Thursday, March 11, 2010

The Ratzingers and Hitler

I am reviewing Marilyn Chandler McEntyre's Caring for Words in a Culture of Lies. She dishes chewy chapters on telling the truth, sharing stories, making conversation, reading books and becoming good stewards of our words for they all participate in some way in The Word, our Creator. While her book is anything but a scold and full of wisdom, may it be appended to the Catechism to help us grasp the danger and damage of calumny, slander, libel, gossip, etc. 

My father always warned me after shooting off my lip. "What's wrong with you? Put brain in gear before mouth in motion." It sounds almost archaic in an age of electronic recall and highspeed Internet. In an age of glib one-liners and nanosecond retorts, when we can hit the reply button almost before we realize what we've written, McEntyre is an intellectual saint exhorting us to ponder Jesus'words in Matthew 12:34-37:

34 "How can you say good things when you are evil? For from the fullness of the heart the mouth speaks.
35 A good person brings forth good out of a store of goodness, but an evil person brings forth evil out of a store of evil.
36 I tell you, on the day of judgment people will render an account for every careless word they speak.
37 By your words you will be acquitted, and by your words you will be condemned.”

Another Matthew, who regularly and thoughtfully comments on this blog, and often poses good questions, was reading my Heidegger/Nazi reflections posted over the last two days.

He jarred me by reminding me that people still casually as well as maliciously talk about Pope Benedict XVI as though he had a secret Nazi past. A bell once rung can't be unrung. Once a lie is released into general circulation, it's only with great difficulty that we try to undo the damage to a person's or even an institution's reputation.

So let me say it clearly. The Ratzinger family was not sympathetic to Nazism. The accusation is as incorrect as it is hurtful and has been dismissed by John Allen in his bio on Benedict XVI as well as Brennan Pursell in his Benedict of Bavaria. See George Weigel's God's Choice as well. It seems almost wrong to dignify the charges by responding. Nevertheless, the charges, having been made, must be answered if for no other reason than that Catholics have a responsibility to destroy the works of the devil, the father of lies, and, further, those who raise honest questions deserve honest answers. Because these false accusations have been answered so many times I'll start by simply passing along a statement from Wikipedia on Ratzinger's early life. You can access it for yourself to get the footnotes.  Then I'll post some points from the Jewish Virtual Library as well as two recent speeches from Benedict XVI relevant to the discussion.

As you probably know the methodology for Wikipedia permits critics as well as advocates to weigh in on the article as long as they can document their points. While it lacks the cool detachment and lofty, academic tone of reference works like Encylopedia Brittanica, it has the advantage of letting you trace the debate if you're up to learning their coding and editing system..

Also, it is probably important to point out as Bill Donahue of the Catholic League did when criticizing Bill Maher and Rosie O'Donnell for rash and false statements about Ratzinger that no responsible Jewish leader argues that Ratzinger is in any way tainted by growing up in Germany during the Nazi era. I haven't heard any serious researcher claim that Ratzinger or his family sympathized with Hitler much less be active supporters of the SS. Even Yad Vashem didn't consider it worth pursuing. Ratzinger's record on Catholic-Jewish relations in superb. He was responsible for Memory and Reconciliation published in 2000 as a millennium milestone in acknowledging the historical failures of Catholics in their treatment of Jewish people. He also oversaw the writing and publication of the The Jewish People and Their Sacred Scriptures in the Christian Bible.

The Wikipedia piece starts out describing his father.

"The Sunday Times described the older Ratzinger as "an anti-Nazi whose attempts to rein in Hitler’s Brown Shirts forced the family to move several times." [1].

According to the International Herald Tribune, these relocations were directly related to Joseph Ratzinger, Sr.'s continued resistance to Nazism, which resulted in demotions and transfers.[2]

The pope's brother Georg said: "Our father was a bitter enemy of Nazism because he believed it was in conflict with our faith". [3]

The family had a sadder encounter with the Nazi regime, because of its euthanasia program for the handicapped.

John Allen, Ratzinger's biographer, reports a revelation made by Cardinal Ratzinger at a conference in the Vatican on November 28 1996: "Ratzinger had a cousin with Down's Syndrome who in 1941 was 14 years old. This cousin was just a few months younger than Ratzinger and was taken away by the Nazi authorities for "therapy" Not long afterwards, the family received word that he was dead, presumably one of the 'undesirables' eliminated during that time." [4]

In 1939, aged 12, Joseph Ratzinger was enrolled in a minor seminary in Traunstein.[2] This period in minor seminary lasted until the seminary was closed for military use in 1942, and all students were sent home.

