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Tuesday, January 17, 2017
Austrian Ambassador after Thanksgiving Mass for Blessed Franz Jagerstatter
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 The Austrian Ambassador to the UK, Dr Gabriele Matzner-Holzer gave the following address last night at a reception in Westminster Cathedral Hall, following a Thanksgiving Mass at the Cathedral for the Beatification of Franz Jägerstätter. Franz Jägerstätter, a Catholic peasant from Upper Austria, was executed by the Nazi regime on August 9, 1943. Not a pacifist in principle, but profoundly religious, he concluded that the war unleashed by the regime was criminal. He eventually refused to serve in this criminal war of aggression and rejected any compromise to save his life. In his steadfastness he was supported by his wife Franziska who shared his religious ethos. Tens of thousands of German soldiers, which at the time included Austrians, were sentenced by military courts and executed for dodging military service, endangering Germany's military strength, deserting from the army or just displeasing authorities, between 1939 and 1945. As in most other cases involving military service in the Nazi regime the verdict against Jägerstätter was only repealed decades later, by the Berlin court in 1997, upon request by the widow and her daughters. Jägerstätter was nevertheless very special. His soft-spoken and kind heroism was, to my knowledge, first documented by the American historian Gordon Zahn, in 1964. It became the subject of a very popular movie produced by the renowned Austrian film maker Axel Corti in 1971. The interest in Jägerstätter has grown steadily and inspired scholars and artists in many countries. His strength and fate moved and moves people deeply. It is well known that open resistance to the Nazi regime was rare, also in Austria. Most kept quiet, many participated in the crimes. But we should not forget those who disagreed and, by words and deeds, risked and lost freedom and life. In Austria 2700 were executed and some 27.000 died in prisons and concentration camps, for political reasons. This is in addition to the 65.000 murdered Austrian Jews. As most Austrians were and are Catholic, we may assume that the majority of both political victims and perpetrators of Nazism in Austria were or had originally been Catholics. By far the single largest group opposed to Nazism and persecuted by the regime were communists. Hundreds of Austrian priests were incarcerated and put into concentration camps, many perished or were executed. About 1500 Austrian priests were banned from preaching or teaching. In addition to Jägerstätter, three more Austrian victims of Nazism were beatified since 1945, the Jesuit Jakob Gapp, the priest Otto Neururer and the nun Restituta Kafka. The Catholic leadership in Austria did not openly oppose the illegal annexation of Austria by Nazi Germany in 1938. Cardinal Innitzer did not welcome Hitler in person, but he recommended that Austrians accept the fait accompli. Most did, in the farcical referendum staged by the Nazis in already occupied Austria, in April 38, and from which 8% of the population were excluded beforehand. But, very soon, with the onslaught of anti-Catholic Nazi politics, many Catholics, including Innitzer, changed their minds. In October 1938 at least 7000 young Catholics marched against the regime in the centre of Vienna, shouting "Christus ist unser Führer", "Christ is our Leader". It was and remained the largest demonstration ever against Hitler in the German realm, since he came to power in Germany 5 years earlier. It was brutally quashed. Ladies and gentlemen, motives to resist mass violations of human rights are manifold. Some are religious. Whatever the spiritual sources, self-sacrificing demonstrations of decency such as J's deserve our greatest admiration. They should inspire others, especially world leaders, to prevent situations in which choices of life or death have to be made by decent human beings.
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