Joining the Hitler Youth was not a choice, it was mandatory | Letters

Edward Ward and Sally Juniper respond to a letter on Pope Benedict XVI

The suggestion that membership of the Hitler Youth was not compulsory (Letters, 3 January) is simply not true: it was mandatory for all non-Jewish German boys aged between 10 and 18 after the Hitler Youth law was passed in December 1936. Admittedly, compliance was not initially universal, but the stakes were raised by a new law in March 1939 that included punishment for those who did not obey. That Barbara Schurenberg’s grandfather managed to avoid conscription into the organisation is worthy of note and is obviously impressive, but it does not follow that Joseph Ratzinger, or any other German child at the time, had any meaningful “choice”.

Ratzinger joined the Hitler Youth in 1941 at the age of 14, so he had already apparently held out longer than was legally mandated. There are many reasons to scrutinise Ratzinger’s reputation, but his failure as a child not to break the law of the nation he lived in by refusing to join an organisation that he was legally required to, by a state that was quite ready to murder its own citizens for dissent, does not seem overly problematic. By contrast, his adult views on homosexuality and his actions regarding the allegations of sexual abuse in the Catholic church seem, to me, rather more important with regard to assessing his posthumous reputation than what he did as a child.
Edward Ward
Tempe, New South Wales, Australia

• My uncle by marriage, Rudi Halama, lived in Vienna all his life. He told me in 2000 how, after the Anschluss, he was in a queue waiting to be signed up for the Hitler Youth. He refused, was brushed aside and allowed to leave. But later, there was no choice – he had to join. Perhaps Joseph Ratzinger went through something similar?
Sally Juniper
Woodbridge, Suffolk

The GuardianTramp

Related Content

Article image
Joseph Ratzinger’s choice to join the Hitler Youth | Brief letters
Brief letters: Pope Benedict XVI obituary | Labour’s positive record on race | The divine Pelé | Housework division | Searching for ET

03, Jan, 2023 @6:28 PM

Article image
Polish antisemitism during the second world war | Letters
Letters: Andy Stelman on the prejudice suffered by his father and other Jews in the Polish army, and Zaki Cooper on Poland’s attempt to outlaw discussion of its role in the Holocaust


06, Feb, 2018 @6:22 PM

Article image
Cultural enrichment brought by refugees | Letters
Letters: Susan Hofsteede and Jinty Nelson on the contributions made to Britain by people fleeing the Nazis, Robin Prior on The Grapes of Wrath and today’s refugees, and Mary Radoux Gomez on her aunt’s escape to the UK in 1914


02, Jan, 2019 @5:00 PM

Article image
The worrying rise of the far right across Europe and America | Letters
Letters: Europe must restructure if it is to defeat nationalism, says Lyn Atterbury, while Su Coates takes no pleasure in watching history repeat itself

06, Nov, 2018 @6:23 PM

Article image
Why Finland allied itself with Nazi Germany | Letter
Letter: It was not to prevent Soviet conquest but to win back territories lost to the USSR, writes Geoffrey Roberts


23, Feb, 2018 @4:31 PM

Article image
My family’s Holocaust legacy taught me that racism grows where it is enabled | Letters
Letters: Nick Howson and Katy Rodda respond to James Bulgin’s article about how ordinary people were active participants in Nazi atrocities

03, Feb, 2023 @5:25 PM

Article image
Finland’s egalitarian Eden has a dark side | Letters
Letters: Robert Lee and Julian Wells say Finnish history is far from perfect, while Mary Fawcett says the country should be proud of its egalitarian education system and David Rainbird says it is right to not squander its resources on pursuit of great-power status


15, Feb, 2018 @6:24 PM

Article image
Today’s disturbing echoes of the buildup to the second world war | Letters
Letters: Bernie Evans and Michael Meadowcroft respond to Martin Kettle’s article on the alarming similarities of Weimar Germany and Brexit Britain


19, May, 2019 @5:05 PM

Article image
Poland, Russia and monumental distrust | Letters
Readers respond to Matthew Luxmoore’s article on the bitter conflict over a nation’s communist history


15, Jul, 2018 @6:39 PM

Article image
Russia’s archives still open for business
Letters: Donald Filtzer says Antony Beevor was wrong to assert that most Russian archives were closed to foreign historians in 2000, while Zofia Nowinska puts Finland’s wartime alliance with Germany in context


16, Feb, 2018 @4:25 PM