Faithful Heroes: Franz Jagerstatter, Stood up to the Nazis
Franz Jägerstätter is a more modern day martyr. He strongly objected to the Nazi’s and all they stood for and stood directly up to them.
Franz Jägerstätter was born on May 20, 1907 in Sankt Radegund, Austria-Hungary. He was the illegitimate child of Rosalia Huber, a chambermaid, and Franz Bachmeier, a farmer.
His grandmother, Elisabeth Huber, cared for him as an infant. His father was killed in World War I.
In 1917, his mother married Heinrich Jägerstätter, who adopted Franz.
His daily life was spent working on the farm and as a minor, but he also gained a reputation in his youth of a wild young man. He even brought the first motorcycle into the town.
While working in the mines, he is said to have begun to question his faith and stopped attending church.
His foster father died in 1933 and he inherited his land. That same year, he also fathered an illegitimate daughter, Hildegard Auer.
In 1936, he married Franziska Schwaninger, a very religious woman. The couple would have three daughters together. Around the time of his marriage Jägerstätter is said to have made a “sudden and complete change and became a new man”.
Jägerstätter faith grew stronger and he was often heard to be singing hymns or saying the rosary while working on the farm or walking in town. He began to take daily communion and became “completely devout”.
As the Germans began to invade Austria in 1938, Jägerstätter was the only person to vote against the Anschluss. The local authorities suppressed this and announced unanimous approval.
In 1940, he joined the Third Order of Saint Francis, a Franciscan order within the Catholic Church, and worked as a sacristan, or officer in charge of the church.
That year he was also drafted into the German army. When he returned home from
training in 1941, he met with his bishop. He was very concerned with the morality of the war and saddened that the bishop seemed afraid to confront the issues.
After numerous delays, he was called to active duty on February 23, 1943. When he entered Wehrmacht, where the power of the Third Reich was stationed, he declared his conscientious objection on March 2, 1943.
He was aware of how his objections would end and the effect on not only his life, but also his family upon taking such a stand. The night before he was to report for duty, he wrote to his wife to inform her of his decision.
He was immediately jailed and a neighboring priest visited with him and tried to convince him to serve, but he continue to refuse. He stated he would be willing to serve as a paramedic, but this request was ignored.
Franz Jägerstätter was imprisoned at two different places. His wife visited him while he was imprisoned and tried to convince him to change his mind.
On 9 August, before being executed, Franz wrote: “If I must write… with my hands in chains, I find that much better than if my will were in chains. Neither prison nor chains nor sentence of death can rob a man of the Faith and his free will. God gives so much strength that it is possible to bear any suffering…. People worry about the obligations of conscience as they concern my wife and children…But I cannot believe that, just because one has a wife and children, a man is free to offend God”.
He was accused of undermining the military morale and in a military trial sentenced to death. He was beheaded on the guillotine on August 9, 1943 at the age of thirty-six.
His ashes were buried at the Sankt Radegund cemetery in 1946.
He was criticized by his countryman for refusing to serve the military and failing his family. His wife was unable to receive a widow’s pension until 1950.
His story was not well known until a U.S. sociologist, Gordon Zahn, published his biography, In Solitary Witness, in 1964 and later Thomas Merton included a chapter about him in his 1968 book, Faith and Violence.
Zahn heard of the story while doing research on another book in 1956. He was inspired and stated “it was enough to convince me that this was indeed an amazing story, one deserving the widest possible attention”.
In June 2007, Pope Benedict XVI declared him a martyr. He was beatified later that year and his feast day is May 21. One article stated that all four daughters entered the cathedral for the service to standing applause.
His widow, Franziska Jägerstätter,died in 2013, two weeks after celebrating her 100th birthday.
A movie about his life, Radegund, about his life, was released in Europe in 2017 and should hit American theaters sometime this year.
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