I chanced across the movie “A Hidden Life” on Netflix on Saturday and decided to watch, discovering that it was actually based on a true story. The film is about an Austrian farmer named Franz Jägerstätter and his family.
Herr Jägerstätter lived in Radegund in Austria, on a farm he had inherited from his adoptive father during the 1930s. After Hitler came to power and annexed Austria in 1938, he began to conscript Austrian men to fight for the Nazis. In 1940, Jägerstätter was conscripted. After finishing basic training, he refused to take an oath of allegiance to Hitler. However, before he could face the consequences, he was sent home because he was a farmer. It is said that an army marches on its stomach – the Wehrmacht needed to be fed and so farmers were an important part of the war effort.
But word of his refusal to take the oath had also gotten back to Radegund where most of the people were pro-Hitler. Thus began the persecution of Jägerstätter and his family. But why? It seems that Jägerstätter, who had been a “wild one” in his younger days, had married a deeply religious wife, Franziska in 1936. She had inspired him to study the Bible for himself. By 1940, his faith and values were so grounded that he considered swearing allegiance to Hitler was not right.
His wife stood with him on his convictions even though it led to being treated with scorn and disdain by people who were friends and neighbours. In 1943, Jägerstätter was once again called up to serve in the army. The movie depicts a scene where a group of conscripts were lined up and giving the Nazi salute while reciting the oath of loyalty to Hitler. Somewhere in the ine stood Jägerstätter, hands by his side and mouth shut. The officer in charge of the parade spots him and he gets hauled off to a detention cell. From then on, Jägerstätter is moved from one cell to another, from Salzburg to Berlin, interspersed with meetings with different Nazi officials and his lawyer, all of whom do not understand the situation. They thought he was a pacifist and offered him a job working as a medical orderly who would not need to take up arms. But the question he would always ask was, “Would I be required to take the oath?”
The scenes of him in prison and of his wife and family facing hardships in Radegund are voiced over with snippets of prayers and scripture expressing faith that God would see them through. In the end, Jägerstätter was executed by guillotine. Even when offered a way out, he did not compromise on his faith. And his wife and family stood with him too.
Whenever he was questioned by some official or Nazi officer, they would often ask one question – “Do you think that your refusal to take the oath will change the outcome of the war? Do you think it will change anything?” As I watched, a passage of scripture came to mind..
35 Women received their dead, raised to life again. Other people were tortured, not accepting release, so that they might gain a better resurrection. 36 Others experienced mockings and scourgings, as well as bonds and imprisonment. 37 They were stoned, they were sawed in two, they died by the sword, they wandered about in sheepskins, in goatskins, destitute, afflicted, and mistreated. 38 The world was not worthy of them. They wandered in deserts and on mountains, hiding in caves and holes in the ground. 39 All these were approved through their faith, but they did not receive what was promised, 40 since God had provided something better for us, so that they would not be made perfect without us. (Hebrews 11:35-40, Christian Standard Bible)
What if you took a stand for Christ and no one knew about it? We’ve read stories of martyrs but there are probably thousands or anonymous ones. What if I were one of the anonymous ones? Would I be able to hold on so unswervingly to Christ if placed in the same situation, especially if I knew my family might face hardship because of my choices? Would I still be able to life my voice in praise and in faith, trusting that Christ is my Salvation? I’ll be honest and say that I don’t know if I could. I can only keep doing what He has assigned me to do now and trust that He will give me the grace to overcome such persecution. I pray that I might be like Shadrach, Mescach and Abednigo – to stand for Christ even if I am not delivered.
What I am sure of is that, even if no one knows about what happened to me, God will not be unaware. That gives me great hope! If ever I should need it, Lord, grant me the grace to stand firm for You so that Christ may receive all glory. Amen..