Wednesday, April 20, 2005

The Panzer and the Hitler Youth

Eric Muller, in charging that Ratzinger has not been very truthful about his early involvement in the Hitler Youth:

• Membership in the Hitler Youth became compulsory in 1936, not 1941. Its compulsory nature was reinforced in 1939.


I've read all sorts of dates on this point. I found this interesting, however:

Q. This youth which one had to educate outside the schools was called the Hitler Youth, the HJ. Was membership in the Hitler Youth compulsory or voluntary?

A. The membership in the Hitler Youth was voluntary until 1936. In 1936, the law already mentioned concerning the HJ was issued which made all the German youth members of the HJ. The stipulations for the carrying out of that law, however, were issued only in March 1939, and only during the war, in May 1940, was the thought of carrying out a German youth order considered within the Reich Youth Leadership and discussed publicly. May I point out that my then deputy, Lauterbacher, at the time when I was at the front, stated in a public meeting - I believe at Frankfurt in 1940 - that now, after ninety-seven per cent of the youngest age group of youth had volunteered for the Hitler Youth, it would be necessary to draft the remaining three per cent by a youth order.

DR. SAUTER: In this connection, Mr. President, may I refer to two documents of the Document Book Schirach. No. 51 -

THE PRESIDENT: I did not quite understand what the defendant said. He said that the membership was voluntary until 1936, that the HJ Law was then passed, and something to the effect that the execution of the law was not published until 1939. Was that what he said?

DR. SAUTER: Yes, that is correct. Until 1936 - if I may explain that, Mr. President - membership in the Hitler Youth was absolutely voluntary. Then in 1936 the HJ Law was issued, which provided that boys and girls had to belong to the Hitler Youth. But the stipulations for its execution were issued by the defendant only in 1939 so that, in practice, until 1959 [I'm assuming that's a misprint for '1939--BW] the membership was nevertheless on a voluntary basis.

THE PRESIDENT: Is that right, defendant?

THE WITNESS: Yes, that is right.


Muller, in other words, seems to be making the mistake of assuming that the law is execution of the law (an odd one for someone as acquainted with law as Muller to make, it seems to me). There's still a question of how soon after the stipulations for execution were passed that the law was actually enforced, and what complications there may have been in the enforcement, and so forth. That would require further research. And there's ambiguity about the phrase "when the compulsory Hitler Youth was introduced" that Muller is not recognizing. Clearing that up would also require further research. But in any case Muller's listing of incorrect facts seem to me to be just the sort of thing that one would likely get wrong on the basis of memory, anyway, and of the sort of natural misdating that historians are very familiar with. I have difficulty remembering the year I came to Toronto without looking it up, and that was just six (I think) years ago. Where was I when I was fourteen? Pennsylvania, I think. But I would have to sit and mull it out to be absolutely certain. And I am certainly closer to fourteen than Ratzinger is. I would sympathize with Muller if he weren't just slinging around accusations about motives and inclinations without the sort of research that would actually be needed to back it up; but I don't see much of anything here at all. Muller certainly hasn't provided any real evidence that Ratzinger is somehow covering up anything.

UPDATE: Muller puts up an interesting passage from Kater's Hitler Youth. I'm not sure I see how it fits with his argument; does Muller have evidence he's not sharing that Ratzinger wasn't in the two percent? I'm having difficulty, I confess, following the line of Muller's argument. Sometimes he's critical of Ratzinger for not being 'truthful' about his youth; this is one issue. This is the most serious criticism, and the most important if true; it's also the one which would require the higher standard of evidence, which hasn't, as far as I can see, been met yet, and is certainly not met by Muller's focus on the ambiguous 'introduction' phrase. Sometimes he's critical of Ratzinger for not having resisted Nazi Germany at age fourteen; this is another issue. Sometimes he's critical of Ratzinger for saying resistance wasn't possible at that time; this is another issue. Sometimes he's critical of the conclave for having elected Ratzinger despite his attitude toward the events in the 1940s; this is another issue. I'm interested in the truth of the matter; but I'm still waiting for a plausible argument for some of these claims, particularly the first. [Added later: Muller has put up a post to clarify his position here. I think if one puts the issue in terms of moral responsibilities about what should or should not be remembered, Muller may have a stronger argument than his original framing of it in terms of 'untruthfulness' which requires a higher standard of evidence. I've begun to wonder if Muller really does have evidence for at least some of his claims that he hasn't had a chance to post yet; so we'll see how the discussion shapes up over the next few days.]

UPDATE: Alan Allport has started an interesting discussion about the complexities of defining resistance under an authoritarian regime at Cliopatria.

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