On this date in 1943, an Austrian farmer was beheaded in Berlin’s Plotzensee Prison for refusing to fight for the Third Reich.
Franz Jägerstätter, who lost his own father in World War I, was anschlussed right into the Third Reich when Germany absorbed Austria in 1938.
In Solitary Witness is the aptly-titled biography of the man; though his fatal refusal of mandatory military service (and his critique of Nazi Germany) sprang from his deep-rooted Catholicism, it was far from the norm for his German-Catholic neighbors.
“We must go courageously on the way of suffering,” he wrote, “whether we begin sooner or later.” Somewhat oddly neglected as a martyr figure in the immediate postwar period, Jagerstatter was recently beatified by Pope Benedict XVI — a German himself, of course, who did not refuse his tiny measure of youthful service to the Wehrmacht in those years, and who assuredly grasps the untapped public relations potential of this compelling figure.
An icon of Franz Jagerstatter, and a naked Nazi imp.
Jagerstatter’s widow is still alive; she and her children movingly keep Franz’s memory to this day — and his example continues to inspire Catholics who go the way of suffering today against war and injustice.