Ratzinger a Nazi?

by Steve Ray on April 23, 2005


Ratzinger under pressure

The on-line German news-magazine Der Spiegel aims some well-deserved contempt at the contention of the British tabloids that the young Ratzinger was a Nazi, and included this moving testimonial about his service as a 16-year-old conscript:

“What you find in the British press is complete rubbish”, says Munich resident Walter Fried, 78. In 1943, he served together with Ratzinger in the same anti-aircraft battery at Obergrashof near Munich. His memories of the current Pope are rather dim, because the boy from Traunstein was a “very reserved, fairly inconspicuous figure.” But one occurrence Fried still remembers exactly: One time a high-ranking officer conducted an inspection. One after the other each lad had to say what he wished to become. Many mentioned becoming pilots as career aspirations, and after an answer of that sort there were no further questions asked. “When it came to Ratzinger’s turn, he said that he would like to become a parish priest. That caused great laughter. But at the time, of course, to give such an answer took courage.”

Hemingway defined guts as “grace under pressure.” There are occasions when truth under pressure requires considerably more from a man. Even the ordinary force of social pressures on teenage boys in undramatic everyday circumstances are enough to cause them to dissemble or keep silent about their faith. The young Ratzinger, in his own quiet way, was bearing witness to Christ by confessing his desire to serve him as a priest. He does not mention this incident in his autobiography, and perhaps did not remember it himself — but it made enough of an impression to be remembered by another man more than 60 years after the event. In this respect Ratzinger is a kind of John Kerry-in-reverse, understating rathering than exaggerating his pluck. Thereupon his forgotten comrades, far from shredding his accounts of personal heroism, testify to the guts that didn’t feel the need for self-advertisement.  

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