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The Brave Father Who Wouldn’t Fight
Blessed Franz was a martyr to Nazi terror
By Michael McCarthy

Franz Jagerstatter, an Austrian Catholic who was executed in 1943 by the German Reich because he would not fight for Hitler, was beatified on October 26, 2007. He was a loving husband and father, a peasant farmer, a sacristan at the local church and a Third Order Franciscan. He knew the wars of Hitler were unjust, and that faith in the German “fatherland” was taking the place of faith in God. He couldn’t understand why more German Christians didn’t see this danger.

Franz Jagerstatter

Franz Jagerstatter

Jagerstatter was born in the small farming village of St. Radegund near Linz, Austria, on May 20, 1907. Due to the dire poverty of his parents (they were servants who were too poor to afford a marriage ceremony), he spent his early years with his grandmother, who had 13 children of her own. He was as hungry for learning as for food, both which were limited at that time for a child of his background. His natural father died in World War I. When his mother did marry in 1917, he found more opportunity for learning, with a good library in the farmhouse of his stepfather. A lover of books, he later advised his godson, “People who don’t read will never be able to stand on their own feet and will all too easily become a football for the opinions of others.”
 
As a young man he is remembered as fun-loving and popular. He went to dances and the pubs, owned the first motorcycle in town, and was sometimes a Raufer (brawler). He also took part in the region’s yearly Passion Play, which rivaled the more famous one in Oberammergau. Despite his shortfalls, he went to Mass regularly and attended social events at church, where he met his future wife Franziska. She was a great joy and inspiration for him. They had three small daughters to whom he was dearly devoted, and together they operated the family farm.

The Jagerstatters often went to daily Mass and were well respected in the village. Yet some thought they were carrying things too far in their criticism of the Third Reich. The family rejected the state’s social aid payments, and then Jaggertatter refused to report for army duty, when called a second time. For this he was jailed in March 1943 and later sentenced to death. He could see clearly that Hitler’s wars were unjust, and knew that he was one of those given the grace to resist this evil.

Franz was in prayer constantly during his six months in jail, reading the Scriptures and reciting the rosary. On the day of his execution, a priest at the prison offered spiritual readings. With an unforgettable joy in his eyes, Jaggerstatter replied, “I am completely bound in inner union with the Lord, and any reading would only interrupt my communication with my God.” The priest later stated, “I say with certainty that this simple man is the only saint that I have ever met in my lifetime.”
 
On August 9, 1943, he was beheaded in Berlin. His consolation was his trust in God, and the promise that he and his family would be reunited in heaven.

His widow, Franziska, attended his beatification in 2007, and met with Pope Benedict XVI in a general audience the following year. Cardinal Christoph Schonborn of Vienna commended Jaggerstatter to the Holy Father, noting that he came to question how one could be “a soldier for Christ” and a soldier in Hitler's army at the same time.

Michael McCarthy is a retired physician assistant in Port Huron, Michigan. He and his wife, Ande, are members of St. Mary and St. Joseph Church in Port Huron, and parents of four young adults.