- Jägerstätter by Felix Mitterer
The preface and introduction to this English edition of Mitterer’s acclaimed play sketch in the factors that long prevented the unusual and heroic story of Franz Jägerstätter from becoming generally known, in comparison with the reputations of other Austrian resistance figures. A simple farmer with no wider associations, Jägerstätter acted entirely alone, not as a member of any group or organization that could have drawn attention to him. Fully aware from early on of what awaited him, he was guided by his conscience as roused through the Gospels, and it is apt that the first book about him, Gordon Zahn’s In Solitary Witness (1964; 2nd ed. 1984), was titled Er folgte seinem Gewissen in its German translation (1967). Guided by his unshakable Catholic viewpoint, he was so at odds with his pastor and bishop in his lifetime that Church authorities blocked discussion of him in diocesan publications after 1945. Seditiously “disobedient” to his religious authorities and unpardonably “treasonous” to the state, he had no advocate and might well have remained virtually unknown had not Zahn come across his story in the course of other research.
Zahn’s book, in turn, “influenced Vietnam War protesters in the United States”; indeed, Daniel Ellsberg stated that it was the example of Jägerstätter that lent him the courage to publish the Pentagon Papers. But respect for Jägerstätter is hardly unanimous. Considered a traitor by many even today, his beatification in 2007 was vehemently disputed in some rightist Catholic circles—especially by the military chaplain who confirmed Heinz-Christian Strache as an adult—to such an extent that Cardinal Schönborn of Vienna had to issue a reminder of the official status of the declaration, citing the words of Pope Benedict xvi (not precisely a liberal), who extolled the heroism of the new beatus and declared St. Radegund, Jägerstätter’s home village in Upper Austria, a place of pilgrimage to the memory of a moral hero worthy of emulation.
The prefatory materials in this edition are of great value to anyone, especially to the non-specialist. (The back matter includes the same photographs from the original German edition.) The footnotes and bibliography gather into one place most of the salient sources from the standpoint of the historian [End Page 153] and thus constitute a good beginning point for additional research. Thuswaldner likewise brings together the major literary and filmic treatments of the subject in connection with detailing how Mitterer came to write his play on a commission by actor Gregor Bloéb (brother of actor Tobias Moretti, incidentally) in 2011. Besides Mitterer’s play, by now famous, Thuswaldner mentions a one-woman show called Franziska Jägerstätter erzählt and another play and a novel about the man. The introduction also contains a well-argued appreciation of Mitterer, underestimated because so much of his work is popular in tone and deceptively provincial and folkloristic—but with universal value and insight apparent to those who pay attention.
Noting that the premiere at the Theater in der Josefstadt in June 2013 was a success, Thuswaldner also conveys Mitterer’s stated reasons for writing the play in the first place, most of them related to the human warmth of the subject. Jägerstätter started as anything but a conventional saint—a drinker and a brawler who became a loving husband and father, an adventurous and high-spirited youth (he owned the first motorcycle in the area) whose deepening faith arose from an utterly unpretentious and courageous nature that did not allow his fierce convictions to be even slightly compromised. Mitterer stresses the protagonist as “a struggling and insecure human being” and gains great emotional immediacy by focusing on Jägerstätter’s discordant environment, not only family and friends but also “his priest and bishop who repeatedly urge him not to follow his conscience, but to take up arms in Hitler’s...