Dear Occupy Boston occupiers:
Let me tell you about a protester I’ve been a fan of for many years.
His name was Helmuth Hübener. He was born a child of the German Weimar Republic and grew up as the Nazis came to power. His contempt for the dictatorship of Adolf Hitler and the totalitarian rule of the Nazis swelled during the early years of World War II. Being in possession of a short-wave radio, he, along with friends (and fellow members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints) Rudi Wobbe and Karl-Heinz Schnibbe, began spending late nights listening, illegally, to BBC broadcasts as the war progressed. (As Karl-Heinz explained, “Listening is not a crime; the crime is getting caught.”)
The news from overseas was very different from what the boys were reading in their hometown newspaper and hearing on the streets. Of course, Hitler and the German forces had had great success steam-rolling over the armies of Poland and France in a matter of weeks and occupying most of Europe, but after declaring war against Russia in June 1941, the situation worsened for the Germans, and the “foreign” BBC reported on it, nightly.
Helmuth, having decided that, “Yes, something should be done about this!” wanted to alert his fellow Deutschlanders about the true enemy of the state (Hitler) and the status of the war. He wrote up some small leaflets, four to a sheet and some on red-colored pages, which the three boys distributed by posting them on bulletin boards, in mail boxes … even by stuffing them in unsuspecting passersby’s pockets.
The flyers were succinct and to the point: “German Losses Have Reached One and a Half Million in Russia,” read one. “Only Hitler Is the Guilty One,” another. And, “Hitler the Murderer!”
Helmuth was an early-adopter of technology; he typed up carbon copies(!) of the handbills on a church typewriter so that he could make multiple copies more easily. Eventually, the flyers became “full-paged dissertations” according to Rudi Wobbe, with titles such as “Herman Goering and the Failure of His Luftwaffe”, “A Wave of Oil: Gasoline Shortages in Germany”, and “Speeches by Hitler: A Salty Critique Thereof”.
The three friends spent the fall of 1941 distributing these handbills all around their neighborhood. Soon, Helmuth began involving others in his cause. He was able to get the flyers into the hands of soldiers on the front lines of war and increased the number of copies to be distributed by finding a print shop in a neighboring town.
Arrested for High Treason
Expanding the network of co-conspirators proved to be his undoing. Helmuth had asked a friend at his part-time job for help translating one of the leaflets into French (so it could be distributed to captured prisoners of war). The other boy’s involvement was discovered by his boss, who demanded that Helmuth’s co-worker collect more copies of the flyers as evidence. Being caught practically “red-handed”, the boy had no choice but to comply. The flyers incriminated Helmuth.
Helmuth was arrested, and eventually his two friends were, too. Rudi was found guilty by a court of “Preparation to High Treason” and Karl-Heinz of “listening to a foreign broadcast station and distributing the same news”.
Rudi was given a sentence of ten years imprisonment, Karl-Heinz “just” five. In a cruel twist of fate, Karl-Heinz served as a German prisoner of war for three years but, at war’s end, was arrested by the Russians and jailed by them for an additional four years, only gaining his freedom in 1949.
Helmuth was charged with “High Treason and Aiding and Abetting the Enemy”. He was sentenced to death. Defiant to the end, asked if he had anything to say, he replied, “Now I must die even though I have committed no crime. So now it’s my turn, but your turn will come.”
On October 27, 1942, Helmuth Hübener was put to death. The Nazis cut off his head.
He was 17 years old.
Comparison of Protesters
I thought of Helmuth, Rudi, and Karl-Heinz this past week when I read about the Occupy Wall Street / Occupy Boston protests. A woman protester in New York City, when asked by the New York Times her profession, replied, “I’m a revolutionary.” Last Monday night, on the WGBH-TV program “Greater Boston”, Jared Bowen asked a guest whether there was anything in common between the Boston protests and those that took place this spring (and continue) in Egypt. “Yes,” he replied, “I think it’s appropriate.” And online, I’ve seen many photos where those protesting are wearing handkerchiefs over their faces, like you’d see on the streets of Tunis or in Green Square.
I would never make the comparison between what these protesters are doing and what those are doing who are actually fighting for their “Lives, Liberty and Pursuits of Happiness,” but these people in Boston, New York, and other cities have no problem with it.
Taking the quotes out of context may seem unfair, but my fear is that these types of things are being said back and forth between hundreds of these people. Delusions of grandeur, to be sure.
Do you need to be at risk of death in order to earn respect? No. Is it fair to compare the Occupy Boston “fight” with the protest of a group of boys in Nazi Germany? No, of course not.
But, they themselves are making the comparison.
When you use terms like “encampment” and “General Assembly”, as they have, when you release a “Declaration of Demands,” when you say things like, “[W]e gather together in solidarity to express a feeling of mass injustice”; how can you expect to be taken seriously -- seriously, how can you say those things with a straight face, even?
When you truly have something at risk - like, your life - you can use those words. But, when you have “nothing to lose” in the sense that you can roll up your sleeping bag, pull down your tent, get back in your car and head home to Mom & Dad’s (where they complain they have to live), you can’t expect much sympathy (or, empathy) when you make such grandiose comparisons.