Hübener came from an apolitical family in Hamburg, Germany. He belonged to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS), as did his mother and grandparents. His adoptive father gave him the name Hübener.
The youthful Helmuth had, since a small child, planned on becoming a Boy Scout, an organization strongly supported by his church, but in 1935 the Nazis banned Scouting from Germany. He then joined the Hitler Youth, as required by the government, but would later disapprove of Kristallnacht, the "night of the broken glass," when the Nazis, including the Hitler Youth, destroyed Jewish businesses and homes. When one of the leaders in his local congregation, a new convert of under two years, undertook to bar Jews from attending its religious services, Hübener found himself at odds with the new policy, but continued to attend services with like-minded friends as the Latter-day Saints locally debated the issue. (His friend and fellow resistance fighter Rudi Wobbe would later report that of the two thousand Latter-day Saints in the Hamburg area, seven were pro-Nazi, but five of them happened to be in his and Helmuth's St. Georg Branch (congregation); thus stirring controversy with the majority who were non- or anti-Nazis.)
After Hübener finished middle school in 1941, he began an apprenticeship in administration at the Hamburg Social Authority (Sozialbehörde). He met other apprentices there, one of whom, Gerhard Duwer, he would later recruit into his resistance movement. At a bathhouse he met new friends, one of whom had a communist family background and, as a result, he began listening to enemy radio broadcasts; these were strictly forbidden in Nazi Germany, being considered a form of treason. In the summer of that same year, Hübener discovered his brother Gerhard's shortwave radio in a hallway closet and began listening to the BBC on his own, and used what he had heard to compose various anti-fascist texts and anti-war leaflets, of which he also made many copies. The leaflets were designed to bring to people's attention how skewed the official reports about World War II from Berlin were, as well as to point out Adolf Hitler's, Joseph Goebbels', and other leading Nazis' criminal behaviour. Other themes covered by Hübener's writings were the war's futility and Germany's looming defeat. He also mentioned the mistreatment sometimes meted out in the Hitler Youth.
In the autumn of 1941, he managed to involve three friends in his listening: Karl-Heinz Schnibbe and Ruddi Wobbe, who were fellow Latter-day Saints, and later Gerhard Duwer. Hübener had them help him distribute about 60 different pamphlets, all containing material from the British broadcasts, and all consisting of typewritten copies. They distributed them throughout Hamburg, using such methods as surreptitiously pinning them on bulletin boards, inserting them into letterboxes, and stuffing them in coat pockets.
On 5 February 1942, Helmuth Hübener was arrested by the Gestapo at his workplace in the Hamburger Bieberhaus. While trying to translate the pamphlets into French, and trying to have them distributed among prisoners of war, he had been noticed by Nazi Party member Heinrich Mohn, who had denounced him. (Mohn was never tried or jailed after the war.)
On 11 August 1942, Hübener's case was tried at the Volksgerichtshof in Berlin, and on 27 October, at the age of 17, he was beheaded by guillotine at Plötzensee Prison in Berlin. His two friends, Schnibbe and Wobbe, who had also been arrested, were given prison sentences of five and ten years respectively.
As stated in the proclamation (at right), Hübener was found guilty of conspiracy to commit high treason and treasonous furthering of the enemy's cause. He was sentenced not only to death, but also to permanent loss of his civil rights, which means he could be (and was) mistreated in prison, with no bedding or blankets in his cold cell, etc.
It was highly unusual, even for the Nazis, to try an underaged defendant, much less sentence him to death, but the court stated that Hübener had shown more than average intelligence for a boy his age. This, along with his general and political knowledge, and his behaviour before the court, made Hübener, in the court's eyes, a boy with a far more developed mind than was usually to be found in someone of his age. For this reason, the court stated, Hübener was to be punished as an adult.
Hübener's lawyers and his mother, and the Berlin Gestapo appealed for clemency in his case, hoping to have his sentence commuted to life imprisonment. In their eyes, the fact that Hübener had confessed fully and shown himself to be still morally uncorrupted were points in his favour. The Reich Youth Leadership (Reichsjugendführung) stated that the danger posed by Hübener's activities to the German people's war effort made the death penalty necessary. On 27 October 1942, the Nazi Ministry of Justice upheld the Volksgerichtshof's verdict. Hübener was only told of the Ministry's decision at 1:05 p.m. on the scheduled day of execution and beheaded at 8:13 p.m.
Hübener was arrested by German authorities and two days later was excommunicated by local authorities of the LDS Church. When the Church leadership in the U.S. were informed of the excommunication, they revoked it. Hübener was posthumously reinstated in the LDS Church in 1946, with the note "excommunicated by mistake", because the specific process required for excommunication from the LDS Church was not followed by Hübener's local church leader at the time.
