Article admiring the Hitler Youth is insensitive


July 22, 1991|By ROGER SIMON

Letters, calls and the roar of the crowd:

Carla Adams, Baltimore: I am Christian and a Scout assistant leader. I am incensed by the tone of an article in the May-June issue of Scouting magazine [admiring the Hitler Youth.]

I am incensed by the lack of acknowledgment that these groups played (a part) in the murder of non-Christian people and Christians alike.

People would believe Hitler Youth groups didn't have anything to do with the mass murder of Jewish and non-Jewish men, women and children if they read this article in the national Scouting magazine.

I am hoping you will do something soon. I am embarrassed to belong to the Scout organization at this point and worry about my own child being so subtly manipulated.

I have written to the Boy Scouts in Baltimore about this and have received no reply.

COMMENT: The article you object to is a story by veteran Boy Scout leader Ken Wells in Scouting magazine, which goes to Scout leaders and is published by the same people who publish Boy's Life.

In the article, Wells reminisces over how he led 35 Boy Scouts from Oregon to a Scout jamboree in the Netherlands in 1937. He recounts five anecdotes including:

"After the jamboree we did some touring, including a trip up the Rhine with a stop in the German city of Heidelberg. This was 1937, remember, and Germany was ablaze with Nazi swastika flags everywhere.

"On our way to visit a historic site we saw a troop of Hitler Youth coming down the road toward us, marching with great precision. We stepped aside and, as an act of courtesy, applauded as they passed.

"A few yards down the road they stopped and lined up single file. Their leader returned, seeking the leader of our group. When I met him, he told me they appreciated our courtesy and now they would like us to march past them so they could salute us.

"I fumbled for an excuse. Finally, I stretched the truth a bit and told him we were running behind schedule and had to hurry if we were to get back to our river boat on time.

"The truth was that we American Boy Scouts simply did not know how to march, at least not their way. By comparison we would have looked ragged and undisciplined. He was clearly disappointed, but he clicked his heels, saluted, and went his way."

Then Wells moves on to an anecdote about a baby alligator from Florida that ends up in a French bidet.

I think the worst you can say at this point is that Wells and the magazine are guilty of gross insensitivity. If one is going to praise the Hitler Youth for their marching ability, one should also cast a critical eye on their other activities and Nazism in general just to put the anecdote in a little perspective.

As the anecdote reads now, it would be akin to going to a Scout jamboree in America, passing a line of Ku Klux Klansmen and praising how white and crisp their sheets and hoods are.

I called Scouting and talked to Ernest Doclar, the editor. He said the magazine goes to a million readers and that only Carla Adams had complained.

"If a majority of the readers had complained or even a half dozen, I might be concerned," he said. "But when just one person complains, you don't get too excited."

He said he thought the article showed no insensitivity and the anecdote did not need to be put in context. "It showed the German kids were extremely militaristic and American kids were more fun-loving. I thought it added a good bit of color," he said.

Which is fairly depressing. And Doclar forgets what Thoreau taught us: "Any [person] more right than his neighbors, constitutes a majority of one."

You'd think with all those upstanding Scout leaders out there across America, all dedicated to being trustworthy, loyal, helpful, friendly, courteous, kind, obedient, cheerful, thrifty, brave, clean and reverent, one besides an assistant leader from Baltimore would have called or written a letter of complaint.

The good news, however, is that you, Carla, did complain and loudly. Often, when a Jewish person complains about the Nazis, he is accused of being "over-sensitive" to events nearly a half-century old.

So how nice to know there is a person properly sensitive to that which everyone, Jew and non-Jew alike, should still remember and care about.


Howard Pratt, Baltimore: The paper came again this morning with a big vertical crease down your column. This is very disturbing. By damn, you buy the thing and it's not creased right! I can't read it. You have to pull it taut to read it. It's always your column and Alice Steinbach's column. It's awful and it's unjustifiable. A paper the size of The Sun and you can't read it because of these damn creases. There is no excuse. Hell, no, there is just no excuse.

COMMENT: Actually, I think there is an excuse. I think the vertical creases may be put there on purpose. By forcing you to pull the paper taut in order to read the paper, we feel you become more involved with the product. Think of it like finding buried treasure. Besides, my columns are written so that you don't really have to read all the words anyway.

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