‘Huebener’ playwright discusses LDS Church-suppressed play, first high school performance

ST. GEORGE — It was written in the late 1970s, had a proscription placed on it by authorities of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints shortly thereafter and was not produced again until 1992, but many are thrilled to see “Huebener” brought back to life, and for the first time in its history, brought to a High School theater stage.

“Huebener” playwright Thomas Rogers attends opening night of Pine View High School production, St. George, Utah, Feb. 19, 2014 | Photo by Kimberly Scott, St. George News
“Huebener” playwright Thomas Rogers attends opening night of Pine View High School production, St. George, Utah, Feb. 19, 2014 | Photo by Kimberly Scott, St. George News

Pine View High School’s production of “Huebener” premiered Wednesday evening and former professor and director of the Brigham Young University Honors Program and nationally-known Mormon playwright, Thomas Rogers, was in the audience to see his work performed.

“Huebener” was inspired by the true story of Helmuth Huebener, a 17-year-old LDS German boy who was beheaded by guillotine at a prison in Berlin for leading a resistance group which distributed flyers throughout Hamburg, Germany, that denounced Hitler and his propaganda machine in October 1942.

“Huebener” inspiration

It was while serving an LDS mission in northern Germany that Rogers said he first recalls hearing the story of Huebener from a fellow missionary. But it was nearly two decades later, while teaching at BYU, when Rogers’ colleague, Alan Keele, gave a presentation to the college faculty about Helmuth Huebener’s impact on important post-war German authors, that the idea to write “Huebener” first emerged.

“During his presentation, knowing of my interests in writing plays, Alan pointed at me and said, ‘You should write a play on the subject,’” Rogers said. “I had become so immersed in my career discipline, Russian literature, that until that moment, I had almost forgotten I had ever written plays.”

Keele and another one of Rogers’ colleagues were about to publish a book on Huebener at the time and it was their research, which Rogers said they graciously shared, which became the play’s principal source.

The play became an instant sensation – some held the belief that Helmuth Huebener should be a household name for every Mormon – but during a successful run at Brigham Young University, the play had a proscription placed on it by authorities of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

“It was for the safety of the church in communist countries, I think that was their legitimate concern,” Rogers said. “As I remember, we had 30,000 members in the church in East Germany at the time and one of the concerns was that it might jeopardize the church in some way if the example of Helmuth were to be emulated by a young member in opposition to totalitarian regime somewhere else in the World, so they were super cautious, and I think if I were in their position, I might have felt that way myself.”

After premier performances, and having read the reviews of this play, Rogers said there were about 10 different people out of state who contacted him about wanting to do the play, yet he had to decline their request.

“I went on and wrote other plays,” Rogers said. “It never bothered me too terribly personally at all, and I felt that I was duty bound, as long as I was going to be working for the church, to go along with that.”

After the fall of the Iron Curtain, a BYU revival of the play took place without any official complaint or censorship, and other productions of the play have followed since. It just seemed to them that it was safe enough to do it again, and there were no repercussions, Rogers said.

“Huebener” makes its way to Pine View High School

It was as an audience member at Dixie State in 2005, that Pine View High School theatre director Ani Rogers recalls having her first experience with “Huebener.”

“As I sat there in the audience watching the play, time stopped, and it stayed with me ever since,” Ani Rogers said of her experience. “The text is so well written and in that moment where he says ‘my time is now but your turn is next,’ I just think that heroism, that going down burning, I was just very, very impressed by that.”

Though some expressed concerns about the play involving Mormonism, Ani Rogers said having done the “King and I” last year, studying Buddhism in depth, and doing “Sound of Music” the year before and studying Catholicism, she feels rooted in her argument that she is trying to provide well-rounded education for her students.

Thomas Rogers watches from a front row seat as Pine View High School cast memeber perfroms his play, St. George, Utah, Feb. 19, 2014 | Photo by Kimberly Scott, St. George News
Thomas Rogers watches from a front row seat as Pine View High School cast memeber perfroms his play, St. George, Utah, Feb. 19, 2014 | Photo by Kimberly Scott, St. George News

Watching High School students perform such a challenging play, with such heart, commitment and conviction, in the small, intimate setting at Pine View, had most audience members on the edge of their seat and many moved to tears by the end of the show. After the play had ended, a young boy in the audience turned to his mom and said: “I wish I was someone important like that and made a difference.”

The show’s popularity is evident by its ticket sales. Pine View’s production of “Huebener” is completely sold out through the last day of its production on Monday.

