'Pope was reluctant Hitler Youth'

Vatican spokesman: Benedict was obligated to join Hitler Jugend but "got out as soon as he could."

benedict has left the kotel (photo credit: AP)
benedict has left the kotel
(photo credit: AP)
Pope Benedict XVI was forced to join the Hitler Youth as a teenage seminary student, but was ideologically opposed to the movement, Rev. Federico Lombardi, spokesman for the Holy See, said Tuesday. "There was a time when the pope was a young seminary student that he was obligated to join the Hitler Jugend," Lombardi told The Jerusalem Post. "He was forced to miss seminary studies occasionally, but he opposed Nazi ideology and got out as soon as he could." Lombardi's comments followed remarks earlier on Tuesday to the effect that the pope had never been in the paramilitary organization tied to the Nazi Party. Reuters quoted Lombardi as saying that the German-born Benedict had been a member of an anti-aircraft unit drafted between 1944 and 1945, but that these units "had absolutely nothing to do with the Hitler Youth and the Nazis and Nazi ideology." Furthermore, Lombardi was quoted as saying, "the pope was never in the Hitler Youth - never, never, never." The spokesman further stressed, "It is important to say what is true and not to say false things about a very sensitive thing like this." Benedict XVI, long before he became pope, addressed this issue. He stated that his membership in the Hitler Youth as a teenager was not voluntary, but compulsory, and that he was given a dispensation from Hitler Youth activities because of his religious studies. He also stated that he had deserted his anti-aircraft unit during the war. Also, the pope's father was an anti-Nazi policeman. In the 1997 book Salt of the Earth, the pope - then Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger - was asked whether he was ever in the Hitler Youth. "At first we weren't," he said, speaking of himself and his older brother, "but when the compulsory Hitler Youth was introduced in 1941, my brother was obliged to join. I was still too young, but later as a seminarian, I was registered in the Hitler Youth. As soon as I was out of the seminary, I never went back. And that was difficult because the tuition reduction, which I really needed, was tied to proof of attendance at the Hitler Youth. "Thank goodness there was a very understanding mathematics professor," he continued. "He himself was a Nazi, but an honest man, and said to me, 'Just go once to get the document so we have it...' When he saw that I simply didn't want to, he said, 'I understand, I'll take care of it' and so I was able to stay free of it." He reiterated this in his memoirs, printed in 1998.