Reading Franz Jägerstätter's Letters and Writings from Prison, I discovered, was the literary equivalent of walking into a burning building. I, like the Catholic prelates and Austrian officials, wanted to flee while my hide was still intact. At other points in my reading, however, tears would flow down my face as I found it harder and harder to turn away from the truth of his insight and actions. ...More information about Franz Jägerstätter is here and here.
In an essay that he wrote in 1942, "On Today's Issue: Catholic or National Socialist," Franz Jägerstätter recalls a dream that he had ...
"I saw [in a dream] a wonderful train as it came around a mountain. With little regard for the adults, children flowed to this train and were not held back. There were present a few adults who did not go into the area. I do not want to give their names or describe them. Then a voice said to me, This train is going to hell.' Immediately, it happened that someone took my hand, and the same voice said to me; 'Now we are going to purgatory.' What I glimpsed and perceived was fearful. If this voice had not told me that we were going to purgatory, I would have judged that I had found myself in hell."
For Franz Jägerstätter, the train symbolizes National Socialism with all of its sub-organizations and programs (the National Socialist Public Assistance Program, Hitler Youth, etc). As he puts it, "the train represents the National Socialist Volk community and everything for which it struggles and sacrifices." He remembers that just prior to having this dream, he had read that 150,000 young Austrian people had joined Hitler Youth. He recounts, sadly, that the Christians of Austria had never donated as much money to charitable organizations as they now donated to Nazi party organizations. He realized that it wasn't really the money that the Nazis were after, it was the souls of the Austrian people: You were either with the Fuhrer or you were nothing. Upon this realization, Franz Jägerstätter writes, "I would like to cry out to the people aboard the National Socialism train: 'Jump off this train before it arrives at your last stop where you will pay with your life!'"
His admonition to "jump off the train" is one that must be heard and acted upon, perhaps never more so than today. In his recent meditation on Franz Jägerstätter's life, Father Daniel Berrigan urges that we not become complacent in these "post-Hitler" times: 'To speak of today; it is no longer Hitler's death train we ride, the train of the living dead. Or is it? The same train. Only, if possible (it is possible) longer, faster, cheaper. On schedule, every hour on the hour, speedy and cheap and unimaginably lethal. An image of life in the world. A ghost train still bound, mad as March weather, for hell. On earth… Despite all fantasies and homilies and 'States of the Union' urging the contrary. Today, a world of normalized violence, a world of standoff, of bunkers and missiles nose to nose, a world of subhuman superpowers and the easy riders. The train beats its way across the world, crowded with contented passenger-citizen-Christians."
Wednesday, September 16, 2009
Franz Jägerstätter: Letters and Writings from Prison
The following excerpts are from Anna Brown’s review of the book, Franz Jägerstätter: Letters and Writings from Prison:
The Rev. Munther Isaac lighting a candle next to an improvised crèche this month in the West Bank city of Bethlehem. Credit... Samar Hazboun...