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The Solitary Witness of Franz Jägerstätter: Conscientious Objector and Martyr

August 9, 2007

070712_jagerstatter.jpgOn 9 August 1943, Austrian farmer, husband and father of three daughters Franz Jägerstätter (1907 – 1943) was beheaded as an enemy of the state for his refusal to serve in the Nazi Army. On 1 June of this year, Pope Benedict XVI authorized his beatification, which will take place on 27 October 2007.

Catholic Peace Fellowship notes that “the occasion of his beatification has tremendous significance: one more peacemaker, one more conscientious objector, is being recognized precisely for his refusal to go to war. This is one more indication that peacemaking is no marginal vocation in the Catholic Church: it is at our core, part of our ecclesial mission to help God make us saints.”

Jägerstätter was resolutely opposed to any cooperation with the Nazi regime from 1938, when most of his fellow Austriansjagerstatter.jpg applauded Hitler’s annexation of their country and made it official in a national plebescite. He was known to be the only one in his village who voted against the Anschluss.

When Jägerstätter was later called to active duty in the military, he sought counsel from at least three priests and his bishop, who all tried to assure him that this military service was compatible with his Christianity. Unconvinced, he eventually turned himself over and offered to serve as a hospital orderly in place of combat duty. The Nazis refused to consider this, and after a brief trial sentenced him to death. In prison, Jägerstätter listened to the pleas of the prison chaplain, his attorney, his family and even the officers who supervised his trial to renounce his conscience and save his life. But Jägerstätter was convinced that in this case, obedience to the state meant disobedience to Christ, and he could not agree: “Not everything which this world considers a crime is a crime in the eyes of God. And I have hope that I need not fear the eternal Judge because of this crime.”

Jägerstätter’s resolute opposition to serving the Nazis came to him in a remarkable dream:

Let me begin by describing an experience I had on a summer night in 1938. At first I lay awake in my bed until almost midnight, unable to sleep although I was not sick; I must have fallen asleep anyway. All of a sudden I saw a beautiful shining railroad train that circled around a mountain. Streams of children—and adults as well—rushed toward the train and could not be held back. I would rather not say how many adults did not join the ride. Then I heard a voice say to me: ‘This train is going to hell’. . . At first this traveling train was something of a riddle to me, but the longer our situation continues, the clearer the meaning of this train becomes for me. Today it seem to me that that it is a symbol of nothing but National Socialism, which was then breaking in (or better, creeping in) upon us….Thus I believe God has shown me most clearly through this dream, or revelation, and has convinced me in my heart how I must answer the question: should I be National Socialist or Catholic? I would like to call out to everyone who is riding on this train: ‘Jump out before the train reaches its destination, even if it costs you your life!'”

Jägerstätter’s solitary witness should lead us all to consider the kind of train we may be riding on.

God give us all the courage to jump.

Further reading: Gordon Zahn, In Solitary Witness: The Life and Death of Franz Jägerstätter. Templegate, 1986.


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