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Previously unknown document by Blessed Franz Jägerstätter discovered

Experts have carefully examined the paper and ink, the handwriting, and the contents of the letter and determined that the document is authentic. It may be one of the last things that Jägerstätter wrote before his arrest on March 2, 1943.

A portrait of Blessed Franz Jagerstatter hangs in St. Mary's Cathedral during his beatification in Linz, Austria, Oct. 26, 2007. Blessed Jagerstatter was beheaded Aug. 9, 1943, for refusing to serve in the Nazi army. (CNS photo/Reuters) (Oct. 26, 2007)

The Austrian farmer Franz Jägerstätter (1907-1943) was executed by the occupying Nazi regime for his refusal to serve in the armed forces of the Third Reich. His conscientious objection was based on his deep Catholic faith, and he articulated his reasons in many letters, postcards, and personal notes that he wrote, some of them in prison. He was beatified in the cathedral in Linz, Austria, on October 26, 2007.

This year, in conjunction with the feast of Blessed Franz Jägerstätter on May 21, the Diocese of Linz announced that a previously unknown piece of writing by the Nazi resister had been discovered in the estate of a private household in the municipality of Sankt Radegund, his birthplace. The two-page handwritten text is entitled “How I actually arrived at the idea not to report for military duty.” It had been delivered last September to the “Franz and Franziska Jägerstätter Institute” at the Catholic Private University in Linz.

Andreas Schmoller, head of the Institute, said that experts had carefully examined the paper and ink, the handwriting, and the contents of the letter and determined that the document is authentic. It may be one of the last things that he wrote before his arrest on March 2, 1943. In his writings, Jägerstätter often started an argument or a religious discussion with a question, and the newly discovered text is consistent with known reflections by him on the anti-Christian aims and methods of the National-Socialist regime. It “clearly does not upset our picture of Jägerstätter,” Schmoller said. Yet it offers fresh material for Jägerstätter research.

When Nazi Germany annexed Austria in 1938, Franz Jägerstätter was working a farm to support his wife and growing family. He was drafted twice, but each time the local mayor was able to exempt him because farming was an “essential business.” During the ordeal of occupation, Jägerstätter studied just war theory and the relation between Church and state. He gradually arrived at the conviction that refusing military service “is morally correct and does not contradict Catholic teaching.”

The line of argument developed in the newly discovered text surprised researchers: The fatherland of his people is not the “German ethnic community” but rather Austria, which has been in captivity since the Anschluss [annexation]. It cannot be maintained that captives have a duty to “obey authority” and fight for a new military force immediately after their defeat or capture. In this connection Jägerstätter refers to Andreas Hofer, a freedom fighter from Tirol, who was not called on to fight for the French after his defeat.

Nor can it be claimed that the secular authority is the only one to be obeyed. Jägerstätter believed that, for him, serving in the Wehrmacht would be a serious sin, and his conscientious objection was a public protest against the anti-Christian, inhumane policies of the Nazi dictatorship. Erna Putz, a biographer of the Blessed, commented: “Jägerstätter underscores in this note the spiritual dimension of his decision and thus elaborates in more detail than in similar passages the interior struggles and intellectual arguments that led to his refusal to enlist.”

In a broadcast on May 20, representatives of the Jägerstätter Institute emphasized that Blessed Franz was a pioneer in this line of thinking. “After 1945 the Catholic tradition of obedience in the area of military service began to crumble. The arguments and examples that were presented by Catholics were strikingly similar to the ones that Jägerstätter used in this text.”

At the Second Vatican Council, Archbishop Thomas D. Roberts, S.J. (Archbishop of Bombay, India, from 1939-1958) spoke to the Council Fathers about the Austrian layman’s heroic testimony:

Franz Jägerstätter refused to serve in a war that was later characterized in Nuremberg as a crime against humanity. He was one of those men chosen by the Holy Spirit to manifest truths that are hidden to the powerful and the wise. This young husband and father was called to make clear that a Christian may not serve in a war that he considers unjust, even though it cost him his life. He stood alone in giving this witness.1

History has proved Jägerstätter correct about both civil and ecclesiastical authority. He had been condemned to death for “undermining military morale,” but on May 7, 1997, the District Court of Berlin completely “annulled” his death sentence, in effect acquitting him because of the moral and legal justification of his actions. On June 1, 2007, the Vatican officially confirmed that Franz Jägerstätter was a martyr, clearing the way for his beatification later that year.

A complete digital, German-language edition of Jägerstätter’s writings, including the newly discovered handwritten note, is scheduled to go online in 2023.

Endnote:

1 “Franz Jägerstätter and Franziska Schwaninger,” in: Ferdinand Holböck, Married Saints and Blesseds through the Centuries, translated by Michael J. Miller (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 2002), 448-454 at 448.


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About Michael J. Miller 126 Articles
Michael J. Miller Michael J. Miller translated Priesthood and Diaconate by Gerhard Ludwig Müller for Ignatius Press and Eucharist and Divorce: A Change in Doctrine? for the Pontifical John Paul II Institute.

6 Comments

  1. A Hidden Life is the name of the movie depicting the life, suffering, and death of Blessed Franz. It is well worth seeing. He and his family faced persecution from the Nazi government, but sadly no support from his community or from his bishop. A true martyr for Christ and His Church.

  2. So then, contrary to what I was taught in a Catholic high school, judging whether a war is just or not is within the purview of a nation’s young men, and whether or not to obey the summons to war or not, and obedience to the state is not an overarching moralimperative.

    But the same would apply to bishops mutatis mutandi, who following the jurisprudence of Nurenberg cannot plead innocence for mandating vaccine injection for their subjects, no matter what the state may have commanded. We are free moral agents who will answer for our delicts. Such was the opinion of Franz Jägerstätter and the fulcrum of his heroic virtue.

    • Did you read paragraph 6 of the article? The conscientious decision of one man in a captured nation cannot be taken as the basis for a universal rule about obedience to the state.

      • Paragraph 6 says it is an universal to maintain that one cannot present obedience to authority, et al, as a moral truth and obligation…it does not say anything about a basis for a universal norm as you described…it says claiming a moral duty to obedience to authority, et al, is not a valid or an universal. Which is the point made about the experimental therapies – no one can, no bishop, can call for universal obedience to authority, in a fear-capture nation or globe….blessings

      • If in beatifying Franz Jägerstätter the Church presents us to him as an exemplar, then obedience to the state in matters of war is greatly relativized. After the Nurenburg trials, but much more after the promulgation of the Gospel of Jesus Christ no one can say to any human court of law much less to the Lord of all that his personal responsibility is in any way diminished because what he did as a soldier was commanded by a superior officer, or, for that matter, that his participation in an armed service was commanded by the state. “It is impossible that in a nuclear age war can be an instrument of justice” (Pope John XXIII in Pacem in Terris). That is to say that post Hiroshima every man bears his own burden and cannot shuffle his moral responsibility onto the state. In beatifying Bl Franz the Catholic Church is clearly saying as much. Though Bl. Franz did not live to see the nuclear age, he passed holy judgement on what he did see. The Church gives leave to all her sons to do the same.

2 Trackbacks / Pingbacks

  1. Previously unknown document by Blessed Franz Jägerstätter discovered – Via Nova Media
  2. В Австрії знайшли новий рукопис Франца Єґерштеттера — мученика, що відмовився воювати на боці нацистів – World News

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