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March 24, 2021 5:06 pm

New Zealand Ski Resort Backs Away From Honoring Nazi SS Volunteer Following Protest From Jewish Community

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Former Waffen-SS combatant Willi Huber (L), who died on Aug. 9, 2020, is seen enjoying himself at the Mt. Hutt ski resort in New Zealand. Photo: Huber family.

A top ski resort in New Zealand has quietly backed away from plans to honor a former volunteer in the Nazi Waffen SS.

Willi Huber — an Austrian-born SS combatant who emigrated to New Zealand — 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. After Huber died on Aug. 9, 2020 at the age of 97, the resort announced plans to name a ski run and a restaurant after him.

Last September, amid a petition campaign to oppose the resort’s move, members of the New Zealand Jewish Council and the Holocaust Centre of New Zealand discussed the honoring of Huber with Paul Anderson of NZSki, the company that operates Mt Hutt. The company stated that the decision to honor Huber would be reversed only if evidence of his World War II record was produced.

This week, Anderson suggested in a media interview that a map of the resort with references to Huber removed was the result of the company’s deliberations.

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“We’ve had to take care on the way through to respect the views of a wide range of people and recognize that there were diverse opinions on the issue,” he told local news outlet Newsroom. “We’ve just come to our decision that it’s time to move forward.”

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.

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.” 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 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 after his death 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.”

Deborah Hart of the New Zealand Holocaust Center welcomed Mt. Hutt’s reversal. In a statement on Tuesday, she said that it was “important that we don’t forget what happened in World War Two – we had a lot of servicemen who gave their lives – and we don’t forget what happened in the Holocaust.”

“The Waffen SS were critical elements of the Nazi apparatus and we shouldn’t be doing anything to honor them,” said Hart.

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