Papa Ratzinger – POW: ‘Thank God he stayed in line with the others.’

Corriere della sera has an interesting piece today about a note sent by Papa Ratzinger to the soldiers who captured him in WWII.

NEW YORK: A note of thanks, on official Holy See letterhead, written and signed by Benedict XVI himself.  A few heartfelt words to bless the veterans of the United States Army, today over 80 years old, who in 1945 captured him in Germany and now are in contact with him.  

The event took place a while ago but comes out only now that the first Pope in history to ahve been a prisoner of war of the Americans is on a visit to the USA.

During this historic trip, according to sources in the American Catholic Church, there is in the air something of the spirit and generosity of his captors back when.  The pontiff recalled the meeting with US soldiers in his own memoirs, where he recounted how, as an 18 year old, he was contrained to put on the uniform earlier repudiated, when he had deserted the Nazi ranks at the risk of his own life.

Also, even if he never fired a shot in his life, the young Ratzinger had to march on a deserted highway for three days, together with thousands of German prisoners.

"The Americans took pictures" Ratzinger wrote, "especially of the youngest among them, because they wanted to take home a souvenir of that defeated army."

But 60 years later those young men are the ones to seek him out:  the veterans of the 2nd Chemical Mortar Battalion, who in May 1945 entered Traunstein, Bavaria, took him prisoner, sending him for three months to a detention camp in Ulm, Germany.

Elliott Stalnaker, of the veterans who entered Traunstein, managed in 2005 to match his own past with that of Ratzinger, thanks to a Catholic priest friend.  "He said to me, ‘Thank God you didn’t shoot the Pope’", Stalkner recounted, "and I responded, ‘Thank God he stayed in line with the others.’"

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

Fr. Z is the guy who runs this blog. o{]:¬)
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  1. Lauren says:

    What an interesting article! Thanks for posting Fr. Z :) I’m curious to know more about the note he sent them.

  2. Hoka2_99 says:

    At least this article on Ratzinger during the war is different – it\’s the only one I\’ve read so far which doesn\’t accuse him of being first a member of Hitler Youth and second a Nazi.
    The official photograph of young Joseph in the uniform he was forced to wear [when conscripted into the air \”watch\” corps, which was definitely non-belligerent] shows him looking glum and self-conscious. I bet it upset his mother no end to see it.
    When he was taken prisoner by the Americans he had a rough time; they slept out under the stars, which can\’t have been pleasant even though it was June. Read \”MilestoneS\” for full details.

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