In Solitary Witness In the next few pages, from reading “In Solitary Witness,” I will endeavor to answer the following questions: 1. In your own words give a brief biography of Franz Jagerstatter placing him in his time and place. 2. Discuss what you believe were the primary reasons why Jagerstatter refused to serve in the German army. 3. What were the attitudes of his community toward his stand? 4.
What was the attitude of his church and church officials regarding his stand? 5. What were the attitudes of his family toward his stand? 6. What enabled Jagerstatter to sustain his stand against the advice of family, friends, community, church, and state? 7. Why do you believe that Jagerstatter was so alone in his stand and why so few others took his position? 8. What do you see as the historical significance of the Life and Death of Franz Jagerstatter? What does that historical significance tell us about the relationship of the individual to the modern nation state and the ability of that individual to live true to his or her values or principles? Franz Jagerstatter was an Austrian peasant living as a farmer at the time of World War II.
He was a little wild during his younger years, but settled down, got married and had three children. He was a religious man, deeply committed to his faith. That faith, coupled with his perception of the scriptures he read was chiefly responsible for the stand he took against serving in the German army. Jagerstatter refused to serve in the German army during World War II, because he believed the Nazis were evil and the war was unjust. Fighting in an unjust war was in conflict with his faith. He was imprisoned and eventually executed for his refusal to serve.
He was well aware of the consequences of his decision from the beginning. Considering Jagerstatter’s position in life, it is remarkable how well he presented his objection. Jagerstatter’s point of view is clearly portrayed in his letters. He resolve is quite admirable The town Jagerstatter resided in did not share his view. Religion, from my reading of the text, appeared to be more cultural than actual faith. Jagerstatter’s community thought he had become mentally unstable from being overly religious. The community felt that his first priorities should be his family and his farm.
They felt that he should serve for his family’s sake and out of duty. The community also felt that his wife was largely responsible for his stand. His wife of course denied this claim. Interestingly, Jagerstatter’s church shared the point of view of his community. Church officials felt he should ” render onto Caesar the things that are Caesar’s.” While his church told him that his stand was not a sin, they believed it was advisable to accept service in the German army. Jagerstatter’s family also felt that he should accept service.
His mother was particularly adamant about him serving. His wife accepted his stand though she preferred that he accept service. It was only the strength of Jagerstatter’s faith that enabled him to stand against the advice of family, friends, community, church and state. He was firm in his belief based on his understanding of scripture. He was also encouraged in his stand knowing that a priest was executed for a similar reason.
Jagerstatter was alone in his stand because most, even if they did not agree with the Nazi regime, were afraid to resist. His church took a path that was politically expedient. I believe that if his church had stood on its principles, it too, would have resisted and spoke out against the war. His church appears to have been more concerned about its own survival than its principles. Perhaps they were right at one level.
Taking a stand against the Nazis would probably have brought persecution. However, it is possible that the church’s resistance could have actually buffered the Nazi regime. Jagerstatter’s life and death show that the individual can make an impact on society. Just as every vote counts, standing on one’s principles counts. It can also be seen that it is often necessary to sacrifice some of your individual liberties in order to be a member of a society, whether it is a community or a nation. From a sociological perspective, Jagerstatter could be looked upon as a social deviant.
Deviation from a society’s norms will produce sanctions from that society. In Jagerstatter’s case the sanction was death. This has been the case throughout recorded history. For the nation state it is the problem of government authority versus individual liberty. Government authority will frequently overrule individual liberty, but only to the extent that the society as a whole considers the government’s power to be legitimate. In closing, Jagerstatter’s conscientious objection, in the face of opposition from most of his society, was nothing short of heroic.