On today’s episode, Connor and Brittany tell the story of a young boy who stood up against the Nazi government during WWII.
Here’s a transcript of our conversation:
Connor: Hey, Brittany
Brittany: Hi, Connor.
Connor: You know, we haven’t talked about one of our heroes in a while. We did this book, The Tuttle Twins, Guide to Courageous Heroes. It’s a little hardback book for preteens and teens if you haven’t seen that. Tuttletwins.com/products.
Brittany: It’s one of my favorites.
Connor: And it’s a very fun book to read some of these inspiring stories. So, I’d like to spend today’s episode talking about one of our heroes, and I wanna talk about one who I feel a special connection to. I’ve always loved his story. We’ve mentioned him before, but we haven’t done an episode about him yet. His name was Helmuth Hübener. And, he was a boy who grew up in Germany during the Nazi era of World War II, and he was the youngest person to be formally executed by the Nazis. Can you imagine? I think he was, I’d have to look this up. I think he was about 16. And, certainly, younger people died as a result of what the Nazis did. But that was in, you know, concentration camps and, and war and so forth. But to go through this formal process to be charged with a crime, a supposed crime, and, sentenced to death, young Helmuth Hübener was the youngest person to do so. What do you know, let’s start here, Brittany. Maybe I’ll throw it to you. Tell me a little bit of what you know about the story and then we can continue from there.
Brittany: You know, it’s funny, I realized I didn’t know as much as I thought. Cause I grew up, he was the same religion I grew up as and I remember my parents throwing out his name. And as I was looking through the story, I realized they did not tell me the right story. Or, it was different. I grew up thinking that he was a guy who even when other, like religions were outlawed, cause the Nazis did not love religion because then you had to follow God and not, you know, the state, that he held church meetings in his house. That may have happened, but that’s not what he did that made him get put to death. So, it was really funny for me to do the research on this, because I’m like, oh, that’s not what I thought it was that’s funny.
Connor: That’s funny. Give us a few little tidbits of what he did.
Brittany: So what he did, I actually think of him, a lot of Sophie Scholl, which is one of my favorite episodes we did, where he was somebody who had to join Hitler Youth. Right. Because that’s, everybody had to, but he actually quit it because he realized like, these people are doing horrible things and one thing leads to another, and he gets exposed to what they called like enemy radio. So any radio that wasn’t right, the notch, the sanctioned radio. And he starts realizing like, oh, what we’re being told is not what’s going on. And remember, he was also seeing terrible things that were happening. And so he’s like putting two and two together, and so much like the White Rose, which we talked about. In another episode, he was like, you know what, I’m gonna make pamphlets and I’m gonna tell people what’s really going on. And he would go around putting up these pamphlets. So that’s kind of the basic overview of what he was known for.
Connor: Yeah. He was listening to the BBC, which was the British broadcasting Radio. Still right. And, yeah, still is. Yeah. And, they would, they would broadcast from very powerful radio antenna purposefully to try and get the Western point of view, about what was going on in the war into these homes, like young Helmuths. And so he actually, used a radio, I think it was his uncle’s if I remember right. And so he elite, his brothers, his brothers, okay. Yeah. He illegally, though, listened to these broadcasts ’cause the Nazis had outlawed that. And so he starts, as you point out, he starts to hear the lies, hears about the lies. He starts to realize that these are lies. The Nazi propaganda was telling about the war effort. And so he would write down, the details. He would, he enlisted a couple of his friends, close, trusted friends from his church congregation. And they would write down the details. And they started to, as you say, point out, or they would print and work on these leaflets, these pamphlets. They used the typewriter that belonged to their little church. And so he had this little typewriter at home. And so he would type these up, and then they would go distribute them all over the place. And, you know, they were caught. And, ’cause you, as you can imagine, young teenage boys are probably not the most sophisticated of, strategists to try and figure out, how to do this and not get caught. But Helmuth was a boy who, I mean, he was a devoted boy.
Brittany: How long the Connor, I’ve gotta ask you, how long did they make it?
Connor: I think only a couple of months, if I remember right. I’d have to go back and look. It wasn’t long. It wasn’t really short either. They were doing a little bit. They produced several pamphlets.
