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New Zealand Ski Resort Honors Nazi

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A former volunteer in the Nazi Waffen SS who died in New Zealand earlier this month is at the center of an ongoing controversy over his honoring by the country’s top ski resort.

Willi Huber — an Austrian-born SS combatant who died in the New Zealand town of Geraldine on Aug. 9 at the age of 97 — was affectionately referred to in his adopted country as a “founding father” of the Mt. Hutt ski resort, which attracts thousands of visitors each year. Huber first arrived in New Zealand in 1953 as an immigrant from Austria. A decade earlier, he was decorated with the Iron Cross for his service with the Waffen-SS during the Battle of Kursk in the Soviet Union — the largest tank battle in history that raged through the summer of 1943, resulting in a heavy defeat for the Nazis at the hands of the Soviet Red Army.

Created by Adolf Hitler’s second-in-command, Heinrich Himmler, in 1939, the Waffen-SS was the military branch of the notorious Nazi SS paramilitary organization. The 1945-46 trials of Nazi war criminals at Nuremberg deemed that the Waffen-SS was a criminal organization that had played a central role in “the persecution and extermination of the Jews, brutalities and killings in concentration camps, excesses in the administration of occupied territories, the administration of the slave labor program and the mistreatment and murder of prisoners of war.” The tribunal also emphasized that the Waffen-SS was “in theory and practice as much an integral part of the SS organization as any other branch of the SS.”

Yet Huber was apparently successful in persuading the authorities in New Zealand that he had fought as an ordinary soldier in a legitimate armed force. An enthusiastic mountaineer and skier, Huber dedicated himself to the building of the Mt. Hutt resort from the early 1970s.

A flattering profile of Huber published by one New Zealand media outlet in 2014 described him as a “heartland hero.” The same piece provided Huber with an unchallenged platform to defend his participation in the Waffen-SS, with its writer happily concluding that, “at 90 years old, Huber still has niggles from his war wounds, but remains as lively as anyone 20 years younger.”

An obituary of Huber published by The New Zealand Herald last Sunday was more circumspect, pointing out that his father had been a supporter of the Nazi Party, and that Huber had marched with the Hitler Youth before volunteering for the SS in 1940, when he was 17.

The obituary highlighted another example of the flattery of Huber by New Zealand media outlets, citing a 2017 TV profile in which he flatly denied any knowledge of the war crimes and crimes against humanity committed by the Waffen-SS and praised Hitler as “very clever.”

“We, as soldiers never, never had the slightest inkling — maybe the high command,” Huber told the program. “It never occurred to us what happened in Germany or Poland.” Following that broadcast, Dr. Efraim Zuroff of the Simon Wiesenthal Center, a leading authority on Nazi crimes, retorted that there was “no way that Mr Huber could not have been aware of the massive atrocities carried out by the SS.”

Zuroff continued: “Huber’s statements ring incredibly hollow in the face of the historical record of the Holocaust on the Eastern front. If we add the fact that he volunteered for the SS, and his comments that Hitler was ‘very clever,’ and that he ‘offered [Austrians] a way out’  of the hardships after World War I, it’s clear that Mr. Huber was an unrepentant Nazi, who doesn’t deserve any sympathy or recognition.”

A plaque and a ski run on Mt. Hutt that honors Huber was stoutly defended by the resort’s manager, who depicted the SS volunteer as a victim of the Second World War. “He made a new life and a new start here and tried to put [the war] behind him,’’ Mt Hutt Ski Area manager James McKenzie told the website Stuff. Continued McKenzie: “We are happy to respect his legacy. The context of what he went through in the war, nobody knows for sure what people did way back then.”

petition demanding that Mt. Hutt remove the plaque to Huber has attracted more than 1,000 signatures so far. Its authors remarked that the “new start” which Huber enjoyed in New Zealand after the war “was not afforded to the victims murdered by the SS.”