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This film is based on the true story of Franz Jägerstätter, an Austrian farmer who refused to take an oath of loyalty to Adolf Hitler that was required of every Austrian soldier.

After his marriage with Franziska (Fani) in 1936, Franz became a serious follower of Jesus. He worked with his wife, her sister and his mother planting and gathering their crops near the border with Germany. He enjoyed playing with his wife and three young daughters, surrounded by the green hillsides in the Alps and the crisp, clear skies.

However, the shadow of Hitler hung over this paradise. The Anschluss, or annexation of Austria into Nazi Germany, occurred in March 1938. Though Franz was the only person in the mountain village to vote against the Anschluss in early April 1938, the village authorities announced unanimous approval.

Franz was deferred from military service four times, but he was walking down a path toward confrontation. Many tried to change his mind. The mayor of his village reviled him, “You are a traitor!” The local priest told him to hide his resistance in his heart. When Franz visited the city of Linz to seek guidance, his bishop responded, “Your duty is to your fatherland.”

After finishing his military training in 1943, Franz refused to take the Hitler oath. He was arrested. Young guards bullied him. During his trial, one judge called him into his office for a private meeting to question him about his decision. Franz was executed in a prison, dying at the age of 36.

The writer and director, Terrence Malick, is known for films that ask philosophical questions set in daily ordinariness. He lingers over scenes, allowing the audience to soak in the atmosphere to help draw us into difficult and heartbreaking questions. Franz did not want to be a martyr, but he did not want to go against his beliefs.

How much would his decision cost?

What will happen to his wife and family?

Why were there so few conscious objectors?

How would I respond to such social and political pressure?

Do our decisions really matter?

I’ve been reading Jackson W.’s Reading Romans with Eastern Eyes: Honor and Shame in Paul’s Message and Mission (InterVarsity Press, 2019). As part of Jesus’ family we are to glorify God, our Father. We are not to be ashamed to follow Jesus.

“Within patron-client relationships, a basic obligation of patrons was to show themselves faithful or reliable such that clients could trust them. In response to a patron’s faithfulness, a client was expected to show loyalty. (78)

An elderly fresco painter at work in the village church told Franz, “What we do is just create sympathy, create admirers . . . We don’t create followers.”

Franz was not just an admirer of Jesus, but a loyal follower.

Time: 173 minutes; Rating: PG-13 for violent images.


For historical background, see Gordon Zahn’s In Solitary Witness: The Life and Death of Franz Jägerstätter (1986) and Erna Putz (ed.), Franz Jägerstätter: Letters and Writings from Prison (2009). Vision Video offers a 24-minute documentary Franz Jägerstätter: A Man of Conscience.

Source: “Franz Jägerstätter” in Wikipedia.

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