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Youth Church Group Takes Down Hitler Quote Billboard

Youth GroupI’ve done a lot of writing and quoted a lot of people. That included my work, for several years, covering schools and education for large newspapers. You know what I’ve never done? Thought to myself, “Hey, didn’t Hitler have a really inspirational quote about young people? I should use that!”

You know who did, apparently, think that way? Someone at Life Savers Ministries in Opelika, Ala.

Last Friday, residents in Auburn, Ala., were greeted with a billboard, purchased by the church youth group, that featured a photo of five smiling children beneath the words, “He alone, who owns the youth, gains the future.” The quote was attributed to Adolf Hitler, whose name was emblazoned on the billboard in bright red font, as Gawker noted. (The billboard also included a Bible quote that Life Savers Ministries says is its mission: “Train up a child in the way he should go, even when he is old he will not depart from it.”)

The Ledger-Enquirer in Columbus, Ga., reported that LSM founder said that the church group “certainly never intended to cause confusion.”

“We are a children’s organization and hand honorable intentions and nothing less,” James Anderegg told the newspaper.

Reuters reports that the billboard was taken down yesterday.

As you’d expect, the denizens of the Internet responded with shock once the story, originally reported by the Ledger-Enquirer’s Adam Carlson, went viral. Carlson told me that Ledger-Enquirer’s readers were as surprised as anyone else, though some also felt it necessary to defend LSM.

“[T]he youth ministry who took out the billboard has strong ties in its Alabama community and several people have also attested to the good work it does (when it isn’t making slip-ups like this one),” Carlson wrote to me in an email.

LSM, which was founded at a housing project and describes itself on its website as serving “at risk” children, does have a laudable mission and it’s good that it has moved swiftly to rectify this downright bizarre mistake. But I can’t help but wonder how they blundered so badly to begin with. Did someone at LSM do a Google search for a good quote about youth, find the Hitler one and decide that, that pesky Holocaust thing aside, that guy was really on to something?

There is, at least, a bright side to this. It’s a teachable moment. If a young person asks why people were outraged by the billboard, a thoughtful adult can explain — taking into account the child’s age, of course — the horrors of the Third Reich and the folly of glorifying a dictator who spearheaded a genocide that took the lives of six million people, including children.

It is ironic that it was a religious group that gave a posthumous platform, however temporary, to a zealot of religious prosecution. As the billboard indicated, LSM is clearly concerned about the future … I just hope that, from now on, they’ll be more mindful of the past.

Photo by Julie Burns, special to the Ledger-Enquirer. Used with the newspaper’s permission.

 

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