Photos: The Austrian German SS Soldier (Das Reich) who ended up in Zealand – My Comments

[This is a story about a very fine German man who was in the SS in WW2 and he fought in the most horrific war that White men ever took part in – the fantastic invasion of Jewish Bolshevik Russia. The Germans would have won, were it not for the disgusting British and Americans who bailed out the Jew-controlled Russians. They go on and on about atrocities and about holocaust, etc, etc. Try and ignore the Jewish nonsense and focus on what you can discern about what this fine man went through. This fine German went through absolute hell that left permanent scars on his body. He lived through things most of us, would have died in. Now you hear all this whining and crying from Liberal dumb New Zealand. Just ignore the crybaby junk and focus on what this man did in WW2. Too bad most of our race, including idiots like us in Africa, WERE ON THE WRONG SIDE! Jan]

A widow breaks her silence and revelations emerge about why a skifield dropped its founder’s name. CHARLIE GATES and KLAUS HILLENBRAND report on the Nazi past of a South Island pioneer.

Don Church met Willi Huber in 1974.

They worked together on Mt Hutt skifield near Christchurch in the 1970s during its pioneer years. Huber was the first manager of the field, and they were both directors of the company that ran Mt Hutt.

In their downtime, they would hit the slopes together. Church would often go over to dinner with Willi and his wife Edna at their home. His Austrian friend was warm, with a ready smile. Church loved his geniality. Their friendship lasted for 45 years.

The ski partnership lasted almost as long. They could still be seen on the slopes together in the 2010s, when Huber was in his 90s.

But, Church knew that his friend had a past. One that was very different to their days at Mt Hutt.

Huber had fought for the Nazis in World War II. He was a machine-gunner in a tank division, and saw action on the notorious Russian front and in Nazi-occupied France.

When Church asked Huber about his war experiences, he would chat openly and show Church old photographs and files. He told Church about the brutality of fighting through a Russian winter, and showed him the scars on his wrists where lice had gnawed at his body.

But, when the conversation delved deeper, things took a turn. Church asked his friend if he had seen atrocities or evidence of the Holocaust. Huber, usually effusive, would go quiet.

A helicopter drops supplies at Mt Hutt in July 1973. Huber spent four months in the hut to see if the slope would work as a skifield.
THE PRESS
A helicopter drops supplies at Mt Hutt in July 1973. Huber spent four months in the hut to see if the slope would work as a skifield.
He said he saw nothing.

“Nothing about the Holocaust would ever come out, except that it was wrong, and then he would clam up,” said Church.

“I think he was ashamed to think about it.

“His attitude was it wasn’t him, and he wasn’t there.”

And that was where the matter lay. For decades, no-one ever probed too deeply into Willi Huber’s Nazi past. Instead, he was lauded by his community for his work on founding Mt Hutt skifield in the 1970s and his later efforts on the mountain.

His pioneer myth was burnished by media profiles that glossed over his war years or left his lack of repentance unexamined.

Edna and Willi Huber in 2013 with a medal awarded by the Austrian government for services to Austria while in New Zealand.
MIKE CREAN/STUFF
Edna and Willi Huber in 2013 with a medal awarded by the Austrian government for services to Austria while in New Zealand.
If people had probed further they would have found that Huber volunteered for a fearsome Nazi division, served in areas where war crimes happened, and then didn’t tell the truth about that military past in his immigration application for New Zealand.

These facts were laid bare in a comprehensive North & South feature on Huber in May 2021, published nine months after his death. But, even then, there was still an unwillingness to reassess his legacy. His friends stood by him.

The skifield he helped found initially resisted calls to drop his name from a ski run and a café, but later changed their mind after pressure from local businesses.

But the woman who was closest to him, his widow Edna Huber, remained silent – until now.

Joining the SS
Huber was born in 1923 and grew up near the town of Schladming in the Austrian Alps. He became a member of the Hitler Youth in his teens and then volunteered for the Waffen-SS, joining on October 1, 1941 at the age of 18.

Jerry Hassan lends a hand to Huber in September 1989.
STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER/PRESS ARCHIVES
Jerry Hassan lends a hand to Huber in September 1989.
The Waffen-SS was the military branch of the notorious and zealously fascist SS – the Nazi Party’s paramilitary group.

The division of the Waffen-SS that Huber joined was known as Das Reich and was one of the most feared fighting units in the Nazi war machine. Huber was a machine gunner on a tank and won two medals for his actions in the division.

