The Solitary witness of Franz Jagerstatter

On August 8, 1943, the night before he was beheaded for refusing to fight for Hitler's army, Franz Jagerstatter sat in a Berlin prison cell, deep in intimate prayer with God. On a table in front of him lay a piece of paper, a promise to serve in the Nazi medical corps. All he had to do was sign his name and the Nazis would let him live.

It was a simple choice. His guards encouraged him to sign the paper. His parish priest and bishop prayed for him to sign it and save himself. His wife and three little girls begged him to give up his one-man stand against imperial violence and sign the document so that one day he could come home.

But no. He had already made his choice. He would not fight. He would not kill. He would not support Hitler's war or anybody's war in any way. And so he sat there, only hours before his execution, motionless, deep in prayer, not crying, not panicking, not overcome with fear. Franz was at peace. He was at one with the God of nonviolence.

Such was the faith of Franz Jagerstatter, executed 50 years ago on August 9, 1943, for refusing to join Hitler's army. His witness ranks him among the 20th century's most noble examples of Christian discipleship.

The scene in the cell is haunting. Who among us would have the strength not to sign the paper and be reunited with our spouse and children? Many thought (many still think) that it would have been better if Franz had compromised, at least for the sake of the children. But Franz possessed, like Jesus, a stubborn nonviolence. No compromises, no concessions, no exceptions, no deals with death--and especially for the sake of the children.

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Sojourners Magazine August 1993
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