Major Director To Make Movie About Franz Jaegaestetter, Who Refused to Serve the Nazis and Was Killed For It
Highly regarded filmmaker Terence Malick has announced the subject of his next movie: Franz Jaegerstaetter, the Austrian peasant who for several years openly refused to serve the Nazis and was eventually arrested and then executed. Announced in Germany, where the movie is being funded, the news was broken in America by Filmstage.com. Malick has not yet said anything about his intentions for the movie, tentatively titled Radegund.
Malick, known for the religious concerns of his later films, made his name in art house circles with Badlands in 1973 and then 1978’s Days of Heaven, a modern version of the story of Abraham and Sarah in Egypt. His 2011 film Tree of Life was named by noted critic Roger Ebert as one of the ten greatest films ever made. He has twice been nominated for the best director Academy Award.
Jaegerstaetter was beatified by Pope Benedict XVI in 2007 as a martyr for the faith, and is now one of the Christian heroes called “Blessed.” An increasingly devout Catholic, and a public opponent of the Nazis — he was the only person in his village to vote against them after the Anschluss, the German invasion of Austria. He returned to his farm in the Austrian village of Radegund after brief military service in 1940 convinced that he could not fight for the Nazis. Jagerstaetter is reported to have responded to others saying “Heil Hitler” and making the required salute with “Pfui, Hitler.”
Married with three daughters, the oldest 6, when he was called up again on March 1st, 1943, he refused to serve and was immediately arrested. The Germans sentenced him to death for “undermining military morale” on July 6th and executed him by guillotine on August 9th. He was 36. Just before his death, Franz Jaegerstaetter wrote “If I must write… with my hands in chains, I find that much better than if my will were in chains.”
Neither prison nor chains nor sentence of death can rob a man of the Faith and his free will. God gives so much strength that it is possible to bear any suffering. … People worry about the obligations of conscience as they concern my wife and children. But I cannot believe that, just because one has a wife and children, a man is free to offend God.
In an 2007 article, Mark and Louis Zwick noted that some, including priests, urged the Austrian to serve because he had a wife and children. “Jaegerstaetter, however, expressed his belief that perhaps the best thing he could do for his family was to refuse to cooperate with the Nazis. He would rather his children have a father martyred for following Christ than a Nazi for a father.”
Jaegerstaetter’s writigs are collected in Franz Jägerstätter: Letters and Reflections from Prison. For more on his life and death, see William Doino’s Franz Jägerstätter: Martyr and Hero and Jim Forest’s A Solitary Witness.