Ratzinger returned to the Gymnasium in Traunstein.[3] During this period in the seminary, following his 14th birthday in 1941, Ratzinger was enrolled in the Hitler Youth, as membership was legally required in effect beginning March 25, 1939. [7] According to biographer John Allen, Ratzinger was an unenthusiastic member who refused to attend meetings.[4]

Following the seminary closure he required continued attendance with the Hitler Youth to not receive financial penalties in the Gymnasium tuition fees. The financial penalty, which theoretically required documentation of attendance at Hitler Youth activities was overlooked when [5] a sympathetic mathematics professor allowed him not to attend any meetings.

In Ratzinger's book Salt of the Earth, Ratzinger says the following " ... [T]hank goodness, there was a very understanding mathematics teacher. He himself was a Nazi but an honest man, who said to me, 'Just go once and get the document so that we have it ...When he saw that I simply didn't want to, he said, 'I understand, I'll take care of it,' and so I was able to stay free of it." [6]

Military service (1943–1945)
In 1943, when he was 16, Ratzinger was drafted with many of his classmates into the Luftwaffenhelfer program. They were posted first to Ludwigsfeld, north of Munich, as part of a detachment responsible for guarding a BMW aircraft engine plant.

Next they were sent to Unterföhring, northwest of Munich, and 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. At Gilching, Ratzinger served in a telephone communications post.

On September 10, 1944, his class was released from the Corps. Returning home, Ratzinger had already received a new draft notice for the Reichsarbeitsdienst. He was posted to the Hungarian border area of Austria which had been annexed by Germany in the Anschluss of 1938.

When Hungary was occupied by the Red Army Ratzinger was put to work setting up anti-tank defences in preparation for the expected Red Army offensive. [8] On November 20, 1944 his unit was released from service.

Ratzinger again returned home. After three weeks passed, he was drafted into the German army at Munich and assigned to the infantry barracks in the center of Traunstein, the city near which his family lived. After basic infantry training, Ratzinger served at various posts around the city with his unit. They were never sent to the front.

In late April or early May, days or weeks before the German surrender, Ratzinger deserted. Desertion was widespread during the last weeks of the war, even though punishable by death (executions, frequently extrajudicial, continued to the end); diminished morale and the greatly diminished risk of prosecution from a preoccupied and disorganized German military contributed to the growing wave of soldiers looking toward self-preservation.

Ratzinger left the city of Traunstein and headed for his nearby village. "I used a little-known back road hoping to get through unmolested. But, as I walked out of a railroad underpass, two soldiers were standing at their posts, and for a moment the situation was extremely critical for me. Thank God that they, too, had had their fill of war and did not want to become murderers." They used the excuse of his arm being in a sling to let him go home

Soon after, two SS members were given shelter at the Ratzinger family house, and they began to make enquiries about the presence there of a young man of military age.

Ratzinger's father even made clear to these SS men his ire against Adolf Hitler, but the two disappeared the next day without taking any action against the Ratzinger family. Cardinal Ratzinger later stated, "A special angel seemed to be guarding us."

When the Americans arrived in the village, "I was identified as a soldier, had to put back on the uniform I had already abandoned, had to raise my hands and join the steadily growing throng of war prisoners whom they were lining up on our meadow. It especially cut my good mother's heart to see her boy and the rest of the defeated army standing there, exposed to an uncertain fate..."

Ratzinger was briefly interned in a prisoner of war camp near Ulm and was released on June 19, 1945. He and another young man began to walk the 120 km (75 miles) home but got a lift to Traunstein in a milk truck. The family was reunited when his brother, Georg, returned after being released from a prisoner of war camp in Italy. He became a priest when he was 24 years old."

At the Jewish Virtual Library, there is a portrait of his acts and attitudes toward the Jewish people.

