Headlines such as “White Smoke, Black Past” (this one appeared in a newspaper in Israel) regarding the announcement of the new Pope are yet more examples of sloppy journalism, runaway headline writers, and uneducated journalists. Or, worse yet, an attempt to paint all people of a religion or country black. (A blogger’s note: I’m a latent Catholic who dislikes organized religion, so these comments are not in defense of the Pope.) The headline was referring to the fact that Pope Benedict XVI was a member of the Hitler Youth.
Wrong because most high school youth in Germany were in the Hitler Youth. They had no choice. It wasn’t like joining the Boy Scouts. I have a friend who doesn’t like to talk about this time in his life. He escaped from Germany with his mother at the age of 14 in the middle of the war. He wasn’t a Jew; his father had been killed in the war and his mother knew that what Hitler was up to was all wrong. She saw disaster ahead.
He told me, very briefly, about how kids were forced to join. It started when he was 11 years old. How, in class before a student could answer a teacher’s question, he had to stand and shout Heil Hitler while giving the Nazi salute. “We got a really good smack on the nose with a ruler if we forgot to do this or if our salute was wrong,” he said.
He told me how most of his friends hated every second of it, and didn’t really understand it. They only understood the fear. How he and his friends were hit relentlessly if they stepped out of line. How they feared for their families if they tried to fight back. How the war was going so bad that rumors were flying that 14-year-olds were going to be sent to the front.
Maybe Pope Benedict XVI learned something from this experience that will help make a difference someplace.