Last fall I watched a gorgeous movie titled A Hidden Life about Franz Jägerstätter, an Austrian farmer and devout Catholic who refused to fight for the Nazis in World War II.
Franz, his wife, Fani, and their three young daughters lived outside the small village of St. Radegund and were important members of the tight-knit rural community. In 1943, he and other able-bodied were called up to fight for Germany. When recruiters asked him to swear an oath of allegiance to Adolf Hitler, Jägerstätter refused and was arrested and taken to prison in Linz where the most “dangerous” prisoners were housed. His family was ostracized and belittled by their friends and neighbors and nearly starved.
While waiting for his trial, Jägerstätter wrote several letters to his family. In one addressed to his daughters (the oldest of whom was not yet six), he wrote: “I would have liked to spare you the pain and sorrow you much bear because of me. But you know we must love God even more than family, and we much lose everything dear and worthwhile on earth rather than commit even the slightest offense against God.”
After months of brutal incarceration and torture, he was found guilty of sedition and sentenced to death. Despite many opportunities to sign the oath, and the promise of non-combatant work, Jägerstätter stood firm in his faith and was executed by guillotine on August 9, 1943 at Brandenburg-Görden Prison, thirty-eight miles from Berlin. He was thirty-seven years old.
In 1997, the regional court in Berlin nullified his death sentence and in June 2007 his birth town laid a Stolperstein (stumbling stone), a concrete cube that commemorates victims of the Nazis and in October of that same year, he was beatified by Pope Benedict that same year.
I’ve been thinking a great deal about Jägerstätter’s life and death. Would I have the courage to stand up for my faith if I were imprisoned and sentenced to death when a mere signature would save my life? Would I be able to withstand unspeakable brutality and turn the other cheek? Christians around the world gather in home churches and hide their Bibles for fear of being persecuted. Many are martyred, and that number will continue to rise as we draw closer to the rapture of the Church (Revelation 12). I can only pray I have the guts to stand up for my faith no matter what.
Blessed are you when people hate you, when they exclude you and insult you and reject your name as evil, because of the Son of Man. Rejoice in that day and leap for joy, because great is your reward in heaven.
Luke 6:22-23 (NIV)