Update: oops! I was tired and led astray by an email I got sent. This actually did happen five years ago. The story was be recirculated on the anniversary of his execution by the Nazis. My apologies!
Today, the Holy Father confirmed that Franz Jaggerstatter, the humble Austrian farmer who defied the Nazis, is to be beatfied. A brief summary of his witness:
As the Nazis organized Austria, Jägerstätter had to decide whether to allow himself to be drafted by the German army and thus collaborate with Nazism. Two seemingly good reasons were given to him, sometimes by spiritual advisers, why he should not resist. First, he was told, he had to consider his family. The other argument was that he had a responsibility to obey legitimate authorities. The political authorities were the ones liable to judgment for their decisions, not ordinary citizens. Jägerstätter rejected both arguments. In normal times, of course, obedience to authority may be required even when we disagree on certain policies. But the 1940s in Austria were not normal times: to obey for obedience’s sake would have been to do what Adolf Eichmann would later plead in his trial in Jerusalem — he was just following orders.
The consequences of Jägerstätter’s position were obvious: “Everyone tells me, of course, that I should not do what I am doing because of the danger of death. I believe it is better to sacrifice one’s life right away than to place oneself in the grave danger of committing sin and then dying.” But he serenely decided that he could not allow himself to contribute to a regime that was immoral and anti-Catholic. Jägerstätter was sent to the prison in Linz-an-der-Donau, where Hitler and Eichmann had lived as children. According to the prison chaplain, 38 men were executed there, some for desertion, others for resistance similar to Jägerstätter’s (no others have been positively identified). His Way of the Cross would not be long. In May, he was transferred to a prison in Berlin. His parish priest, his wife and his lawyer all tried to change his mind. But it was useless. On Aug. 9, 1943, he accepted execution, even though he knew it would make no earthly difference to the Nazi death machine.
His light was Christ illuminating his conscience, his only weapon was the Gospel, he was a minister of Christ’s peace. He was an exemplar of everything that Secular Franciscans are called to be. And hereafter, no Catholic can claim that he was only obeying legitimate authority as an excuse for not confronting evil.
Blessed Franz, pray for us!