Fact Check: Photo Does NOT Show Pope Benedict XVI Doing The Nazi Salute

Fact Check

  • by: Dana Ford
Fact Check: Photo Does NOT Show Pope Benedict XVI Doing The Nazi Salute Cropped Photo

Does a photograph on social media show a young Joseph Ratzinger, the future Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI, doing the Nazi salute? No, that's not true: The photo is cropped. The original photograph shows Ratzinger with both arms raised; not just his right one.

The cropped image was included in a tweet (archived here) published on December 31, 2022, the date of the 95-year-old former pontiff's death. The photograph appeared alongside a Spanish-language caption that, translated into English, opened with:

Joseph Ratzinger died, the Nazi pope.

This is what the post looked like on Twitter at the time of the writing of this fact check:

Twitter screenshot

(Source: Twitter screenshot taken on Tue Jan 3 15:23:02 2023 UTC)

The photo in the tweet, taken from a 2017 article about Benedict XVI in the Italian edition of Vanity Fair, has been cropped to show the German-born Ratzinger, pictured on the right, doing the Nazi salute. The uncropped, original photo dates from 1951 and shows Ratzinger and his brother, Georg, officiating at their first mass in Traunstein, Germany, according to the Vanity Fair caption. As can be seen here and below, this photo shows that neither Ratzinger had their right arm raised in the Nazi salute.

Rather, the Ratzingers had both arms raised to shoulder height -- a common posture for Catholic priests during the Our Father prayer, according to a professor of liturgy at the Regina Apostolorum Pontifical Athenaeum interviewed by the non-profit news agency Zenit.


(Source: Screenshot of https://media-assets.vanityfair.it/photos/614c4ae45b325e460d65a12e/master/w_2580%2Cc_limit/photo11.jpg
taken on Tue Jan 3 17:15:00 2023 UTC)

Benedict XVI, who headed the Catholic Church from 2005 to 2013, was the first pope in 600 years to resign from office. Born in the German city of Marktl am Inn in 1927, he grew up during World War II and joined the Hitler Youth as a teenager, as was required in Nazi Germany at that time. He was later drafted into the German military, but deserted in 1945.

Additional Lead Stories fact checks of claims related to the Catholic Church can be found here.

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  Dana Ford

Dana Ford is an Atlanta-based reporter and editor. She previously worked as a senior editor at Atlanta Magazine Custom Media and as a writer/ editor for CNN Digital. Ford has more than a decade of news experience, including several years spent working in Latin America.

Read more about or contact Dana Ford

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