1941 - World War II and Hitler Youth
Ratzinger's young life was disrupted by the outbreak of World War II in 1939. When he turned 14 in 1941, he was conscripted into the Hitler Youth movement - as all German boys were legally required to do. In 1943, he was drafted into an anti-aircraft unit of the German army (pictured above) - serving until shortly before the end of the war, when he deserted as Allied troops approached. He was held as a prisoner of war by the Alllies for several months after the war ended.
Despite the fact that joining the Hitler Youth was mandatory, his involvement in both it and the German army would continue to prove controversial as Ratzinger rose higher in the Catholic Church. However, the evidence suggests that he was never an enthusiastic member, much preferring to immerse himself in his seminary studies - despite the often hostile attitude of the Nazi party to the Church. Ratzinger witnessed Nazis beating the parish priest, and he revealed in 1996 that a cousin of his who had Down's Syndrome was killed by the Nazis as part of their eugenics campaign.
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