Scene in the film "Ein verborgenes Leben (A Hidden Life)" (A Hidden Life) © DreamWorks SKG/ Cannes Film Festival
Star director Terrence Malick creates a cinematic memorial to him, now in theaters. But who was Franz Jagerstatter, later beatified, who was beheaded for refusing to swear an oath to Hitler??
Of all the martyrs of the Nazi era, he is certainly one of the most provocative figures. He was not an intellectual, did not belong to any resistance group or organization, but was a simple man who followed his conscience: Franz Jagerstatter, whose life story can now be seen in Terrence Malick's "A Hidden Life" in the cinema.
From the beginning, he saw through National Socialism as a "godless power". And this is precisely where the provocation lies: if a peasant from Sankt Radegund near Linz in Upper Austria was capable of doing this, why did the educated and socially superior lack this clear-sightedness and consistency?? Jagerstatter, who died on 20. Born Franz Huber on May 1907, he was born on 9. His beheading on Aug. 1943 was a nuisance to many of his contemporaries.
From the simplest of backgrounds
The man, who came from the simplest of backgrounds, has fascinated many for decades with his straightforwardness – even though his life by no means led seamlessly to conscientious objection and the subsequent death sentence. The young Franz, who inherited the farm from his adoptive father Heinrich Jagerstatter, was considered a fun-loving, sometimes irascible person. He was the first in the village to own a motorcycle and had an illegitimate daughter.
After a conversion experience he thought about entering a monastery, but his local priest advised him against it. In 1936 he married Franziska Schwaninger, with whom he had three more daughters and who became his "spiritual companion in life". She encouraged him to pray and read the Bible together, and he took on the task of sexton in his village. On 10. In April 1938, he was the only one to vote in Sankt Radegund against the "Anschluss" of Austria to the German Reich.
Refused military service
In 1940/41 Jagerstatter was still ready to serve as a driver in the Wehrmacht, but after his discharge – he was called back to the farm by the mayor as "indispensable" – it was clear to him that he would not follow a further call up. When the time came two years later, he declared that he would act against his religious conscience if he fought for the National Socialist state. His intensive struggle with this question, also his self-doubts, are witnessed by his notes in three notebooks and his letters.
Relatives and friends, including several clergymen and the Bishop of Linz, Joseph Flieber, whom he asked for advice, had tried in vain to diade him from his plan. Only his wife supported him. Father Heinrich Kreuzberg, who visited him in prison in Berlin-Tegel, reported in a letter to Franziska Jagerstatter how pleased and relieved her husband had been when he told him about the Austrian Pallottine Father Franz Reinisch, who had refused military service on the same grounds.
Death sentence for "decomposition of military power
Am 6. July 1943 the Reich War Court sentenced Jagerstatter to death for "subversion of military power. On 9. August he was beheaded. Dechant Albert Jochmann, who accompanied him on his last journey, said: "He lived as a saint and died as a saint."
Of course, it was still a long way to go before this assessment was accepted by the general public. After 1945, Jagerstatter was not even recognized in Austria as a victim of political resistance. Widow Franziska did not receive a widow's pension under the War Victims Welfare Act until 1950. In 1964, the American Gordon C. Zahn presented the first biography of Jagerstatter, which made him internationally known. During the Second Vatican Council (1962-1965), Archbishop Thomas D. Roberts explicitly referred to Jagerstatter's decision of conscience.
It was not until 1997 that the process of beatification was officially opened. On the 1. June 2007 Pope Benedict XVI confirmed. martyrdom, on 26. October 2007 the beatification took place in the Linz Mariendom. As a memorial day the 21. May set. At the solemn service, his widow Franziska, who died six years later shortly after her 100th birthday, wore a sash. Birthday died, a relic of her husband to the altar.