A Little-known Martyr and Saint

I have spent time of late learning about some saints.

Take, for example, Franz Jägerstätter, an Austrian peasant, born in 1907 and beheaded in a Nazi prison in 1943.

Jägerstätter was 36 years old when his life was taken, but I never heard of him until 2013. He was a conscientious objector tried in Berlin for refusing conscription into the German army and executed as “an enemy of the state.”

Jägerstätter, a farmer and church sexton, reported as ordered for military induction rather than flee as many of his friends advised. He refused to serve and spent the next five months in prison before being murdered.

The story of this little-known martyr is documented in a 1964 book by Gordon Zahn: In Solitary Witness: The Life and Death of Franz Jägerstätter (Springfield, Ill.: Templegate Press, 1964, 1991).

For more information than I can provide, I suggest you view the embedded video presentation below from the Institute of Church Life at the University of Notre Dame.

(This is a lecture by Notre Dame historian and theology professor Robert A. Krieg, and the video runs for almost one hour; it starts with too much banter in the lecture hall (skip ahead to 3:55).

The video is readily available on YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QdxBBLXhAJA


I learned of Jägerstätter in Robert Ellsberg’s 1997 collection, All Saints: Saints, Prophets, and Witnesses For Our Time (NY: Crossroad, 1997).

Ellsberg is editor in chief of Orbis Books in New York City, and he is the son of Daniel Ellsberg of Pentagon Papers fame.

Interestingly, Daniel Ellsberg’s decision to copy and disclose the secret papers of the U.S. government in the wake of the Vietnam War was influenced by his learning of the experience of Franz Jägerstätter in World War II Germany and Austria.

Later, the younger Ellsberg, after learning that Jägerstätter’s letters and papers had been published in german in 2007, and knowing of Jägerstätter’s influence on his father, arranged for their translation and publication by Orbis in 2009. His choice of translators was Notre Dame’s Krieg.

As Krieg quips in his lecture: “The Holy Spirit is alive and well.”

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