Franz Jagerstatter, an Austrian peasant and devout Catholic, was executed for refusing to serve in Hitler’s army. He was known in his village of St. Radegund as a man of honesty and principle, devoted to his family and his faith, a sacristan in his parish church, who in 1940 had joined the Third Order of St. Francis. He was also known as a fervent opponent of the Nazis – the only member of his village to vote against the 1938 Anschluss that incorporated Austria into “Greater Germany.” Nevertheless, his singular act of resistance came as a surprise.
In 1943, when served with an induction notice, Franz turned himself in and announced his refusal to take a military oath. Before taking this stand he had sought counsel from his parish priest and even the local bishop. They had each advised him to do his duty and serve his Fatherland. But Franz believed the Nazis were a satanic movement and that any compromise would constitute a mortal sin.
In prison, he spurned ongoing appeals to save himself, convinced that he could not prolong his life at the price of his immortal soul. In this case, obedience to Christ meant disobedience to the state. But he took comfort in the knowledge that “not everything which the world considers a crime is a crime in the eyes of God. And I have every hope that I need not fear the eternal Judge because of this crime.”
Franz was beheaded on August 9, 1943. For years, his story was little known beyond his family and fellow villagers. In time, however, his story spread, and he was recognized as a heroic witness to conscience. His sacrifice, seemingly fruitless in his own time, would illuminate the path of generations to come. He was beatified in 2007 in a ceremony attended by his widow and surviving children.