Brittany: Do you remember how long the white rose was able to make it? I can’t remember that either. Okay.
Connor: No. And, so Helmuth was a big advocate of the Boy Scouts. Well, of course, as you pointed out, everyone had to join the Hitler Youth. They shut the Boy Scouts down ’cause it was a competing organization. And so Helmuth actually didn’t feel comfortable with, Hitler’s youth. He quit when he was age 13. And so you can already see when he’s even younger that he is starting to feel very, kind of uncertain about what was happening. He was really frustrated. And so he starts to meet some friends who kind of had the same types of views. And so he would work with these people. And you know, the pamphlets that you read, what’s really interesting to me is, for example, here’s a portion of one of his pamphlets. He says, German boys, do you know the country without freedom, the country of terror and tyranny? Yes. You know it well but are afraid to talk about it. They have intimidated you to such an extent that you don’t care. Talk for fear of reprisals, which means punishment. Yes, you are right. It is Germany, Hitler’s Germany, through their unscrupulous terror tactics against young and old men and women, they have succeeded in making you spineless puppets to do their bidding.
Brittany: That gives me chills.
Connor: Yeah. Doesn’t it? And for a young boy, I think he was like 15 when he wrote that, right? I mean, just an amazing, intellect to even use words like unscrupulous.
Brittany: Yeah, I was gonna say.
Connor: You know. And, so he was seen by a coworker when he was trying to translate the pamphlets. He was, if I recall, translating them into French and he wanted them distributed among some prisoners of war. So he was caught, by a coworker and a Nazi party member who ratted him out. He was arrested. He was tried before what was called the People’s Court, which was really a Nazi-controlled court. It was, the term we used is a kangaroo court. And what that means is it’s just, a show. It’s, we’ve talked in past episodes how the TSA is like security theater. ’cause it’s not actually security, it’s just pretending to be, This court was pretending to be a court, but if you were charged with treason, you know, you were always gonna get sentenced to death. It was their process of saying, look, we put it through a, you know, court process. Look how official and legitimate it is. And so at the age of 17, he was tried as an adult by this court in Berlin, and he was sentenced to death. Now here’s, I mean, talk about chills. It was reported that after he was sentenced after the sentence was announced, Helmuth turned to the judges, and he said, now I must die even though I have committed no crime. So now it’s my turn, but your turn will come. I mean, imagine the strength to do that.
Brittany: Like, oh, I just think about it. Like I, you know, I think of myself as a pretty principled person, but I am scared of everything. So I just think about would have the strength to even do what he did in the first place, but then to look at them in the eyes and say that.
Connor: Yeah, the amazing, and remember, he had two friends who were helping him. Some people believed that Helmuth was saying, things that strongly in part because he wanted the judge’s anger to focus on him as the ringleader to spare his friends.
Brittany: That’s again, that’s very brave.
Connor: Which is also, yeah. Also exactly. Very brave. I mean, greater love had no man than this, than he laid down his life for his friends, which is a common Bible scripture that a lot of people know. And so here was young Helmuth, the very religious person, you know, who felt that way. And so it, whether he had that intention or not, ’cause I don’t know that he ever said that before, you know, he was executed. But I think a lot of people assume that’s why he was so bold like that, or one of the reasons, at least it worked. So, his friends received long prison sentences, but they survived the war. In fact, I briefly corresponded with one of his friends about a decade ago.
Brittany: Who’s still alive?
Connor: Who at the time was still alive. He’s since passed away. So both of these gentlemen, they lived to old age and moved to the United States, after the war.
Brittany: And so, they were spared.
Connor: Yeah, They were spared. They had prison sentences one of them, was in prison for five years and the other was in prison for 10 years. And so, you know, to me, here is someone who is willing to stand up for their conviction. He is only a teenage boy. I think of the teenagers that we know today, you know, and myself as a teenager, would I have done that? And it’s show just so impressive to see someone who is willing to stand up for what they believe is right. And it’s hard too because that was an environment, Brittany, you know, the story well there where everyone was snitching on everyone else. They were, you know, the Gestapo was there.
