Pope Benedict XVI’s brother shares memories in My Brother, the Pope.
by ROBERT RAUHUT
Msgr. Georg Ratzinger’s new book, My Brother, the Pope, brings new insights into the private life of the Ratzinger family. First published in Germany, the book is a series of interviews Msgr. Ratzinger gave to German journalist Michael Hesemann.
Hesemann was born in Düsseldorf in 1964 and studied history and cultural anthropology at the University of Göttingen. Accredited at the Holy See Press Office since 1999, Hesemann wrote several bestselling books on Church history and Christian archaeology.
My Brother, the Pope has been translated into English by Michael Miller and was recently published in the United States by Ignatius Press. Hesemann spoke with Register correspondent Robert Rauhut about the project.
In the past, we have experienced various attempts to reduce Pope Benedict’s past to the Nazi era. How does this book help to address that mischaracterization of the Ratzinger family’s values and activities during that era?
Well, you could have been hardly more anti-Nazi than the Ratzinger family. The Pope’s father was a small-town policeman when he stopped Nazi rallies and ended Nazi Party meetings, so the Nazis complained about him, and he was advised to request removal to a village — which he did, although it was a step down the career ladder. He hated them; he called Hitler “the Antichrist.” He couldn’t wait for his retirement, since he did not want to serve the Nazi regime, and, of course, he never joined the Nazi Party.
Instead, he was a subscriber to the most outspoken Catholic anti-Nazi newspaper, Der Gerade Weg, whose editor in chief, Fritz Gerlich, was murdered by the Nazis just after they came to power. After Hitler’s election, Joseph Ratzinger Sr. told his family frankly and nearly prophetically: “Soon we will have a war, so let’s buy a house” — which they did. He wanted to create security. They did not want to stay in an office flat of or for policemen. He foresaw a possible devaluation of money already earned and saved. And his retirement wasn’t a long way off. To ensure his family greater security they bought a house.
Indeed, the decision of both brothers to join the seminary was also a protest against the Nazis, and you can just imagine how seminarians were mocked by the Nazi boys of their age. Although it was the law to join the Hitler Youth and the whole class was automatically enlisted, young Joseph Ratzinger avoided it. He frankly told his school teacher he did not want to go, and, eventually, the teacher allowed him to stay at home. Even their older sister, Maria Ratzinger, who was an intelligent young lady and dreamed of becoming a school teacher for all her childhood, refused to study when the Nazis came to power and became a lawyer’s secretary instead: She just did not want to teach Nazi ideology at a Nazi school.
There were a few good Catholics in Germany, even during the Nazi regime — people who suffered a lot, and the Ratzingers were among them.