In his book about Das Reich, military historian Yves Buffetaut, describes the division as “arguably the most emblematic unit of the SS’’.

“Most of its recruits were young, unmarried men, usually raised through the Hitler Youth system and imbued with die-hard ideology.”

Historian Peter Lieb agreed. The division “had a large number of hardened National Socialists in their ranks”, he wrote.

Volunteering for the SS is seen by historians as a clear sign that Huber at least sympathised with Nazi ideals. He could have just joined the German army and become an ordinary soldier, rather than enlisting in a division filled with die-hard Nazis.

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Huber saw his first major and sustained combat with Das Reich on the Russian front from January 1943. The division fought in Adolf Hitler’s eastern folly as it descended into a brutal quagmire. Das Reich served there for 15 cold, grim months.

They ran out of food, ammunition and petrol. Many died of cold and hunger. Huber slept on the bare snow under his tank.

“He went through hell on the Russian front,” Huber’s friend, Don Church, said.

“He told me about how they were living underground, and they were infested with lice.

“He could show rings at the end of his wrists where the lice had caused permanent scars.’’

But the division inflicted its own kind of hell on others. Buffetaut wrote that in Russia the division used “scorched-earth” tactics and that “massacring civilians and razing villages to the ground was commonplace”.

Analysis of Huber’s war record by military historians shows it would have been almost impossible for him to have missed the grim realities of a Holocaust unfolding around him.

Academic Giacomo Lichtner has traced Das Reich troop movements and linked them to atrocities.
SUPPLIED
Academic Giacomo Lichtner has traced Das Reich troop movements and linked them to atrocities.
Victoria University associate professor Giacomo Lichtner has tracked Das Reich across the Eastern front. He has cross-referenced the division’s movements with locations of atrocities in the region.

He doubts Huber’s claim that he saw no signs of the Holocaust during his time in the Waffen-SS.

“I don’t think there is any chance he didn’t see anything,” Lichtner said, “No doubt about it.”

“It is not realistic to say you could serve in those areas for a long time without witnessing or hearing of something.”

Lichtner’s research shows that in 1943, Huber would have been stationed in at least 29 towns where large Jewish populations had been recently exterminated by the Nazis before his arrival. The mass graves would have been relatively fresh when Huber arrived.

Huber would also have seen signs of a Nazi operation to destroy evidence of the Holocaust: disinterring bodies from mass graves and burning them. He would have smelt the rotting corpses and seen the smoke from the burning pyres, Lichtner said.

A replica German Iron Cross medal at a gift shop in the D-Day Experience Museum in France.
LEON NEAL/GETTY IMAGES
A replica German Iron Cross medal at a gift shop in the D-Day Experience Museum in France.
Lichtner also places Huber in the Ukranian city of Berdichev in November 1943, about the time when 60 Jews were murdered by Nazis in the town. They had already exterminated 20,000 Jews in Berdichev from July to September 1941.

In August 1943, Huber received a second class Iron Cross for his actions in the Kursk tank battle on the Russian front. It was one of the largest tank battles in military history. Two months later, Huber was promoted and commanded four privates in his tank crew.

Das Reich’s brutal campaign continued once it was deployed to Nazi-occupied France in April 1944 to stamp out French resistance fighters. The division murdered civilians with machine-guns, burnt farms and deported hundreds of people.

One of the worst instances came in June 1944, when Das Reich rounded up everyone living in the small southwestern town of Tulle. They hanged 99 civilians from lampposts lining the street. Research by journalist Naomi Arnold and military historian Andrew MacDonald for North & South magazine found Huber probably passed through Tulle on the same day as the mass hanging.

Oradour-sur-Glane in France was the location of a massacre of 642 civilians by Waffen-SS soldiers in June 1944. The ruins of the village have been preserved as a memorial.
PASCAL ROSSIGNOL
Oradour-sur-Glane in France was the location of a massacre of 642 civilians by Waffen-SS soldiers in June 1944. The ruins of the village have been preserved as a memorial.
In September 1944, Huber was decorated again, this time with a first class Iron Cross for fighting against the Allied liberation of France around Normandy.

Near the end of the war, Huber was attacked by a Russian soldier who stabbed him in his chest and leg. Huber shot him with his pistol.

He was hospitalised, but discharged himself and fled for home in Austria. He got close before his injuries forced him back to hospital.

Because he volunteered for the Waffen-SS, a fellow Austrian reported Huber to the Allied forces.

He was captured on July 21, 1945, and sent to a prisoner of war camp in Italy. He was freed and, after four-and-a-half years away, returned to his home village in Austria in June 1946.

