBC news broadcasts from England. This was strictly forbidden by the German government which claimed that the lies and propaganda broadcast by the enemy could harm Germany’s war effort. The three boys found that the English reports contradicted the broadcasts by the German news service and concluded that the German people were being lied to by their Nazi leaders. In time Hubener began to write flyers with such titles as Down with Hitler, Hitler the Murderer! Who is Lying! and The Voice of Conscience. The flyers were reproduced and distributed by the three boys. They secretly put the flyers in mailboxes, pinned them on bulletin boards, and stuffed them into coat pockets. In spite of all their precautions the boys were apprehended in February 1942, taken into custody, interrogated, harassed, and tortured. In May 1942 they were put on trial in Berlin for their alleged crime of high treason. The sentences were rendered in August: Karl-Heinz Schnibbe was given a five-year prison sentence; Rudi Wobbe, ten years in prison; and Helmuth Hubener, the acknowledged leader and instigator, was sentenced to death. The execution of the seventeen-year-old Hubener was carried out by guillotine on October 27, 1942.

Neither Wobbe nor Schnibbe served their full prison terms. During the last days of the war Schnibbe was released from his sentence and drafted into the German army. Taken prisoner, Schnibbe was sent to the Soviet Union and remained there until his release in 1949. Wobbe, who had not been drafted into the army because he had more than half of his ten-year prison sentence left to serve, survived the war and returned to Hamburg in 1945. Karl-Heinze Schnibbe, Rudi Wobbe, and Helmuth Hubener’s two half brothers, Hans and Gerhard Kunkel, were among the German immigrants who made Salt Lake City their home in the early 1950s.

After the war Helmuth Hubener was recognized as a martyr for his resistance against the Nazi regime. Among many measures to preserve the memory of the young hero was the establishment of the Helmuth Hubener Haus in Hamburg. A play depicting the struggle of Hubener and his friends for free speech in a totalitarian system has been written and produced by Utah writer Thomas Rogers. The story of the resistance group Hubener led has been chronicled in German and English language publications, including separate book-length accounts published in Utah by Rudi Wobbe and Karl-Heinz Schnibbe.

Source: Blair R. Holmes and Alan F. Keele, When Truth was Treason: German Youth Against Hitler (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1995).