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Was Pope Benedict XVI (Joseph Ratzinger) A Nazi? Why Join the Hitler Youth?

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Pope Benedict XVI

Pope Benedict XVI

Wikipedia

The question of Joseph Ratzinger’s involvement with Nazi Germany and the Hitler Youth is important: there is reason to think that Ratzinger has been less than fully candid about his past.

During much of the Nazi era, Joseph Ratzinger lived with his family in Traunstein, Germany, a small and staunchly Catholic town between Munich and Salzburg. During World War I there was a prisoner-of-war camp located here where, ironically, Adolf Hitler worked between December 1918 and March 1919. The town is located near the region of Austria which Hitler came from.

Resistance to the Nazis was dangerous and difficult, but not impossible. Elizabeth Lohner, a Traunstein resident whose brother-in-law was sent to Dachau as a conscientious objector, has been quoted as saying, “It was possible to resist, and those people set an example for others. The Ratzingers were young and had made a different choice.”

A few hundred yards away from the Ratzingers' house, a family hid Hans Braxenthaler, a local resistance fighter who shot himself rather than be captured again. The SS regularly searched local homes for resistance members, so the Ratzingers couldn’t have not known about resistance efforts.

Traunstein also saw more than its share of local violence. In his biography of Joseph Ratzinger, John L. Allen, Jr. says that anti-Semitic violence, displacement, deportation, death, and even resistance turned the town into “an over-populated lunatic asylum of hopeless inhabitants.”

It’s curious that one of the lessons which Joseph Ratzinger, now Pope Benedict XVI, draws from the experiences of German Catholics under the Nazis is that Catholics should become even more obedient to their ecclesiastical leaders rather than more free to adopt independent courses of action. Ratzinger believes that greater fidelity to Catholic doctrine, as defined by the Vatican, is necessary to counter movements like Nazism.

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Background

Neither Ratzinger nor any member of his immediate family joined the NSDAP (Nazi Party). Ratzinger’s father was critical of the Nazi government, and as a result the family had to move four times before he was ten years old.

None of this is remarkable, however, because the same happened with other German Catholic families. Although many German Catholic leaders were willing to work with the Nazis, many individual Catholics and Catholic priests resisted as best they could, refusing to cooperate with a political regime they regarded as anti-Catholic at best and the embodiment of evil at worst.

Joseph Ratzinger joined the Hitler Youth in 1941 when, according to him and his supporters, it became compulsory for all German boys. Millions of Germans were in a position similar to that of Joseph Ratzinger and his family, so why spend so much time focusing on him? Because he is no longer merely Joseph Ratzinger, or even a Catholic Cardinal — he is now Pope Benedict XVI. None of the other Germans who joined the Hitler Youth, were part of the military in Nazi Germany, lived near a concentration camp, and watched Jews being rounded up for death camps has ever become pope.

The pope is supposed to be the successor of Peter, leader of the Christian Church, and symbol of unity for all Christendom. The past actions — or inactions — of such a person matter a great deal if anyone is going to treat him as any sort of moral authority. Ratzinger’s recollections of his youth in Nazi Germany makes it seem as though all the problems, violence, and hatred existed outside his local community. There is no recognition that resistance to the Nazis existed — or was needed — just outside his door.

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