“I’m very pleased with how the audience received the show,” Ani Rogers said. “A lot of our ticket sales weren’t just parents. I had to extend seating because I had my leads whose parents hadn’t even bought tickets before it was sold out. So that’s been impressive seeing how there’s been an overwhelming community involvement.”

The workshop

The next morning after the show opened, Pine View High School students were given a unique opportunity to attend a four-hour workshop with Thomas Rogers and Michael Perry, owner and president of Leicester Bay Theatricals and Zion Theatricals.

President of Zion Theatricals Michael Perry and “Huebener” playwright Thomas Rogers sit for a Q & A at Pine View High School, St. George, Utah, Feb. 19, 2014 | Photo by Kimberly Scott, St. George News
President of Zion Theatricals Michael Perry and “Huebener” playwright Thomas Rogers sit for a Q & A at Pine View High School, St. George, Utah, Feb. 19, 2014 | Photo by Kimberly Scott, St. George News

The students had the chance to work with and ask the professionals an array of questions ranging from “what is a ‘real’ set like?” to “how was my character supposed to feel when he said ‘Heil Hitler’?”

This fairly large and gracious gesture on Rogers’ part – to travel to St. George and attend opening night of the High School play, agree to a question-and-answer session that lasted until after 11 p.m. the same night, and then provide a workshop for the students the next morning, giving each of the students a copy of his play and then signing and writing a personal message in each one – seemed rather small in comparison to the powerful impact you could see it was already having on each of those students’ lives.

Nearly each student echoed the same sentiment of how much the experience had changed their life and how thankful they were to be a part of it.

This is the best experience of my life,” one of the students said.

“Saying that any of this is an honor just truly doesn’t do it justice,” Ani Rogers said about the experience as a whole. “When I look back on this moment, this will forever be the biggest feather in my cap.”

At the end, Thomas Rogers said: “I did not really write this play, Helmuth Huebener wrote this play with his own blood.”

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  • Propaganda February 24, 2014 at 8:10 am

    Why would the mormons ever write such a propaganda film, such lies, of Germans beheading a mormon teenager? If the mormons want to write a film, and show the truthfulness, write a play of how they murdered an entire wagon train and blamed the indians for their satanic actions. Be truthful with graphics, too, such as showing how they bashed in the heads of women and children and then left all the bodies out on the meadows to be eaten by scavengers.

    • Brian February 24, 2014 at 10:43 am

      Glad to see you have such a one-sided view of history. Nothing about the Huebener true story, or play, or films denies that the Mountain Meadow Massacre occurred. Why are you denying the Huebener historical account? It’s a very inspiring story about a young man willing to die for his convictions as he stands up for the rights of those being slaughtered around him. The hatred and oppression of the Nazi regime is a story of big government gone wrong, and its a path much of the world is following again. We’ll need many more Helmuth Huebener’s in the future.

      • Bender February 24, 2014 at 2:10 pm

        PROPAGANDA above is out to lunch, but there are troubling similarities between Huebener’s experience with fellow church members in Germany and the Baker-Fancher Party’s run-in with the Cedar City Saints.

    • KNOW YOUR FACTS February 24, 2014 at 3:11 pm

      The Mormons did write a play about the Mountain Meadow Massacre entitled “Fire in the Bones.” In fact, Mr. Thomas Rogers, the Mormon discussed in this article, wrote the play himself.

      • Priests February 24, 2014 at 3:46 pm

        Was it full of lies like the lies told about the massacre for decades? BTW, who were all the murderers? That would be interesting, a play that identifies each and everyone of the murderers

    • Rachel February 24, 2014 at 3:57 pm

      I would invite you to study the history of the Mormons and their struggles and persecution as they were chased from their homes in Missouri, Illinois, and Ohio. I am in no way condoning the Mtn. Meadow Massacre. Also, it seems that you could learn a lot if you spoke with some of the Mormon missionaries. Perception gets very polluted when it filters through those who are full of hate toward any one people.

      On a side note, no one can really take any of your arguments/comments seriously if you don’t even have the courage to use your real name. Not having the courage to use your real name shows that you lack conviction and don’t believe that you could adequately defend your beliefs.

      • Bender February 24, 2014 at 6:54 pm

        There can be no reasonable excuses made for what happened at MM. To try to excuse it is to invite it to happen again. Southern Utah residents remain largely in denial… shrugging off ancestor’s responsibility for what happened with feeble explanations. A noble people would “man up”, apologize and fix what needs fixing so it can’t happen again. I hope at some point this happens.

        • Reason? February 25, 2014 at 9:05 am

          Reasonable? There is no reason, other than the murderers were a bunch of thieving, paranoid, blood thirsty savages, who, if there truly is a hell, they and everyone who covered up and lied for them and accepted the stolen items from them should all burn there. This goes for B Young, too, who some suspect as having known of and directed the attack.

