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30 May 2018

Franz Jägerstätter, The Quiet Hero

In 2007 the Roman Catholic church beatified Franz Jägerstätter, the quiet hero who defied the Nazis.

On a recent trip to Austria, I took the opportunity to visit the Mariendom (New Cathedral) in Linz. With impressive architecture and capacity for 20,000 persons, the cathedral is a wondrous place to visit and attracts many tourists annually. My reason for visiting however was to see first hand the memorial to Franz Jägerstätter, the quiet hero who defied the Nazis and paid for the defiance with his life. Although his story is widely known in Austria, especially among students, it remains relatively unknown in North America.

The memorial as seen in the photo on the left, consists of a vertical column situated on the right hand side of the altar. Inside the column’s vitrine are copies of handwritten letters that Franz Jägerstätter wrote to his wife while imprisoned in Berlin.  They reveal his innermost thoughts and confirm that his defiance of serving in the German army was rooted in his conviction of being a conscientious objector.  Jägerstätter  was charged with Wehrkraftzersetzung (undermining military morale), faced a military trial and was sentenced to death by guillotine in Berlin on 6 July 1943. He was 36 years old and left behind his wife and three young daughters.

His story is remarkable because of the strength of personal conviction in the face of enormous pressure to serve in the German military. Devout Roman Catholics, his wife supported his belief and decision, even though it meant his wife would not receive his pension as he was deemed disloyal to his country.

It was not until June 2007, that the  Jägerstätter was declared a martyr by Pope Benedict XVI and issued an apostolic exhortation. His wife (right) was alive to see her husband’s reputation restored, and his actions recognized for refusing to serve in Hitler’s army. For more information on this episode in history, and how one man’s actions challenged the German Reich and all that it stood for, see this official website. If you plan to visit Austria, take a side trip to Linz to learn more about this remarkable man, who with the support of his wife, defied the Nazis.

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Carson Phillips, Ph.D.

Written byCarson Phillips, Ph.D.

Carson Phillips holds a Ph.D. in Humanities from York University, Toronto, Canada and is Managing Director of the Neuberger Holocaust Education Centre. He served as a Canadian delegate to the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance from 2009-2014 and currently continues as an advisor to the Funding Review Committee. In addition, he is an adjunct faculty member in Holocaust and Genocide Studies at Gratz College, USA.

He is the recipient of numerous scholarly awards including the 2013 BMW Canada Award for Excellence from the Canadian Centre for German and European Studies. His research interests focus on post-Holocaust conceptualisations of gender, Väterliteratur and cultural representations of the Holocaust in screen and visual culture.