  • In a Vatican sermon marking his installation as new pontiff, Pope Benedict XVI extolled Jews for sharing a “spiritual heritage” with Christianity. Benedict offered greetings to “my brothers and sisters of the Jewish people, to whom we are joined by a great shared spiritual heritage, one rooted in God´s irrevocable promises.”
  • Rome´s chief rabbi, Riccardo di Segni, received a personal invitation to the Sunday Mass in which the Pope said “I confide in the help of the Almighty to continue the dialogue and strengthen the collaboration with the sons and daughters of the Jewish people.” The rabbi did not attend the event due to Passover.
  • Pope Benedict held his first audience for 25 Jewish leaders from Israel, the United States, Europe and Latin America on June 9, 2005. “The history of relations between our two communities has been complex and often painful,” the pope said, “but I am convinced that the spiritual patrimony treasured by Christians and Jews is itself the source of the wisdom and inspiration capable of guiding us toward a future of hope in accordance with the divine plan.”
  • He praised a landmark document of the 1962-1965 Second Vatican Council, recalling that it urged greater understanding and esteem between Christians and Jews and that it “deplored all manifestations of hatred, persecution and anti-Semitism.”He added: “At the very beginning of my pontificate, I wish to assure you that the Church remains firmly committed, in her catechesis and in every aspect of her life, to implementing this decisive teaching."
  • The Pope also told his visitors the painful past could not be forgotten. “Remembrance of the past remains for both communities a moral imperative and a source of purification in our efforts to pray and work for reconciliation, justice, respect for human dignity and for that peace which is ultimately a gift from the Lord himself.” Benedict called for “continued reflection on the profound historical, moral and theological questions presented by the experience of the Shoah.”
  • In February 2008, Pope Benedict XVI made the decision to reformulate the Catholic Church’s traditional Good Friday prayers. The Latin prayers for Good Friday ask Catholics to “pray also for the Jews that the Lord our God may take the veil from their hearts and that they also make acknowledge Our Lord Jesus Christ,” and ask God not to “refuse your mercy even to the Jews; hear the prayers which we offer for the blindness of that people so that they may acknowledge the light of your truth, which is Christ, and be delivered from their darkness." The new text will drop all references to the “darkness” and “blindness” of the Jews. The Pope had issed a “Motu Propio” edict permitting the use of this version of the prayer from the 1962 Latin Tridentine missal in July 2007. But after protests from leaders in the Jewish community, the Pope drafted a new version to be used in time for the Holy Week celebrations in March 2008.
  • Visit to German Synagogue: On August 19, 2005, Pope Benedict visited the synagogue on Roonstrasse in Cologne, Germany in what was viewed as a reflection of his interest to maintain the warm relations with world Jewry fostered by his predecessor who had been the first Pope to visit a synagogue. “It has been my deep desire, during my first visit to Germany since my meet the Jewish community of Cologne and the representatives of Judaism in Germany,” the Pope said. The Pope reflected on the Holocaust and anti-Semitism, saying, “In the darkest period of German and European history, an insane racist ideology, born of neo-paganism, gave rise to the attempt, planned and systematically carried out by the regime, to exterminate European Jewry...This year marks the 60th anniversary of the liberation of the Nazi concentration camps, in which millions of Jews — men, women and children — were put to death in the gas chambers and ovens.”
  • Israel's two chief rabbis met with Pope Benedict XVI on September 15, 2005, to celebrate the 40th anniversary of a landmark Vatican document on relations with Jews, and sought his support in fighting anti-Semitism and terrorism. Israel's Ashkenazic Chief Rabbi Yona Metzger and Sephardic Chief Rabbi Shlomo Amar called on the pope at his summer residence in Castel Gandolfo, in the hills south of Rome.
  • On October 27, 2005, Pope Benedict celebrated the 40th anniversary of the Second Vatican Council’s “Nostra Aetate” document, which absolved Jews of collective guilt in the death of Jesus. “This anniversary gives us abundant reason to express gratitude to almighty God,” Benedict told Jewish and Catholic leaders marking the event in Rome. “In laying the foundations for a renewed relationship between the Jewish people and the church, Nostra Aetate stressed the need to overcome past prejudices, misunderstandings, indifference and the language of contempt and hostility,” he said. “I have expressed my own firm determination to walk in the footsteps traced by my beloved predecessor Pope John Paul II. The Jewish-Christian dialogue must continue to enrich and deepen the bonds of friendship which have developed.”
  • “We cannot but denounce and fight hatred and incomprehension, injustice and violence that continue to sow concern into the souls of men and women of good faith,” Benedict said January 16, 2006, during his first meeting with Rome’s chief rabbi, Riccardo Di Segni. “How can one not be hurt and worried by the renewed displays of anti-Semitism that sometimes appear?” He added, “The people of Israel have been freed on numerous occasions from the hands of their enemies and the hand of the Almighty has supported and guided them during centuries of anti-Semitism (and) in the dramatic time of the Shoah,” he said.
  • In May 2008, Pope Benedict congratulated Israel on its birthday and described Israel's 60th Independence Day as a sign of God's beneficence toward the Jews. “The Holy See is united with you,” he reportedly told Motti Levy, the new Israeli ambassador to the Vatican, “and thanks God for the full realization of the Jewish people's aspirations to live in its homeland, the land of its forefathers.”
Ask Bill Maher and Rosie O'Donnell and those of likemind: "What have you done for the Jewish people lately? If Benedict's words and behavior display anti-semitism then I guess we should all be such anti-semites."  I doubt that any of his critics love the Jewish people and the Jewish contribution to human life and culture more than the Vicar of Christ. Without the Jews, Benedict would be without resume.

This is probably a good time to ask Bill, Rosie and their kin to listen to a Jewish rabbi who said:
34 "How can you say good things when you are evil? For from the fullness of the heart the mouth speaks.

35 A good person brings forth good out of a store of goodness, but an evil person brings forth evil out of a store of evil.

36 I tell you, on the day of judgment people will render an account for every careless word they speak.

37 By your words you will be acquitted, and by your words you will be condemned.”

Here is his speech at Yad Vashem in May, 2009:

Here is his address upon arriving in Israel in May, 2009:

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