In August of 1943 Austrian peasant, Franz Jaggerstatter was executed for treason because he refused to serve in Hitler's armed forces. Before that fateful day Jaggerstatter has lived most of his life in a tiny Upper Austrian village of St. Radegund. He was a devote Roman Catholic and daily communicant.
Long before the Nazi's had come to power he recognized that Nazism was evil. As a result when he was called up to serve in the armed forces of the Third Reich he refused on the grounds that the Nazi's were fighting and unjust war. In his own words:
"I cannot and may not take an oath in favor of a government that is fighting an unjust war....I cannot turn the responsibility for my actions over to the Fuhrer....Does anyone really think that this massive blood-letting can save European Christianity or bring it to a new flowering ? ...Is it not more Christian to offer oneself ass a victim right away rather than first have to murder others who certainly have a right to live and want to live--just to prolong one's life a little while ?"
Jaggerstatter had read the Bible often and had come to the conclusion that no Christian could serve in the armies of Hitler and still be Christian! One cannot knowingly participate in evil and still be followers of Jesus Christ. Before Jaggerstatter chose to reject his call to serve in the armed forces he had consulted his local priest and Bishop. Both had told him to enlist. But he could not do so in conscience. Such a man is an example of what it means to follow one's conscience in faithfulness to Jesus Christ. Such a choice by an individual must be based on the understanding that sometimes one must stand alone for truth--all leaders are ultimately forced to do so if they wish to remain leaders, especially in the Christian community.
At the present time there is a movement in Austria to have Franz Jaggerstatter canonized a saint for his heroic Christian witness. Such a movement helps to point out a central fact of Christian life--that when open to God's grace, ordinary people can do extraordinary things.
Jaggerstatter summarized what he believed and how that could meet the signs of the times in the following manner:
"The situation in which we Christians of Germany find ourselves today is much more bewildering than that faced by the Christians of the early centuries at the time of their bloodiest persecution...I am convinced that it is still best that I speak the truth even though it costs me my life. For you will not find it written in any of the commandments of God or of the Church that a man is obliged under pain of J sin to take an oath committing him to obey whatever might be commanded him by his secular ruler. We need no rifles or pistols for our battle, but instead spiritual weapons--and the foremost of these is prayer."