      • Bub February 24, 2014 at 9:02 pm

        Some of the reasons mormons were persecuted is because they created mini “kingdoms” where they settled, and also created economic monopolies and would not do business with other settlers. Also people thought early mormons were immoral with their polygamy and Smith had quite the bad reputation. So it ran both ways. I would not put my name here bc I don’t wan’t retaliation from religious nutters.

      • truth February 25, 2014 at 9:11 am

        The truth is they weren’t persecuted for religious beliefs. The leader was a scam man, who refused to accept and follow local laws. He created his own bank, and took money from everyone and ran. He shot and killed a man in cold blood. He was noted for sex with other men’s wives and young girls, claiming them as his spirit wives. The whole behavior of these people disgusted the moral and decent residents. Since the mormons were unable to accept and conform to the laws and morality of decent people, the mormons were simply told if they didn’t like there, they should leave. So the mormons left.

        • ThomasT February 25, 2014 at 11:51 am

          Truth, you must think yourself without sin to cast so many stones. Jesus Christ was executed for being accused of failure to follow “local laws” as you call them. The young man this play is about ran into trouble for standing up against the “local laws” of the Nazi Germans. Joseph Smith lived in a country with a national list of legal rights, the first of which was/is freedom of religion. He hardly “took money from everyone and ran.” He was not wealthy and even when he was faced with repeated injury and legal harassment he chose not to run. He was not a violent man and in fact at the time of his death was among the highest ranking military/militia members in the nation and could have used the militia he commanded to save himself, but did not resort to violence. I do not live in Utah. I have a law degree from a non-Mormon religious school and a graduate degree in American Government from a secular school where I did a thesis relating to Joseph Smith. I read a lot of non-Mormon history and legal opinions. Smith was not perfect, but your lack of understanding is not “Truth.”

          • propaganda February 25, 2014 at 5:12 pm

            J Smith was a con man. He had wicked ways, an evil narcissist. Not someone i would worship. jail yes, worship no

          • Bub February 25, 2014 at 9:43 pm

            LOL THOMAST,

            he didn’t bring his militia b/c he was promised protection by the governor. And right before his death he shot 2 men with a six barrel gun, so to say he wasn’t violent is just naive…LOL

  • Anon February 24, 2014 at 8:18 am

    I wish the school could extend the play for a few more days. I would love to take my boys to see it.

  • Propaganda February 24, 2014 at 8:41 am

    I wish schools would have plays about what a murderer John Lee was.

  • Fred February 24, 2014 at 9:12 am

    I wanted to see the play but it was sold out. go to You Tube and watch “Sophie Scholl The Final Days of Anti-Nazi Activist who died because she was passing out leaflets and had to face beheading by the Nazi scum. You tube has the movie in 8 segments. Well worth watching.

  • But Seriously February 24, 2014 at 12:22 pm

    A more interesting story would be the meadow massacre and the Brigham Young led LDS cover up.

  • Priests February 24, 2014 at 3:45 pm

    How about a play about the false interpretations of the American Indians the mormons try to portray? That would be a comedy, a satire.

  • ANON February 24, 2014 at 4:17 pm

    As somebody who was able to participate in this show myself, I must say that what Helmuth Huebener did for the world was a great thing. I was able to spend time studying the history of the event and the people involved in which this story was based on, and it really is an inspiring story. He faced the treat of his life being taken away and of being excommunicated from the church he believed strongly in, yet he still went ahead to oppose Hitler. He was one of the few who had the guts to stand up for his morals and for what is right in that time period, and he deserves to be commended for it. It’s not about religion. It is about honoring and respecting Helmuth for what he did. So please stop bashing on somebody that deserves respect, because it would be just plain wrong to disrespect what he did.

    • Bub February 24, 2014 at 9:09 pm

      It’s funny that in both 1940’s Germany and the current LDS church have things in common–a person is expected to pledge full unquestioning obedience to the leadership. Any speaking out of the organisation will result in swift and harsh reprimand… Just find it funny 😀

    • propaganda February 25, 2014 at 5:14 pm

      Unlike what people here will do

  • Unknown February 24, 2014 at 8:54 pm

    Thank you to all the people that participated in this play. It is great to watch all the actors/actresses do such an amazing job. I’m not sure what really happened at the MMM because I was not there to say anything as a fact. If any of the ones commenting feel good that they can say they are certain that they know the truth of what took place , by all means keep it going. I have read so many stories of who was involved and what happened that I’m going to wait till someday when I can find out what REALLY happened. Anyways thanks again.

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