Arthur Zander, his local leader, had attempted to protect others of his religious group and thus had excommunicated the young man, but in his haste and likely fear had done so without proper authority, because he had not first obtained his district president's permission. That district president was Otto Berndt, who, in fact, was sympathetic to Hübener and was suspected of assisting and encouraging the boy. Berndt was soon after questioned by the Gestapo and released with an ominous warning: "After Jews, you Mormons will be next." Hübener's activities could be seen as conflicting with the LDS Church's 12th Article of Faith, which states, "We believe in being subject to kings, presidents, rulers, and magistrates, in obeying, honoring, and sustaining the law." However, his behavior could also be seen as justified by his faith, as he was fighting in defense of rights supported by the LDS Doctrine & Covenants Section 134. Perhaps one of the most notable statements he made regarding the matter was to a fellow member of his church showing his belief that his actions were right in the beliefs of his religion. The day of his execution he wrote to the fellow branch member, "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!" — from a letter written by Hübener, the only one believed to still exist
A youth centre and a pathway in Hamburg are nowadays named for Helmuth Hübener. The latter runs between Greifswalder Straße and Kirchenweg in Sankt Georg. At the former Plötzensee Prison in Berlin, an exhibit about young Helmuth Hübener's resistance, trial, and execution is located in the former guillotine chamber, where floral tributes are often placed in memory of Hübener and others put to death by the Nazis there.
Hübener's story has been the subject of various literary, dramatic, and cinematic works. In 1969, German author Günter Grass wrote the book Örtlich betäubt ("Local anesthetic"), later translated into English, about the Hübener group.
In 1979 Brigham Young University professor Thomas Rogers wrote a play titled Huebener, which has had several runs in various venues. Schnibbe, one of Hübener's co-accused, attended some of the performances on the BYU campus. Rudi Wobbe, another co-accused, attended one. Wobbe later died of cancer in 1992.
Schnibbe wrote the first-hand account When Truth Was Treason. It was edited by Blair R. Holmes, a professional historian, and Alan F. Keele, a German-language specialist. This monograph was published in 1995 by University of Illinois Press, with new publishing rights, theatrical rights, and copyright transferred 2003 to Academic Research Foundation, a subsidiary of Stratford Books, Inc.
The book Hübener vs. Hitler; A Biography of Helmuth Hübener, Mormon Teenage Resistance Leader, by Richard Lloyd Dewey was published in 2003; upon selling out the first edition, a second, revised edition with new material and corrections was released in late 2004. It is a biography written in a popular-historical style, with editing by the above-noted historian, Blair R. Holmes. It includes interviews with all living friends and close relatives of Hübener before most of them passed away. It also utilizes primary documents from the Nazi regime that investigated his case.
Rudolf Wobbe (Hübener's other co-resistance fighter) wrote the book Before the Blood Tribunal. Published in 1989, the book provides a personal account of his own trial before the Volksgerichtshof, the infamous "people's court" of Nazi Germany. Ruddi, as he was known, was charged with Conspiracy to Commit High Treason and Aiding and Abetting the Enemy. Chief Justice Fikeis sentenced him to 10 years for his participation in the resistance. The account also describes events leading up to the trials of the three German youths and Rudi's own experience as a prisoner.
The 2008 juvenile novel The Boy Who Dared by Susan Campbell Bartoletti, while fictional, is based on Hübener's life. Bartoletti's earlier Newbery Honor book, Hitler Youth: Growing Up in Hitler's Shadow (2005), also covers Hübener's story.
Hübener's story was documented in the 2003 movie Truth & Conviction, written and directed by Rick McFarland and Matt Whitaker. The movie, later released on DVD, was sponsored by the BYU College of Humanities. Whitaker will also direct the upcoming film Truth & Treason, a major motion picture based on the Hübener Group. Filming begins in Budapest, Hungary Spring / Summer 2009. The script was written by Ethan Vincent and Whitaker, and Haley Joel Osment has been cast as Helmuth Hübener. The film is being produced by Russ Kendall and Micah Merrill of Kaleidoscope Pictures along with Whitaker.
"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 dare talk for fear of reprisals. Yes you are right; it is Germany — Hitler 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." — from one of Helmuth Hübener's many pamphlets, subsequently also published in When Truth Was Treason: German Youth against Hitler, Editors Blair R. Holmes and Alan F. Keele.
"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!" — from a letter written by Hübener (believed to be the only one still extant)