The Catholic Defender: Blessed Franz Jägerstätter
Franz Jägerstätter was born on 20 May 1907 in St Radegund, Upper Austria, to his unmarried mother, Rosalia Huber, and to Franz Bachmeier, who was killed during World War I. After the death of his natural father, Rosalia married Heinrich Jägerstätter, who adopted Franz and gave the boy his surname of Jägerstätter in 1917.
Called to fight for his country as a Nazi soldier, Franz eventually refused, and this husband and father of three daughters—Rosalie, Marie and Aloisia—was executed because of it.
Born in St. Radegund in Upper Austria, Franz lost his father during World War I and was adopted after Heinrich Jaegerstaetter married Rosalia Huber. As a young man, he loved to ride his motorcycle and was the natural leader of a gang whose members were arrested in 1934 for brawling. For three years he worked in the mines in another city and then returned to St. Radegund, where he became a farmer, married Franziska and lived his faith with quiet but intense conviction.
In 1938, he publicly opposed the German Anschluss–annexation–of Austria. The next year he was drafted into the Austrian army, trained for seven months and then received a deferment. In 1940, Franz was called up again but allowed to return home at the request of the town’s mayor. He was in active service between October 1940 and April 1941, but was again deferred. His pastor, other priests, and the bishop of Linz urged him not to refuse to serve if drafted.
After his marriage to Franziska in 1936 and their honeymoon in Rome, Franz grew in his faith but was not extreme in his piety.
Besides his farm work Franz became the local sexton in 1936 and began receiving the Eucharist daily. He was known to refuse the customary offering for his services at funerals, preferring the spiritual and corporal works of mercy over any remuneration.
In February 1943, Franz was called up again and reported to army officials in Enns, Austria. When he refused to take the oath of loyalty to Hitler, he was imprisoned in Linz. Later he volunteered to serve in the medical corps but was not assigned there.
Franz Jägerstätter was called up for military service and sworn in on 17 June 1940. Shortly thereafter, thanks to the intervention of his mayor, he was allowed to return to the farm. Later, he was in active service from October 1940 to April 1941, until the mayor's further intervention permitted his return home.
While carrying out his duties as husband and bread-winner for his wife and three daughters, this ordinary man began thinking deeply about obedience to legitimate authority and obedience to God, about mortal life and eternal life and about Jesus' suffering and Passion.
During Holy Week Franz wrote to his wife: “Easter is coming and, if it should be God’s will that we can never again in this world celebrate Easter together in our intimate family circle, we can still look ahead in the happy confidence that, when the eternal Easter morning dawns, no one in our family circle shall be missing—so we can then be permitted to rejoice together forever.” He was transferred in May to a prison in Berlin.
Challenged by his attorney that other Catholics were serving in the army, Franz responded, “I can only act on my own conscience. I do not judge anyone. I can only judge myself.” He continued, “I have considered my family. I have prayed and put myself and my family in God’s hands. I know that, if I do what I think God wants me to do, he will take care of my family.”
On August 8, 1943, Franz wrote to Fransizka: “Dear wife and mother, I thank you once more from my heart for everything that you have done for me in my lifetime, for all the sacrifices that you have borne for me. I beg you to forgive me if I have hurt or offended you, just as I have forgiven everything…My heartfelt greetings for my dear children. I will surely beg the dear God, if I am permitted to enter heaven soon, that he will set aside a little place in heaven for all of you.”
He was held in custody at Linz in March and April, transferred to Berlin-Tegel in May and subject to trial on 6 July 1943 when he was condemned to death for sedition. The prison chaplain was struck by the man's tranquil character. On being offered the New Testament, he replied: "I am completely bound in inner union with the Lord, and any reading would only interrupt my communication with my God".
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".
Franz Jägerstätter, who would not bow his head to Hitler, bowed his head to God, and the guillotine took care of the rest. He was obviously called up to serve a higher order.
The historical drama stars August Diehl as Franz Jägerstätter, a conscientious WWII objector who was guillotined by the Third Reich in 1943.
Franz was beheaded and cremated the following day. In 1946, his ashes were reburied in St. Radegund near a memorial inscribed with his name and the names of almost 60 village men who died during their military service. He was beatified in Linz on October 26, 2007. His “spiritual testament” is now in Rome’s St. Bartholomew Church as part of a shrine to 20th-century martyrs for their faith. Blessed Franz’s liturgical feast is celebrated on August 9.
Lord Jesus, I come before you, just as I am, I am sorry for my sins, I repent of my sins, please forgive me. In your Name, I forgive all others for what they have done against me. I renounce Satan, the evil spirits and all their works.
"Let us love our enemies, bless those who curse us, pray for Those who persecute us.For love will conquer and will endure for all eternity.And happy are they who live and die in God's love."