Culture At Large

Remembering Franz Jägerstätter, martyr for the faith

Andy Rau

Today, the Catholic Church is beatifying Franz Jägerstätter, an Austrian village priest who was executed during World War 2 for refusing to serve in Hitler's army. I was not aware of his story until I read about it today at the First Things blog.

While as a Protestant I don't agree with Catholic beliefs concerning sainthood, Jägerstätter sounds like a real hero of the Christian faith. Horrified by the Nazi regime, he vocally opposed Hitler and the Nazis even when all of his friends and superiors in the church urged him to keep quiet. His refusal to collaborate led to his inevitable fate:

A parade of people—relatives, friends, spiritual advisers, even his own bishop—pleaded with Jägerstätter to change his mind. Some did not disagree with his anti-Nazi convictions or his moral stance; they simply argued he could not be held guilty in the eyes of God if he offered minimal cooperation under such duress, given the extreme alternative. [...]

In the end, however, after it became clear that Jägerstätter would be asked to betray his conscience, there was only one path he could take, a hard and narrow path chosen by the very few: Better to die for Christ than scandalize his faith and family by becoming a Nazi. The letters and statements he made to his wife and family at this time show the anguish his decision brought; he was overwhelmed with the sense that he was abandoning them and feared reprisals against them lay ahead. But Jägerstätter knew that God was watching and would ultimately avenge his elect, and so expressed hope of a reunion yet to come: “I will surely beg the dear God, if I am permitted to enter heaven soon, that he may also set aside a little place in heaven for all of you.” And again to his daughters: “I greet you, my dear little girls. May the child Jesus and the dear Mother of Heaven protect you until we see one another again.”

It's an amazing and moving story. Read the full account.

World War 2 was not, in far too many cases, a shining moment for the organized church in Europe. But I wonder how many other men and women like Jägerstätter stood their ground against evil even as their own brothers and sisters in the church urged compromise?

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