Home News Pope never was in Hitler Youth: Vatican spokesman

Pope never was in Hitler Youth: Vatican spokesman

Published on 13/05/2009

Jerusalem -- German-born Pope Benedict XVI was never a member of the Hitler Youth, Vatican spokesman Federico Lombardi said on Tuesday, despite what the pontiff has himself previously said.

"The pope has said he never, never was a member of the Hitler Youth, which was a movement of fanatical volunteers," Lombardi told a news conference.

As a 16-year-old seminarian, the pope was a member of an auxiliary air defence squadron "that had nothing to do with Nazism or Nazi ideology," the spokesman said.

Following the news conference, Lombardi reiterated to AFP that the pope "never was in this movement of young people ideologically linked to Nazism."

He said he made the remarks in order to respond "to the lies written by the media here and internationally" about the issue.

The statement ran counter to what the pontiff had said in numerous interviews, in which he stated that he was an involuntary member of the Hitler Youth during World War II.

In an interview just before he was elected pope in April 2005, then Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger said he was an unwilling participant in the Hitler Youth movement.

"As soon as I left the seminary, I did not go straight into the Hitler Youth," Ratzinger told German journalist Peter Seewald.

"And that was difficult because in order to qualify for the reduction in schooling fees that I needed, you had to prove you had paid a visit to the Hitler Youth."

When membership of the movement became compulsory in 1941, Ratzinger’s older brother Georg joined and the future Pope Benedict XVI was then enrolled against his will, he has said in various interviews.

"In the beginning we did not join, but when service in the Hitler Youth became obligatory in 1941, my brother was forced to join," Ratzinger said.

"I was too young, but later, when I was in the seminary, I was enrolled in the Hitler Youth. Once I left the seminary I never went there again."

According to the website of the Cardinal Ratzinger Fan Club, in 1943, with World War II at its peak, Ratzinger and the rest of his seminary class were drafted into the Flak German anti-aircraft corps, although he was still allowed to attend high school in the southern city of Munich three times a week.

In September 1944, having reached military age, he was released from the Flak and returned home, only to be drafted into a labour detail commanded by men he described as "fanatical ideologues," the website said.

In November 1944, he underwent basic training with the German infantry but because of illness he was allowed to skip the most physical aspects of military training.

As the Allied advance drew nearer, Ratzinger deserted and returned to the southern town of Traunstein where he had studied at the seminary.

He was identified as a German soldier and briefly held in a prisoner of war camp, but was released in June 1945, more than a month after Nazi Germany had surrendered.

Kelly Velasquez/AFP/Expatica