Brittany: Encouraged us to us. Yeah.
Connor: Exactly. Yeah. Kids were encouraged to rat out their parents and coworkers against coworkers. There was this environment in which everyone was, reporting other people and trying to gain favor with the Gestapo. Hey, look, I found a, you know, I found a rat. I found a traitor. And so it was this horrible environment where Helmuth was trying to stand up for what he believed. But man, can you, I mean, we probably take for granted our ability, right? To post on Twitter or on a podcast vent about how awful, you know, the government is on this or that. And here’s a boy who was not afforded free speech. He didn’t have any of those protections. Quite the opposite. There was an effort to root out anyone who dissented, who disagreed. and he went forward anyways, he broke the law, to listen to the BBC. He broke the law to create these pamphlets and he had some strong, I don’t know, he had some bravery and strength to do it.
Brittany: Bravery and strength that, again, I almost feel bad about the stupid things I was doing as a teenager, right? because it’s like, oh, I never did this. And we had stuff going on. I mean, you’re a teeny bit older than me, but not much where we had, you know, the Iraq war, and well, wait, you were still in school for that? Or were you in college? You were.
Connor: I don’t remember. It’s all a blur.
Brittany: But things like that where I was not, I was political, but I didn’t know what I was talking about. So I was not informed political, I was just, whatever George Bush said at the time. but I don’t think I would’ve had the strength to do that. And it’s really inspiring to me, and I hope it’s inspiring to our listeners. Cause they’re younger too. Like, well, you would, you have the strength to do that.
Connor: It also, for the parents listening, it makes me think of how Helmuth was raised, right? He wasn’t just like that on his own. Clearly, there were some parental influences. And so, how do we think about raising our children? What virtues do we want to teach them? How do we educate them? Cause clearly, Helmuth was an educated boy who, you know, was able to express these persuasive and powerful ideas. You can find these pamphlets, or what, you know, remains of some of them. There’s different portions online. You can find some quotes. It’s very clear that he was writing and it is what I would call an advanced, level. And so he clearly was being influenced and taught well, by, you know, teachers and parents. And so it makes me think as a dad for my own kids, you know, I don’t know what they’re gonna face in the future. I don’t know what the world is gonna be like. I don’t know what challenges they are going to have. What can I do today in the weeks, months, and years to come to prepare them? What can I teach them? How do I encourage them to stand up to know when to stand up, to have that level of bravery? And that’s why we wrote this Guide to Courageous Heroes was just to have these inspiring stories to help us discuss and ponder these things, right? If I were in Helmuth’s, shoes, what would I have done? If I were in Sophie Scholl’s shoes, what would I have done? Right? As you read through these stories, you start to wonder, okay, could I have done that? Would I have done that? Should I do that in the future? What if my kids need to do that? How am I preparing them? I think these are fascinating and important questions for us to think about as we consider, you know, what lies ahead. We don’t know if dark days are ahead or if things are gonna be kind of normal or whatever, but clearly in the past there have been a lot of big problems. And when these problems have arisen, that’s given an opportunity for heroes, brave people to stand up for what they believed in, even if, you know, they were ultimately as in Helmuth’s case executed. You know, we don’t remember his executioner. We don’t remember the judge. We don’t remember any of the people involved. The Gestapo guy, the Nazi party guy, the people who arrested him, that, like none of those people have a legacy who has a legacy. Helmuth does. Because he did what was right against all the odds. Even though he lost, even though, you know, the outcome was not good. The legacy that he leaves is a powerful one that is influencing people to this day. It influences me. It helps me think about how to raise my kids. And I think that’s a powerful thing for us to think about. So, if you guys haven’t read it yet, you go check out the Tuttle Twins Guide to Courageous Heroes. There’s lots more about Helmuth and many other, important and brave people. You can check it out at Tuttletwins.com/products. This is a story I love because, there are too few like them, I think, and Helmuth at a young age was willing to do something that many of us might not have the bravery to do. So it’s a good story to learn about. Thanks, Brittany, as always. And until next time, we’ll talk to you later.
Brittany: Talk to you later.