Mystery deepens over Pope’s Hitler Youth links
The Vatican claims he was never a member - but the Pope himself has admitted it in the past
Was Pope Benedict or was he not a member of the Hitler Youth as a teenager in wartime Germany? The question arises after the Vatican issued a surprise statement yesterday during the controversial Papal visit to Israel, claiming that Pope Benedict - born Joseph Ratzinger in Bavaria - was never a member of Adolf Hitler's Nazi youth movement, as has been widely claimed.
"The Pope has said he never, never was a member of the Hitler Youth, which was a movement of fanatical volunteers," said Franco Lombardi, a Vatican spokesman.
The trouble is, Benedict himself has admitted it in the past. In a series of interviews for the 1996 book Salt of the Earth, the Pontiff, then still a cardinal, told how it happened. "When the compulsory Hitler Youth was introduced in 1941, my brother was obliged to join," he said. "I was still too young, but later, as a seminarian, I was registered in the HY. As soon as I was out of the seminary, I never went back."
How the Vatican will respond to this mystery remains to be seen. They are not having an easy time with Benedict's visit to the Holy Land, which continues to be dogged by the Pontiff's personal history, and especially his recent decision to readmit to the Catholic Church the British Bishop Richard Williamson, despite his denial of the Holocaust.
Although Benedict made an apparently emotional speech during his visit this week to Yad Vashem, the Holocaust memorial - "May the names of these victims never perish. May their suffering never be denied, belittled, or forgotten" - some Israelis are complaining it was not sufficiently remorseful.
"All that was asked of you was to say a short, authoritative and moving sentence," said the daily newspaper Yediot Aharonot. "All you had to do was to express regret. That's all we wanted to hear."
Rabbi Yisrael Meir Lau, chairman of Yad Vashem, criticised Benedict for saying "millions" rather than the specific "six million" when referring to the victims of the Holocaust, and saying they had been "killed" rather than "murdered".
"There's a dramatic difference between killed and murdered," he said, "especially when a speech has gone through so many hands." ·
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