Canterbury’s Mt Hutt ski field has quietly removed the name of a former volunteer in the Nazi Waffen SS from its slopes, after outrage over its decision to name a ski run and restaurant after him.
Willi Huber was an Austrian-born SS combatant referred to as a “founding father” of the Mt Hutt ski resort, who died on 9 August 2020 at the age of 97 after emigrating to New Zealand, the Algemeiner Journal reports.
A hut with a plaque of Huber stands on the mountain, with the resort also housing his name on a ski run and a restaurant, NZSki said.
However, after enormous backlash from the public, Jewish human rights groups and the LGBTQI+ community, NZSki—the company operating Mt Hutt—revealed it had removed the ski run reference to Huber and that it would not continue to name a restaurant after the Nazi volunteer.
A petition calling for the move to be scrapped has attracted at least 6,800 signatures. While backlash over the move to honour the Nazi escalated after a now infamous interview with New Zealand’s Sunday, in which Huber described Adolf Hitler as “very clever”.
It comes after Newsroom discovered that Huber’s Run had been removed from the ski field’s trail map and the restaurant had been renamed Ōpuke Kai.
NZSki chief executive Paul Anderson confirmed the changes to the Kiwi outlet and said the decision was made early this year, with the changes implemented in February.
“We’ve had to take care on the way through to respect the views of a wide range of people and recognise that there were diverse opinions on the issue,” he told Newsroom. “We’ve just come to our decision that it’s time to move forward.”
According to Newsroom, the genesis of Mt Hutt can be traced to 1972.
“Huber spent the winter by himself in a hut at 2,000 metres above sea level, monitoring weather and plotting ski trails,” the outlet reports.
“When the ski field opened the following year, he was the first manager.”
The plaque that marks the site of Huber’s hut won’t be removed.
According to Algemeiner, Huber first arrived in New Zealand in 1953 as an immigrant from Austria.
A decade earlier, he had been decorated with the Iron Cross for his service with the Waffen-SS during the Battle of Kursk in the Soviet Union.
The 1945–46 trials of Nazi war criminals at Nuremberg deemed that the Waffen-SS was a criminal organisation 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 labour program and the mistreatment and murder of prisoners of war.”
Algemeiner reported that, despite his record, Huber was apparently successful in persuading the authorities in New Zealand that he had fought as an ordinary soldier in a legitimate armed force.
Moreover, staff at the ski field seem supportive of Huber, with the ski field’s manager, James McKenzie, telling Stuff.co.nz the ski field was “happy to respect his legacy”.
“He made a new life and a new start here and tried to put that behind him,” he said.
Nazi hunter Dr Efraim Zuroff, director of the Simon Wiesenthal Centre, told the Jerusalem Post last year: “As a historian, I can state unequivocally that serving in a Waffen-SS unit on the eastern front, there is no way that Mr Huber could possibly not have been aware of the massive atrocities carried out by the SS and the Wehrmacht in the territories of the Soviet Union, where 1.5 million ‘enemies of the Reich’, primarily Jews, were murdered individually during the years 1941-1943.”
Featured image source: iStock/jordieasy