"Jump out before the train reaches its destination, even it it costs you your life" -Franz Jagerstatter
At the beginning of June the Vatican announced that Pope Benedict XVI had authorized the Congregation for the Causes of Saints to publish his declaration of the Catholic martyrdom of Franz Jagerstatter. The date for his beatification had been published as October 27, 2007. It will take place in Linz, Austria, where he had his farm and worked at the parish.
Franz Jagerstatter was an Austrian who was martyred because he refused to be drafted into the Nazi army after Hitler took over Austria. He said he could not participate in an unjust war, and for this the father of three little girls was beheaded within six months of his arrest.
Franz was not only a conscientious objector to war, but a selective conscientious objector. He could not join a fight which he believed to be morally wrong.
Biographical accounts of Jagerstatter all mention his rather wild youth and then at some point a deeper religious conversion as a young man.
According to Gordon Zahn, who researched and wrote the powerful book, In Solitary Witness: The Life and Death of Franz Jagerstatter (Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1964), the martyr believed that he could not be a soldier in an unjust war sponsored by a government determined on imperialist expansionism and slaughter of innocents, presenting itself as a substitute for religion which saw and treated his Church as the enemy.
Zahn emphasizes that after his deeper conversion, Franz attended daily Mass, fasted and prayed. In addition to being a farmer, he was the sexton at his parish church. He and his devout wife made a pilgrimage to Rome for their honeymoon. Jager-statter was a member of the Third Order of St. Francis of Assisi, who discouraged and even forbade military service. Zahn presents Jagerstatter as a contemplative in the world who made the decision not to participate in that war because of his Catholic faith.
He was drafted in 1940 and reported for approximately six months of training. Then he returned to his village, St. Radegund, vowing disobedience to further military orders.
A Train to Hell
When Gordon Zahn visited Jagerstatter's widow, she presented the martyr's documents and writings to him. The book includes those writings regarding his decision to resist.
Zahn's book particularly features the dream that influenced Jagerstatter‘s deci-sion so much:
"Let me begin by describing an experience I had on a summer night in 1938. At first I lay awake in my bed until almost midnight, unable to sleep although I was not sick; I must have fallen asleep anyway. All of a sudden I saw a beautiful shining railroad train that circled around a mountain. Streams of children—and adults as well—rushed toward the train and could not be held back. I would rather not say how many adults did not join the ride. Then I heard a voice say to me: 'This train is going to hell'. . .
"At first this traveling train was something of a riddle to me, but the longer our situation continues, the clearer the meaning of this train becomes for me. Today it seem to me that that it is a symbol of nothing but National Socialism [Nazism], which was then breaking in (or better, creeping in) upon us with all of its many different organizations—like the NSDAP, NVW, NVF, HJ, etc. In brief, the whole National Socialist Folk Community, together with all those who sacrifice and fight for it. . .
"There are only two alternatives possible: participation in the National Socialist Folk Community [Nazism], and contributions to the red boxes as well, must either help or hinder us Catholics in our efforts to gain salvation. . .
"Thus I believe God has shown me most clearly through this dream, or revelation, and h