"The son of a rural Bavarian police officer, Ratzinger was six when Hitler came to power in 1933. His father, also called Joseph, was an anti-Nazi whose attempts to rein in Hitler’s Brown Shirts forced the family to move home several times.
In 1937 Ratzinger’s father retired and the family moved to Traunstein, a staunchly Catholic town in Bavaria close to the Führer’s mountain retreat in Berchtesgaden. He joined the Hitler Youth aged 14, shortly after membership was made compulsory in 1941.
He quickly won a dispensation on account of his training at a seminary. “Ratzinger was only briefly a member of the Hitler Youth and not an enthusiastic one,” concluded John Allen, his biographer.
Two years later Ratzinger was enrolled in an anti-aircraft unit that protected a BMW factory making aircraft engines. The workforce included slaves from Dachau concentration camp.
Ratzinger has insisted he never took part in combat or fired a shot — adding that his gun was not even loaded — because of a badly infected finger. He was sent to Hungary, where he set up tank traps and saw Jews being herded to death camps. He deserted in April 1944 and spent a few weeks in a prisoner of war camp.
He has since said that although he was opposed to the Nazi regime, any open resistance would have been futile — comments echoed this weekend by his elder brother Georg, a retired priest ordained along with the cardinal in 1951.
“Resistance was truly impossible,” Georg Ratzinger said. “Before we were conscripted, one of our teachers said we should fight and become heroic Nazis and another told us not to worry as only one soldier in a thousand was killed. But neither of us ever used a rifle against the enemy.” "
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