Ratzinger , Benedict and the SS

November 24, 2016 22:51

We had a seminar here last week on Pope Benedict, prior to his visit to Israel.

One of the stories which emerged, about which I - and, having asked around, the same goes for many other people - was wholly ignorant was his extraordinary decision as Cardinal Ratzinger to break away from a ceremony marking the Normandy landings, to visit SS graves at La Cambe.

Having checked, it seems this has only been reported once, in a (superb) New Yorker piece about him. I can't find a url, but here are the salient parts:

In the spring of 2004, Joseph Ratzinger went to France as the personal
representative of Pope John Paul II, who had asked him to deliver papal
blessings at the commemoration of the sixtieth anniversary of the
Allied landings in Normandy.

the Saturday-morning ceremony at the American cemetery at Omaha Beach,
attended by thousands of United States veterans and covered by the
major American television networks, Ratzinger had lunch with Pierre
Pican, the Bishop of Bayeux and Lisieux, and then drove twenty minutes
along the two-lane N 13 to the isolated cemetery of La Cambe in order
to pay his respects to the twenty-one thousand German war dead buried
there. There was little publicity for the event, and few reporters were

Ratzinger's discretion was understandable. Among
those buried at La Cambe were members of the Waffen S.S. panzer
division Das Reich, an elite military arm of the Nazis. The dead
included Michael Wittmann, a legendary tank commander, and Adolf
Diekmann, a major--Sturmbannfuhrer --who oversaw the massacre of
villagers in nearby Oradour-sur-Glane. Of the six hundred and forty-two
victims, two hundred and thirty-one were children; only six villagers

...Unlike the American
cemetery at Omaha Beach, with its 9,387 pristine white marble
headstones, La Cambe is a sombre and distinctly Teutonic enclosure.
Clusters of waist-high markers, rough-hewn from granite in the shape of
Iron Crosses, stand amid the individual tombstones. Many graves bear
the anonymous inscription "Ein deutscher Soldat" ("A German soldier").
A central tumulus contains the remains of an additional two hundred and
ninety-six unidentified soldiers, and is dominated by a large stone
marker, also in the shape of an Iron Cross. Relatively few people visit
La Cambe; most are returning German war veterans, or German families
mourning their fallen kin. On the afternoon of Ratzinger's visit, the
cemetery was virtually empty. A film crew wandered the grounds in
search of people to interview, as did a correspondent for the Berliner
Zeitung and a reporter for the local newspaper Paris-Normandie.

Shortly after two o'clock, Ratzinger entered the cemetery, accompanied
by Pican and Fortunato Baldelli, the papal nuncio to France, as well as
a few other Church officials. The procession moved solemnly along the
central axis of the cemetery, and assembled at the base of the tumulus.

"In this hour, we bow in respect to the dead of the Second
World War," Ratzinger said. "We remember the many young people from our
homeland whose futures and hopes were destroyed in the bloody slaughter
of the war. As Germans, we cannot help but be painfully moved to
realize that their idealism and their obedience to the state were
misused by an unjust government." Ratzinger regretted that Pflicht--the
blind and unquestioning obedience to duty, a distinctly Germanic
quality--had been exploited for evil purposes, but he insisted that
this had in no way dishonored the service and sacrifice rendered to the
fatherland. "They simply tried to do their duty--even if beset by
terrible inner conflicts, doubts, and questions," Ratzinger said. He
made no mention of the Waffen S.S., but said that it was not within his
spiritual commission to judge the fallen of La Cambe, "into whose
conscience only God can see."

I understand - and I would be happy to be wrong - that no previous Cardinal had visited La Cambe, for the obvious reason that so many SS soldiers are buried there.

It is, to say the least, disconcerting that Cardinal Ratzinger chose to go out of his way to visit.

November 24, 2016 22:51

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