The Peasant Who Defied Hitler

Saint Radegund is a village too small to have its own post office, too remote to be reached by normal transportation facilities. Yet in the tiny graveyard of its centuries-old church lie the ashes of a simple farmer who defied a tyrant who had brought all of Europe to its knees. It is a quiet place; one feels a holy place. It may someday be a place of pilgrimage.

—America, July 5, 1958

The pilgrims have been coming for several years now to the place I described above, sometimes singly, more often families, occasionally church groups (not only Catholic). They gather at the grave of Franz Jägerstätter, an Austrian peasant executed by the Nazis on August 9, 1943, for refusing to serve in the German army. This update is justified not only by the gratifying fulfillment of my 1958 predictions, but by the prospects of significant developments in his case.

As a 1956 Fulbright Fellow in Germany, I focused my research on the role played by religious communities, particularly the Roman Catholic church, in providing moral support to the German war effort even while rejecting the evils of the Nazi regime and its philosophy. German Catholics and Hitler’s Wars (1960), the result of...

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About the Author

Gordon C. Zahn (1918–2007) was a frequent contributor to Commonweal, writing on conscientious objection and pacifism. He was an American Catholic conscientious objector to World War II, and taught sociology at the University of Massachusetts–Boston.