Wednesday, April 20, 2005

German Shepherd

I've been thinking about the implications of Joseph Ratzinger's connections to the Hitlerjugend, as well as the excuses offered for it (and they are, thankfully, only excuses and not justifications).

Is it true that service in the Hitler Youth was inescapable? Sort of. It was compulsory. But there are prominent examples of resistance, including among people who were roughly Ratzinger's age and just as devout Catholics as he. My sense is that what's really crucial is to look at how Ratzinger has managed to deal with his experience in the Third Reich---and I say "in" and not "of" because anybody can denounce; not everyone is capable of coming to terms with playing a role, however minor, in the Shoah. Surely he knows that his path during the war was the easiest among others that were available. On that note, something my father wrote to me about this whole business is dead on:
[N]o one can tell someone else to die as a Christian martyr against National Socialist oppression. But there remains the case of Dietrich Bonhöffer - surely a more important theological thinker than Ratzinger at any time in the latter's already long life - and the case of Sophie Scholl and her friends, who are probably not among the righteous Gentiles (I detest that phrase) at Yad Vashem but surely deserve to be.
The reference to Scholl is a reference to the "White Rose" resistance of Bavaria, with which you might already be familiar. If not, the story concerns young Catholic philosophy students in the most Catholic part of Germany, and it is an ineluctable counterexample to the claim that Ratzinger had no choices to make. (Some popes, as we know, acted heroically during WWII, and then again, some did not.) What follows is a translation of a fairly popular account of the White Rose:
When a German medical student and soldier named Jürgen Wittenstein introduced two young men in the fall of 1940, he had no way of knowing his friends would make history and forever be remembered as heroes.

By the summer of 1942, Hans Scholl and Alexander Schmorell were at the center of a close-knit group of friends who shared the same ideals and interests in medicine, music, art, theology and philosophy. They soon recognized their shared disgust for Adolf Hitler, the Third Reich and the Gestapo. Hans and Alex were soon joined by Christoph Probst (a level-headed, married soldier and father of three who was loved by everyone who knew him) and Willi Graf (another medical student and a devout Catholic who never joined the Hitler Youth and refused to acknowledge those who did). And there was Sophie, Hans Scholl's younger sister who joined Hans and his friends at the University to study biology and philosophy. These friends, sometimes joined by popular philosophy professor Kurt Huber, Jürgen Wittenstein and others, formed the heart of The White Rose.

Hans and Alex acted alone at first, writing and duplicating an editorial leaflet with the heading: "Leaflets of The White Rose". The piece was scathing in its criticism of every-day Germans who sat back and did nothing to combat the Third Reich. The leaflet went on to suggest "passive resistance" as the best way to silently encourage the downfall of the "government". Three more leaflets quickly appeared, all with the same heading: "Leaflets of The White Rose". Each of these documents was more hard-hitting than the last, while more and more friends of Hans and Alex began to contribute. Two final leaflets appeared, one in January 1943 and the last around February 18th. These were headed "Leaflets of the Resistance".

The members of The White Rose worked day and night, cranking a hand-operated duplicating machine thousands of times to create the leaflets which were each stuffed into envelopes, stamped and mailed from various major cities in Southern Germany. Recipients were chosen from telephone directories and were generally scholars, medics and pub-owners (which seemed to puzzle the Gestapo -- but who better to spread the word or post a leaflet!). While Hans and Alex alone drafted the first four leaflets, they counted on Christoph Probst to comment and criticize. Jürgen edited the third and fourth leaflets and traveled to Berlin with the dangerous documents. Willi contributed to the fifth leaflet and did a generous amount of leg-work, getting supplies and trying to recruit support outside of Munich. Sophie worked hard at getting stamps and paper (one couldn't buy too many stamps at one place without arousing suspicion) and also managed the group's funds. Kurt Huber contributed to the fifth leaflet and solely drafted the sixth (and final) leaflet, while Hans was apprehended with a rough-draft of a seventh leaflet written by Christoph Probst. All members traveled throughout Southern Germany (and beyond) to mail stacks of leaflets from undetectable locations. Hundreds of leaflets were also left at the University of Munich, carefully hand-delivered in the middle of the night.

On three nights in February 1943 -- the 3rd, 8th and 15th -- Hans, Alex and Willi conducted the most dangerous of all the White Rose activities. The three men used tar and paint to write slogans on the sides of houses on Ludwigstrasse, a main thoroughfare in Munich near the University. They wrote "Down With Hitler", "Hitler Mass Murderer", "freedom", and drew crossed-out swastikas... this while policemen and other officials patrolled the streets of Munich. It was, by far, the most public, blatant and dangerous of their activities.

It isn't certain why Hans and Sophie Scholl brought a suitcase full of leaflets to the University during the day on Thursday, February 18, 1943. Upon reaching the University, they passed Willi Graf and friend, Traute Lafrenz, who were leaving. They made plans to meet later in the evening, never mentioning the leaflets in the case. Together, Hans and Sophie entered the deserted atrium which, in minutes, would be flooded with students exiting lectures and classes. They worked quickly, dropping stacks of Kurt Huber's leaflets throughout the corridors. With time running out, the brother and sister hurried outside to safety. Then they noticed there were still leaflets left in the suitcase. Deciding it would be silly not to leave the few extra documents, they returned to the atrium, climbed a grand marble staircase to the upper level of the hall and Sophie flung the last of the leaflets high into the air. Sophie herself explained it this way: "It was either high spirits or stupidity that made me throw 80 to 100 leaflets from the third floor of the university into the inner courtyard." The dozens of pieces of paper glided freely, landing in a shower at the feet of students who suddenly poured out of lecture halls into the atrium. And standing somewhere in the crowd was Jakob Schmidt, University handyman and Nazi party member, who saw Hans and Sophie with the leaflets. The police were called, the doors were locked, and Hans and Sophie apprehended and taken into Gestapo custody. By some accounts, Hans and Sophie had plenty of time and could easily have escaped before the Gestapo arrived. Jakob Schmidt became a momentary Nazi hero and was cheered at rallies after the capture of White Rose members.

Today, there are many memorials of the White Rose throughout Munich and their story is known to every German. The White Rose may have been silenced too early but their words echo on...

Not to put too fine a point on it, Ratzinger's apologists are simply full of shit. If I believed in corporal punishment I would be for tattooing the White Rose story (in the original German) onto the bodies of the pundit class. And as Eric Muller explains, the Inquisitor can't even get his own story straight about the wartime years.


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