On August 9, 1943, Blessed Franz Jägerstätter, Austrian Catholic peasant, husband and father of three girls, conscientious objector to the Nazi army, was executed in Berlin, Germany. His witness would probably have gone unnoticed if Gordon Zahn, US pacifist and sociologist, had not come upon his story and written In Solitary Witness.
His writings are simple and straightforward, reflecting his peasant background and his deep faith. What is extraordinary is his recognition of the evil of Nazism and his willingness to give his life rather than cooperate with evil. Would that more Christians were like him.
His witness might seem to some to have been useless, but, from prison, Franz wrote:
“Today one hears it said repeatedly that there is nothing any more that an individual can do. If someone were to speak out, it would mean only imprisonment and death.
True, there is not much that can be done anymore to change the course of world events. I believe that should have begun a hundred or even more years ago. But as long as we live in this world, I believe it is never too late to save ourselves and perhaps some other soul for Christ.
One really has no cause to be astonished that there are those who can no longer find their way in the great confusion of our day. People we think we can trust, who ought to be leading the way and setting a good example, are running along with the crowd. No one gives enlightenment, whether in word or in writing. Or, to be more exact, it may not be given. And the thoughtless race goes on, always closer to eternity. As long as conditions are still half good, we don’t see things quite right, or that we could or should do otherwise….
“If the road signs were stuck ever so loosely in the earth that every wind could break them off or blow them about, would anyone who did not know the road be able to find his way? And how much worse is it if those to whom one turns for information refuse to give him an answer or, at most, give him the wrong direction just to be rid of him as quickly as possible?”
In 2009 Orbis Books published a translation of Franz Jägerstätter: Letters and Writings from Prison, edited by Erna Putz.
Today is also the anniversary of the atomic bombing of Nagasaki, Japan, in 1945. Nagasaki had a very large Catholic population, some of whom could trace their faith back to the arrival of the first missionaries and who preserved their faith underground for centuries. Many Catholics died while at prayer in the cathedral. One Catholic who survived and became a voice for peace was Dr. Takashi Nagai. He wrote:
“Men and women of the world, never again plan war! With this atomic bomb, war can only mean suicide for the human race. From this atomic waste the people of Nagasaki confront the world and cry out: No more war! Let us follow the commandment of love and work together. The people of Nagasaki prostrate themselves before God and pray: Grant that Nagasaki may be the last atomic wilderness in the history of the world.”
May we realize our calling and raise our voices for peace and justice, knowing that there is much that one can do – and that the Lord uses our little efforts.