We live in a time when communities around the world are re-evaluating the historical monuments to civic leaders and significant citizens that adorn our towns and cities. Here in New Zealand, the death of an old man has kicked off an argument over his legacy.
His name was Willi Huber and he died this month at the age of 97. He became known as the ‘founding father’ of the Mt Hutt Ski Field and he was honoured for his work by having a ski run and a restaurant named after him.
Huber’s past however was not so exemplary. He was a Nazi and member of the Waffen-SS during World War Two, and it is this that has lead to calls for his name to be removed from the mountain.
The owners of Mt Hutt Ski Field say they have no intention of removing his name as they believe his contribution to the field was significant.
The question needs to be asked – can many years of service to a community mitigate his connection to an organisation that was involved in the worst of atrocities?
Well, let’s look at his past. Huber denied knowing of the Holocaust or the war crimes committed by his fellow Waffen-SS soldiers. He was arrested and spent 18 months in prison but no definitive evidence was found of his involvement in war crimes.
It could be argued that he went through the justice system, and was released. If it had been proven he was a war criminal surely he would have been dealt with harshly and would not have been allowed to emigrate to New Zealand.
But, according to the Holocaust Foundation, New Zealand has never pursued criminal investigations into Nazis who came here, many claiming to be refugees. Further, Dr Efraim Zuroff, the director of the Simon Wiesenthal Centre in Jerusalem has stated it would have been impossible for a soldier of the Waffen-SS not to be aware of the atrocities carried out on the Eastern Front.
Huber never showed any repentance of his involvement in the Nazi war machine and even praised Hitler.
So where does that leave this debate?
It would be an easy out to say his good deeds in New Zealand outweigh his wartime past. But the Holocaust was more than just a crime. It was the industrialised slaughter of people deemed to be less than human. Millions of Jewish people, those with disabilities, Roma communities, and homosexuals were murdered.
It was the most horrific episode in the history of Western Civilisation and for that reason, someone who actively participated in it should not be honoured irrespective of the contribution they may have made after the war.
You can sign a petition calling for the removal of Huber’s name from the Mt Hutt Skifield by clicking here