In his history of Das Reich, Buffetaut gives a diplomatic summary of the division: Once the Nazis had lost the war and evidence of the Holocaust emerged, Das Reich leaders set about rehabilitating their image. They ran a “lifelong campaign” to “establish that the Waffen-SS were front-line troops who sacrificed themselves in combat – not domestic henchmen of a murderous regime”.

“Given the ruthlessness of the war in Russia, and certain ramifications that carried over to the West, the lines were sometimes blurred.”

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Moving to New Zealand
After the war, Huber became a mountain guide and ski instructor in Austria. While guiding, he met an English doctor who studied at Otago University. The doctor told him about New Zealand and its mountains, urging Huber to go there under a new immigration scheme for carpenters. Huber had no carpentry skills, but a recommendation from the doctor got him in.

He moved to New Zealand in 1953 and became a permanent resident in January 1955.

In a supporting letter to immigration authorities, Huber wrote: “I have never been a member of any illegal organisation.” This was not true. The Waffen-SS was deemed a criminal organisation during the Nuremberg trials in 1945 and 1946.

But the lie held for many decades. Huber built a new life for himself in New Zealand. He built a skifield and became a local legend. He settled in Christchurch and then Geraldine. In later life, the media came calling, keen to retell his legend. The coverage was largely uncritical, focusing more on his myth-making exploits up Mt Hutt rather than his war record.

Huber photographed for a glowing Press profile in 2002.
DEAN KOZANIC/STUFF
Huber photographed for a glowing Press profile in 2002.
A Stuff profile described him as a “decorated German war hero” who “volunteered for the German army”. Another story also skirted his military past, saying he was a “political prisoner” during his time as a POW in Italy.

It wasn’t until a 2017 TVNZ profile that Huber admitted publicly that he was in the Waffen-SS. In the interview for the Sunday programme, he smiled as he recalled seeing Hitler.

“I saw Hitler when I was 9 years old. Could you imagine? He was smiling. He looked at us, put his arm up like he always did.”

He denied any knowledge of the concentration camps until after the war and described Hitler as a “very clever” leader who helped Austria.

In 2013, Huber was described as a “decorated German war hero” in a story in The Press.
MIKE CREAN/STUFF
In 2013, Huber was described as a “decorated German war hero” in a story in The Press.
After his death in August 2020, Huber’s Nazi past was given more prominence in media reports. In May, North & South revealed the lie on his immigration records about his membership of the SS. It also placed him near the scenes of wartime atrocities.

The skifield that Huber helped found struggled with this legacy.

Soon after his death, a 7000-strong petition called for the removal of Huber’s name from a ski run and café at Mt Hutt and Jewish groups said it was “inappropriate for anything to be named after an unrepentant Nazi”.

“This is not a ‘legacy’ to be proud of and is an insult to all those murdered by the Nazis or who died fighting the Nazis,” the petition stated.

“How lucky Mr Huber was to be able to make a ‘new start’, something that was not afforded to the victims murdered by the SS.”

Willi Huber, left, gives Maurice Eddington a playful punch on the slopes at Mt Hutt in 2002.
JOHN KIRK-ANDERSON/STUFF
Willi Huber, left, gives Maurice Eddington a playful punch on the slopes at Mt Hutt in 2002.
In September, Mt Hutt ski area manager James McKenzie said they would keep the name, unless they were shown evidence that Huber had been involved in war crimes.

By February, Huber’s name had been dropped, even though no evidence of war crimes had emerged. Only a plaque remained, marking where Huber spent the winter during his research to found the skifield.

New Zealand Jewish Council spokeswoman Juliet Moses said it was “commercial pressure from other parties” that forced the decision.

She said NZSki, which owns Mt Hutt, Coronet Peak and the Remarkables ski fields, only changed its mind once it came under commercial pressure from Winter Pride, an annual ski festival for the LGBTQ+ community that has been held at NZSki fields for more than a decade.

Winter Pride is an annual rainbow inclusive ski event held at NZSki slopes every year.
SUPPLIED
Winter Pride is an annual rainbow inclusive ski event held at NZSki slopes every year.
The festival also runs a Pride Pledge system that companies can display if they have proven a commitment to be LGBTQ+ and rainbow inclusive.

Pride Pledge and Winter Pride director Martin King said he asked NZSki “not to memorialise a Nazi” on Mt Hutt. As well as persecuting and murdering millions of Jews, the Nazis also persecuted the LGBTQ+ community, sending thousands of gay people to concentration camps.

