Eric Muller: The Pope's Disastrous Speech at Auschwitz

When the white smoke told the world that Josef Ratzinger had been elected pope, it took some of us a moment or two to get our minds around the idea that the College of Cardinals had elevated a childhood member of the Hitler Youth to one of the world's leading positions of moral leadership. Clearly, Ratzinger had been no teenaged Nazi, but his public comments about that period of his (and his country's) life left some – myself included – with the nagging sense that he was airbrushing his memories of that time and too quickly dismissing the idea of resistance.

A synagogue visit last August and recent news of a contemplated visit to Israel were welcome moves; they left me hopeful that my concerns about airbrushing and avoidance of responsibility were wrong.

On Sunday, Pope Benedict visited Auschwitz and dashed those hopes.

His remarks there were a huge disappointment, and a confirmation of my worst fears about this pope and his stance toward his, and Germany's, wartime past.

A year ago, it disturbed me that Josef Ratzinger and his family had managed only an ordinary moral response to the challenge of Nazism, rather than the exemplary response that one might have hoped for in a future pope. It turns out, though, that Josef Ratzinger's understanding of this chapter of modern German history does not even rise to the level of the ordinary. Ratzinger is out at the self-absolving fringes of his generation on the question of German responsibility for the crimes of the Third Reich.

Worse still, Ratzinger proved himself incapable – even standing beside the crematoria of Auschwitz – of understanding the Holocaust as a crime against the Jews. Jewish suffering is just a tool for Ratzinger, an instrument for repositioning Christianity as the true target of Nazi oppression.

Consider, first, Ratzinger's account of his reason for traveling to Auschwitz:

Pope John Paul II came here as a son of the Polish people. I come here today as a son of the German people. For this very reason, I can and must echo his words: I could not fail to come here.

"I had to come. It is a duty before the truth and the just due of all who suffered here, a duty before God, for me to come here as the successor of Pope John Paul II and as a son of the German people -- a son of that people over which a ring of criminals rose to power by false promises of future greatness and the recovery of the nation's honor, prominence and prosperity, but also through terror and intimidation, with the result that our people was used and abused as an instrument of their thirst for destruction and power."

This takes the breath away.

Of course, scholars debate the extent of the responsibility that ordinary Germans bore for the crimes of the Third Reich. Some subscribe to Daniel Goldhagen's thesis that "regarding Jews, German political culture had evolved to the point where an enormous number of ordinary, representative Germans became – and most of the rest of their fellow Germans were fit to be – Hitler's willing executioners." Others favor my UNC colleague Christopher Browning's views that there was nothing uniquely German about the crimes of the Reich, and that mundane principles of social psychology better explain ordinary Germans' collaboration with evil than any uniquely German tendency to violence and anti-semitism. And some prefer other accounts of the degree of responsibility shouldered by average Germans.

But no respectable scholar sees the evil of the Third Reich as the responsibility of a cabal of criminals who intimidated and terrorized an unwilling German people into achieving the cabal's goals.

Nor could one plausibly maintain such a thing, given the overwhelming numbers of ordinary Germans who pulled triggers, typed lists, ordered supplies, "aryanized" property, guarded trains, drove trucks, medicated "defectives," built buildings, extracted fillings, collected taxes, broke windows, stitched clothing, tallied numbers, scheduled shipments, and did the thousands and thousands of other tasks that that built the Nazi machine of oppression and kept it running.

Yet that is Josef Ratzinger's view. There was the "ring of criminals" who "rose to power," and there was "our people" – the German "people," that is – whom the ring of criminals "used and abused."...

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Eric Zuesse - 6/16/2006

Eric Muller has put it well. But Ratzinger was merely taking what respected historians have offered, and historians have not offered the truth about the Holocaust.

After Holocaust-chief Reinhard Heydrich was assassinated, Hitler noted in his SECRET CONVERSATIONS, 7 June 1942, "the Bishop of Bohemia and Moravia begged permission to hold a Requiem Mass for SS Obergruppenfuhrer Heydrich.

Hitler himself was never excommunicated by his Church--Ratzinger's Church--nor even condemned; and though the Church has banned numerous books, MEIN KAMPF was never one of them. The official belt-buckle worn by Nazi soldiers emblazoned "GOTT MIT UNS" (God is with us") atop the Swastika, as these soldiers murdered Jews by the cartload; clergy issued no objection.

Not until July of 2000 did the Roman Catholic Church finally agree to pay restitution to surviving slaves it had used in Germany, given it by the Nazis. The major Protestant denominations had settled these lawsuits from their former slaves a little earlier.

Not all of the participants in the Holocaust were Germans, but all of them were Christians--some in Poland, some in Ukraine, some in France, some in Austria, and others elsewhere. The Holocaust was not German, as Goldhagen charged; it was Christian.

Eberhard Bethge, who had been a liberal Protestant cleric during the Third Reich, was interviewed in the last chapter of Augustin Hedberg's 1992 FAITH UNDER FIRE and was asked what those years had been like. Bethge commented, "'Bad blood' was the great term. You had to have Aryan blood." Hitler, in only his private statements, had defined "Aryan," as pureblooded Christian. Bethge's interviewer inquired, "So we know this Jewish poison [Jewish blood]had to be cleansed. How did they propose to do that?" Bethge replied, tellingly: "For instance, everybody in an office, in a village, in a city, in a province, in Berlin, had to prove that he had [only] Aryan ancestors. How could he do that? He could do it only if he wrote to church officers in the villages or in the cities and asked them to look in the old books of the church in which baptisms were recorded. So many pastors and church secretaries had to work for hours and hours, weeks and months to answer all these requests. 'Please give me an excerpt out of the church files that proves my ancestors had been Christians.' The church officers and the ministers, they didn't care. They did that. They said, 'How important we are now.' I was an assistant curator in the winter of '33. I had to sit all morning and look through the books and answer these letters." It was therefore the Christian clergy themselves--people indoctrinated with John 8:44, and Matthew 27:25, and Matthew 23:31-36, and Luke 19:27, etc.--who were the proud implementers of the indispensable first step in the Nazis' 12-year-long "racist" war against the Jews, by supplying the crucial raw data for segregating-out Jews. Bethge was even honest enough to admit, "We were anti-Semitic, and we thought this was Christian." The essential first step in the "final solution" was this identification of who was NOT an "Aryan," who WAS "a Jew." Hitler commanded this first step in the year he came into power, 1933, and the Christian clergy executed it with pride. And yet even today, so-called "historians" say that Hitler didn't have execution of the Jews in mind from the very start, and that Hitler was no Christian, and so forth. Ratzinger is just taking what "historians" have offered him. He's doing his job, for the Church. But historians have not been doing their job, for the truth. That's why the general public cannot separate propaganda from history--the latter is just an extension of the former.

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