'My Brother, The Pope' Co-Author Says Pope Benedict XVI Was a 'Loner,' Denies Nazi Rumors

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The Ratzginer Family Did Not Have a Role in the Nazi Party, Writer Says

Hesemann made it clear that this book, "My Brother, the Pope," was not commissioned by the Vatican, and was produced in a publishing house in Germany, not by the Vatican library. However, the writer admitted that the Holy Father's personal secretary, Monsignor Georg Gänswein, did fact check the book with Pope Benedict because Georg Ratzinger is almost completely blind and couldn't proofread it.

"There are many names, and I would sometimes only conclude how they were written," Hesemann said. "But it was important to check it with the Holy Father on how certain names were written."

A photo of the Ratzinger family from 1951, after the brothers were ordained to the priesthood. From left: Maria, Georg, Maria (mother), Joseph and Joseph Ratzinger Sr. Credit: Courtesy Ignatius Press

When asked if any parts of the book had been edited out, Hesemann said the only censorship he received from the papal office was to remove some of Georg Ratzinger's remarks about Nazi sympathizers the brothers knew growing up.

"The Ratzinger family was in opposition of the Nazis but [Georg Ratzinger] mentioned some neighbors and so on who were members of the Nazi party and because they of course have children who live today and who would be compromised, we didn't give the full name, but only the first letter of the persons in question," Hesemann said.

Georg Ratzinger was born in 1924 in Altotting, Bavaria, Germany, to Joseph Ratzinger, a village policeman and Maria Ratzinger, a hotel cook. He was one of three children, with his sister Maria, born in 1922, and the youngest, Joseph, born in 1927, who later became Pope Benedict.

Rumors have circulated for years that the Ratzinger family, especially their father, was sympathetic to the Nazi cause when they came to power in Germany in the 1930s. But in writing Georg Ratzinger's recollection of his childhood, Hesemann said there was no truth to that.

"[Their father] was a small-town policeman in Altotting and then he got a reputation for being anti-Nazi," Hesemann said. "Just before Hitler came to power, his superiors advised him to get away from the town because the Nazis complained about him."

In fact, Hesemann said, the brothers decided to follow the priesthood, in part, because of their opposition to the Nazis' anti-Catholic zeitgeist.

"It was a sign of opposition to join a seminary at a time when you really had to suffer through because you were a seminarian, and you were discriminated, you were laughed at, and you had a very hard time," he said.

Even rumors that Pope Benedict was once a member of the Hitler Youth were exaggerated, Hesemann said. The law in Germany at the time, he explained, was that young men were forced to join the organization.

"Joseph Ratzinger, who hated the idea, to go to the Hitler Youth, did everything to avoid it and eventually was successful in avoiding it and didn't have to go," Hesemann said. "Then came the war... and the boys learned to theoretically shoot down enemy planes, but Joseph was too small and too un-sporty to handle weapons and anything like this so he served in a control room."

Hesemann explained that the pope was eventually drafted into the German army but when asked to report to a Nazi military camp in the last month of the war, Joseph Ratzinger fled, and was not prosecuted as a defector. Even their sister Maria, Hesemann said, gave up her dream of becoming a school teacher to avoid being associated with the Nazis.

"She was an intelligent young lady, who became the secretary of a lawyer after the war, but she did not go to university because, at that time, to go to university would have been in the time of the Nazis and she did not want to go become a teacher at a Nazi school and become-- and teach children the Nazi ideology," he said.

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