King told Mt Hutt that unless it dropped the Huber name from the ski run and cafe, they would no longer hold their annual event on NZSki fields. They also threatened to pull the Pride Pledge from the company if it took no action.

McKenzie said it was not a commercial decision to drop the name.

“You can’t please all of the people all of the time … There was a risk to our business either way, whether we kept the Huber name or not.”

The Mt Hutt skifield in the South Island on a bright and crowded day.
SUPPLIED
The Mt Hutt skifield in the South Island on a bright and crowded day.
“It won’t make any difference to Mt Hutt commercially. A lot of people were ambivalent about what we did [about the name].”

McKenzie said the company changed its mind after speaking to groups like the Jewish Council and the “general Pride community.” He said grappling with how to mark Huber’s contribution to Mt Hutt was complex and difficult.

“There is no right or wrong with anything.

“There is no black and white with things in life.”

The fog of war may turn everything grey, but this much is certain – Huber’s war record shows he volunteered for a division famed for its commitment to Nazi ideals and brutal tactics, served in places where atrocities would have been unavoidable, didn’t tell the truth about his war record to New Zealand immigration authorities, and did not seem to publicly repent for his time in the SS.

But there is no documentary evidence that Huber took part in war crimes or Holocaust atrocities, and he was never a guard in a concentration camp.

Don Church was friends with Huber for decades and believes he saw no atrocities in World War II.
SAM SHERWOOD/STUFF
Don Church was friends with Huber for decades and believes he saw no atrocities in World War II.
Despite all the evidence to the contrary, Huber’s friends still believe his claim that he knew nothing about the Holocaust during the war.

Church thinks the comprehensive media coverage exposing Huber’s war record has been a “hit job”.

“I do believe him. I have probably known Willi longer and had more opportunity to discuss things with him than most would.

“I would take his word for it.”

Ernest ‘Butch’ Stern, whose Jewish parents fled Austria for the US in 1938, was friends with Huber for many years. He doesn’t think his friend should be judged by his war record alone.

“He came here and got himself a new life and contributed to society.

“Everybody deserves a second shot, and he got one.”

Edna Huber says her husband knew nothing of the Holocaust until the war was over.
MIKE CREAN/STUFF
Edna Huber says her husband knew nothing of the Holocaust until the war was over.
And Huber has one final defender. One who knew him better than anyone and has never spoken before.

Edna Huber moved from England to Australia in 1948 and visited Mt Cook one day on a tour of New Zealand. While there, she met a keen Austrian man who was unable to climb Mt Cook because of poor weather.

Willi and Edna married in 1956 and had four children together.

Speaking for the first time since her husband’s death, she defended the man she was married to for more than 65 years. She had kept silent until now because she didn’t want to upset their children.

But she felt her late husband was being unfairly maligned and wanted to speak out.

“If it was just me I would stand in Cathedral Square on a soap box.”

She rejected the idea that her husband may have witnessed atrocities or had Nazi sympathies.

“I was married to him for over 65 years, so I know what he was like and everything about him,” she said.

“He was in the right places. He wasn’t involved in any of the things that were very bad in the war.”

She said he didn’t know anything about the Holocaust until after the war ended.

“I know the whole story. It has been the same for 65 years. It never changed at all.

“He told me everything about everything. He didn’t know anything about it.”

The couple were married for 65 years.
MIKE CREAN/STUFF
The couple were married for 65 years.
She said the scrutiny of her husband’s war record since his death had been disturbing.

“We have subscribed to The Press since 1956, but this year I cancelled the subscription because it is distressing.”

She said her husband was traumatised by his wartime experiences. Decades later, he still felt twinges of pain from the wounds sustained when he was stabbed by a Russian soldier.

He would have nightmares about his time in the prisoner of war camp, she said.

“They were starving. A lot of people that weren’t as strong died.

“It was pretty horrific.”

We may never know the full truth about Huber’s four years in the service of the Nazi regime. But, while some secrets die hard, the truth sometimes has a way of coming to the surface.

In Autumn 1943, Soviet journalist Vasily Grossman saw mass graves in the areas of Eastern Europe where Huber served and where Nazi death squads murdered millions of Jews.

‘The earth is throwing out crushed bones, teeth, clothes, papers,’’ Grossman wrote.

“It does not want to keep secrets.”

Source: https://www.stuff.co.nz/the-press/news/125695363/reckoning-with-the-nazi-past-of-the-man-who-helped-build-mt-hutt-skifield

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