Franz Jagerstatter (1907-1943) was the only person among 5000 in St. Radegund, Austria who refused to enter Hitler’s mandatory conscription after Nazis took over European lowlands. THE NEW YORK TIMES in 1937 reported US and British corporations gave support to Hitler, seeing him as the bulwark of opposition to Soviet Bolshevism that swept across Russia and encroached into Europe.
Jagerstatter was a humble farmer and sexton in the Catholic Church where he was often found in prayer. Although not an advanced student, Franz knew without doubt it would be impossible to remain a follower of Christ and participate in military service of any nature. Religious leaders in his area joined Mrs. Jagerstatter and their three daughters in encouraging Franz to enter the military. For his biblically-based conscientious objection, Franz was arrested by Hitler’s gestapo on August 9th and beheaded for refusal to engage in the military.
In Solitary Witness written by Gordon Zahn (1964) is the remarkable story of a WWII martyr, appropriate for our age of global militarism. Zahn placed a quote from philosopher Rheinhold Schneider early in his book: “There is no doubt that it is more difficult to be a follower of Christ now, than in the Apostolic age. When it becomes our ‘sacred duty’ to commit a sin, the Christian no longer knows what to do other than bear witness, often in solitude. And this is where we find the Reign of God.”
British author Charles Percy Snow (1905-1980) observed more people are killed by “following orders” than in the acts of rebellion.
Konrad Adenauer’s wisdom about “1913 (year before WWI) being the last normal year in history,” applies to all of us born after that peaceful year. Christians, Jews, Muslims are all children of Abraham who have been slaughtering each other by “following orders” when Yahweh, God, Allah, gave strict orders not to kill. Buddhists, Quakers, Mennonites are faithful pacifists in our midst.
A clump of dirt from Jagerstatter’s grave in Austria is reserved in our home, along with several books about his heroism and resistance for our age of fighting endless wars. He knew hatred does not remove hatred brought on by warfare.