Pope Benedict had served in the Nazi Youth movement and had also served with a German army anti-aircraft unit and witnessed Jews being herded to death camps, according to Times Online. Pope Benedict enlisted in the Nazi Youth shortly after enlistment was made mandatory in 1941. He claims that he was an unhappy participant and refused to attend meetings. His father was an outspoken opponent of the Nazi party. Pope Benedict eventually deserted in 1944 and spent a short time in a prisoner of war camp.
Despite his lack of enthusiasm about his time in the Nazi party and army, Pope Benedict refused to visit the Israeli Holocaust Museum during his visit to the Middle East. The museum contains a display criticizing the wartime Pope Pius XII for being a passive observer during the Holocaust. Pope Benedict was criticized for considering the beatification of Pius XII, which would mean that the Catholic Church would officially recognize Pius XII as a saint. Many oppose this claiming that Pope Pius was to blame for his lack of action to stop the Jewish holocaust. The Vatican claims that Pius XII used diplomacy to save Jews during the Holocaust, according to Jerusalem Post. Most likely in an attempt to avoid controversy, Pope Benedict has postponed the beatification of Pius XII for a period of reflection. Pope Benedict also received heavy criticism for revoking the excommunication of Richard Williamson, a bishop who denied the Holocaust.
Benedict condemned the Holocaust in his speech at Yad Vashem, Israel’s holocaust memorial. Many criticized him for lack of emotion during his speech. He also avoided using the words “Nazi”, “German”, and “murder” in order to downplay his own Nazi past. During his farewell speech many observers claimed that he was visibly more emotional while addressing the Holocaust, which more than likely was an attempt to reverse the criticism from his earlier address at Yad Vashem. Whether he was sincere or just putting on an act is anybody’s guess.
The Muslim community also attacked Pope Benedict regarding his 2006 comments at the University of Regensburg in Germany. Many had interpreted his speech as being offensive towards Islam. Benedict had quoted a Byzantine emperor who had described the Islamic faith as violent in nature. “Show me just what Muhammad brought that was new and there you will find things only evil and inhuman, such as his command to spread by the sword the faith he preached,” said Pope Benedict while quoting Manuel II Paleologus, the last Christian ruler before the fall of Constantinople.
Pope Benedict claimed that his statement was taken out of context and that he had never meant that his own view of Islam was the same as Paleologus. There are translational differences between the German version and the English version, which make it difficult to discern whether Pope Benedict agreed with the Emperor’s interpretation of Islam. However, interpreting Islam does not seem to be the main point of the Pope’s 2006 lecture. Pope Benedict’s main point in quoting Paleologus, according to the Vatican, was to illustrate that violence in the name of religion defied reason and therefore went against God’s will.The Pope was able to significantly quell his Muslim critics, when he stated that he was in favor of a Palestinian state. But, when a Muslim cleric appealed to the Pope in person to condemn Israel for killing innocent Palestinian civilians with missiles and bombs, the Pope avoided controversy and quickly left the stage. The Pope’s stand for non-violence and peace only went so far. His visit to the Middle East was just as much about saving face for the Vatican as it was about promoting peace for humanity.