He was 17 when he died, executed by the Nazis on October 27, 1942, because he dared to speak the truth.
It is dawn. Day 264. October 27, 1942. Helmuth Heubener lies awake on the bare wooden planks that are the bed in his cell on Death Row, in Plotzensee Prison, in Berlin, Germany. He is seventeen years old. It is a Tuesday. The executioner works on Tuesdays.
The first noise he hears at the door of his cell is the guard with his breakfast: a hunk of dry bread and a cup of lukewarm coffee. As he eats, he remembers how poor Germany had been when Hitler was appointed Chancellor. Hitler promised an end to poverty and hunger, jobs for everyone, and plenty to eat. Helmuth was nine then, and dreamed of being a soldier and fighting to defend his country.
Later, as Helmuth watches a spot of sunlight move across the walls of his cell, he hears the guard's footsteps, and clenches his muscles in fear. But they pass by, stopping at a cell several doors away. The key rattles in the lock. The door opens. The guard says, "Come. It is time." It's what they always say when they take someone to the execution chamber. Moments later, Helmuth hears a clang that echoes throughout the prison. The guillotine has done its job. Another prisoner is dead. He rushes to the slop bucket in the corner of his cell, and throws up his meager breakfast.
He has no idea how long he will live. Not knowing the day he will die is part of the punishment. Helmuth Huebener is the youngest traitor in the prison. He's been sentenced to death, and has no way of knowing if the letters people have written, pleading for his life, have reached the officials who could change his sentence to life imprisonment.
How could his life have changed so much in only nine years? What did he do to make him deserve the guillotine? He wasn't a man—he was still a boy. But even a boy could see what was happening in his own country. Even a boy could decide to separate the truth from the lies, and challenge others to do the same. Even a boy could speak the truth, in spite of how dangerous it was. And, any day now, his trial over and his sentence handed down, even a boy could die.
There may have been cowards among the people who lived in Hitler's shadow in Nazi Germany, but Helmuth Huebener wasn't one of them.