Co-editors: Seán Mac Mathúna • John Heathcote
Consulting editor: Themistocles Hoetis
Field Correspondent: Allen Hougland
Ratzinger; 'reluctant' fighter for the Third Reich
John Heathcote and Seán Mac Mathúna

The Times -Nazi past of Ratzinger


St Malachy's prophecies

more prophecies . . .


We are informed by the Cardinal's autobiography that Ratzinger's father, a Bavarian police officer, was always opposed to the Nazi Brownshirt terror. He retired in 1937 and moved his family to Traunstein, a Catholic town in Bavaria.

It is so close to the Fuhrer's mountain retreat in Berchtesgaden, that one wonders whether this was an ideal retirement area for such a committed anti-Nazi?

A report in a recent Sunday Times (April 17th 2005) records that;

'Ratzinger admits that he joined the Hitler Youth aged 14, shortly after membership was made compulsory in 1941.

Two years later Ratzinger was enrolled in an anti-aircraft unit that protected a BMW factory making aircraft engines. The workforce included slaves from Dachau concentration camp.'

The future pope was posted first to Ludwigsfeld, north of Munich; then they were sent to Unterfohring, northwest of Munich, and then briefly to Innsbruck. From Innsbruck their unit went to Gilching to protect the jet fighter base and to attack allied bombers as they massed to begin their runs towards Munich.

It is surprising the man who later . . .

'... insisted he never took part in combat or fired a shot - adding that his gun was not even loaded - because of a badly infected finger... (Times)

was kept so busy doing so little!

The Times report continues with a brief summary of the Cardinal - Pope's autobiography;

He was sent to Hungary, where he set up tank traps and saw Jews being herded to death camps.

An item in the Wikipedia which draws on thw Cardinal's own version of his Wartime service for the Reich, informs us that on the Austrian - Hungarian border, Ratzinger was

' . . . trained in the "cult of the spade" and upon the surrender of Hungary to Russia was put to work digging setting up anti-tank defences in preparation for the expected Red Army offensive.'

In November 20, 1944 Ratzinger's unit was released from service and he returned home, but three weeks later was back in uniform to defend the Fatherland; being posted around Munich and his local city of Traunstein.

In late April or early May 1945, days or weeks (one assumes it would be etched in the memory) before the German surrender, Ratzinger deserted and awaited the Allied forces in his local village, near the Fuhrer's mountain retreat in Berchtesgaden.

He was briefly interned in an open-air prisoner of war camp near Ulm by the Americans, and was released on June 19, 1945.

The Sunday Times report ends on the question which has remained unspoken, but deserves to be asked of a man now in a supreme spiritual position over 1 million Roman Catholics.

Why did a man - who will no doubt one day be hailed as a saint - find it so hard to stay out of uniform in WWII ?

'He has since said that although he was opposed to the Nazi regime, any open resistance would have been futile - comments echoed this weekend by his elder brother Georg, a retired priest ordained along with the cardinal in 1951.

"Resistance was truly impossible," Georg Ratzinger said. "Before we were conscripted, one of our teachers said we should fight and become heroic Nazis and another told us not to worry as only one soldier in a thousand was killed. But neither of us ever used a rifle against the enemy." '

Some locals in Traunstein, like Elizabeth Lohner, 84, whose brother-in-law was sent to Dachau as a conscientious objector, dismiss such suggestions.

"It was possible to resist, and those people set an example for others," she said. "The Ratzingers were young and had made a different choice."

The Guardian (April 21st 2005) quoted Mr. Thomas Frauenlob, a local Catholic as saying;

'. . .records relating to the Pope's war service were locked in the seminary's archive and wouldn't be released for another 35 years. "We haven't had a chance to go through them. I haven't given it any thought" he said . . .


One thing that is hotly disputed is whether German teenagers were forced to join the Hitler Youth.

Luke Harding says that Joseph Ratzinger claimed in his memoirs that he joined the Hitler Youth only because membership was compulsory (Report, April 21). This is simply not true. There were many pressures on German boys to join the Hitler Youth. But there was no compulsion. It is worth remembering that at the time of Ratzinger's membership, Pope Pius XII was known as Hitler's pope because of his fascist views. Henry Metelman was one ex-member of the Hitler Youth who wrote a letter to The Guardian (25/04/05) about this. In it, he said:

"I was a member of the Hitler Youth for five years. A number of my friends had not joined up. Some found it difficult to enrol in the civil service and other state-run institutions. But I know of none of them having been punished in any way".

(Guardian, Letters Mon. April 25th 2005)

The implication in the above letter is that Ratzinger was a willing recruit for the Hitler Youth. As for his war record, to us it sounds implausible even with the meagre amounts of information released so far.

How could he have NOT fired a "shot in anger" when he served from 1943 onwards until he was captured by US forces in Germany in April 1945 ?