German Mormon Karl-Heinz Schnibbe, who resisted Nazis with teenage friends, dies in Salt Lake City at 86

Published: Tuesday, May 11 2010 1:59 a.m. MDT

Karl Schnibbe visits the B-17 bomber in 2007. Schnibbe, who was held captive in a Nazi labor camp during World War II, died Sunday.

Stuart Johnson, Deseret News

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Karl-Heinz Schnibbe was one of three Mormon teenagers who risked their lives in Hitlers Germany to stand up to the Nazis, who called the boys the "Battalion of the Damned.

Schnibbe could have been sentenced to death when he stood in front of the Volksgerichtshof, the Nazis' blood tribunal. Or he could have died in the camps, where he endured abhorrent conditions and emerged, in 1949, with his 95 pounds stretched thin across his 6 feet and 2 inches.

Schnibbe died Sunday in a Salt Lake-area care facility, the last of the trio who fought Hitlers propaganda with leaflets filled with truth. Schnibbe finally succumbed to the effects of Parkinsons. He was 86.

"Karl always said, 'I'm not a hero,' " his wife, Joan Schnibbe, said Monday. "But he knew how dangerous it was. I always thought it was really pretty daring and brave."

As an 18-year-old in Hamburg, Schnibbe distributed the pamphlets written by Helmuth Hübener, a teenage friend who secretly listened to BBC wartime broadcasts on his radio and used the information to battle Nazi propaganda.

Schnibbe and friend Rudi Wobbe slipped the leaflets into phone booths and coat pockets in hopes of spreading truth throughout the city.

The Hübener Group was arrested, tried and convicted in 1942.

Schnibbe, 18, was sentenced to five years in a labor camp. Wobbe, 16, was sentenced to 10 years.

Hübener, the mastermind, was sentenced to death and beheaded.

Schnibbe and Wobbe spent three years together in a German labor camp, where they suffered beatings and starvation. They spent the freezing winter months wading in water up to their thighs as they dug in peat bogs, which Schnibbe would later blame for the severe arthritis in his knees.

"Life was so rough; you had to fight every day just to stay alive," Schnibbe told reporters in 1992, the 50th anniversary of Hübener's execution.

Conditions in the camp were dire, squalid.

"We didn't have lice; they had us," he said.

In the final days of the Third Reich, political prisoners were drafted to fight, and Schnibbe was sent to Czechoslovakia.

"The Americans came while I was waiting in uniform," he said. "Was I liberated? Think again! The Americans only wanted fighter pilots and rocket specialists."

Soviet soldiers took Schnibbe. He spent four years as a prisoner of war.

As a free man, Schnibbe was restless and acted out.

He pointed to one moment in his life when, at a concert, the music overtook him and he broke down in tears. He cried for two hours as his mother held him.

"She knew how important it was to wash out his soul," Joan Schnibbe said. "He was able to forgive, but maybe not forget."

Schnibbe came to the United States in 1952 and made Salt Lake City his home.

He worked as a painter and craftsman, doing much of the gold leafing in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints' Salt Lake Temple. He spent the last 18 years of his life as a volunteer there.

Schnibbe never minded speaking his mind. "That's a German thing," his wife said. He loved to laugh and often slipped away to Costco for a slice of pizza.

In his final months, Schnibbe's knees became worse, bending into each other until his legs looked like X's.

He was placed in a care facility after a knee replacement, and there, it was discovered he had Parkinson's, his wife said.

Funeral services will be held at the Valley View LDS 3rd Ward, 4101 S. 1925 East, Friday at noon.

e-mail: afalk@desnews.com

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