Sunday, October 28, 2007

What We Make of Ourselves


Those who do not remember the past are condemned to relive it—Santavana

“…It was not possible for me to free you from the pain that you must now suffer on my account. How hard it must have been for our dear Savior when, through His sufferings and death, he had to prepare such a great sorrow for His Mother—and together they bore all of this out of great love for us sinners…And now your husband, son, son-in-law and brother-in-law greets you once more before his final journey. The heart of Jesus, the heart of Mary, and my heart are one in time and eternity…”—Franz Jägerstätter (last letter to his family)

On August 9, 1943 Franz Jägerstätter was beheaded by the Nazis.
He was executed for refusing to fight for them. It was the very same day (though not the same year) that Edith Stein was brutally gassed (along with hundreds of other Jews) in Auschwitz. Both were canonized as Saints by the Catholic Church (though much later—Jägerstätter’s beatification occurred only last Friday—and with some controversy).

Jägerstätter grew up in the small village of St. Radegund, the illegitimate son of a widow (his father was killed in the First World War) who had remarried. During his adolescence and early adulthood, Franz led a “wild” life, drinking and brawling. But he eventually left that behind to live a good and earnest life with his wife and children in his farming community. In 1939, after the German Anschluss of Austria, Franz was drafted into the national army and spent several months in training; however, he was deferred because he was a farmer. Then the government ordered him to report for military duty in 1943. Despite the risk to his family (the Nazis were known to persecute all family members when a single one refused to cooperate) and the obvious consequence to himself, Jägerstätter refused to take the oath of loyalty to Hitler when he showed up for service. He was arrested as a conscientious objector and beheaded a month later in a military prison near Berlin. His death by guillotine was with the prisoner’s non-blindfolded head facing up towards the blade, instead of face down as in the French Revolution.

According to archives documenting anti-Nazi resistance in Austria, German military courts condemned 50,000 people to death, 35,000 of whom were members of its own forces (Montreal Gazette).

In a meme, not too long ago, I was asked why I blog and I replied: because I have to. Like many bloggers, we are all on a journey together. You might be wondering why I’ve brought this topic up today. Serendipity, I suppose. I’ve often spoken about how things appear to present themselves just when they should. It was just this last Friday that I first decided to watch Schindler’s List with a close and trusted friend (because I knew I would be profoundly affected by it). Unbeknownst to me, this was also the day that Franz Jägerstätter was beatified, news of which I discovered in the Montreal Gazette later that day. For any of you who have seen Schindler’s List, Jägerstätter became my “little girl in the red coat”; my singled out “real person” in an anonymous sea of atrocity, a sea so large and horrific we cannot comprehend nor want to even think of and therefore ignore. Just as Schindler could not ignore that little girl once he’d set his mind (and heart) to single her out, Jägerstätter’s image in the newspaper refused to leave mine...

In the book I’m currently writing (a historical SF Thriller), my main protagonist (after witnessing and influencing some major world events) contemplates the following: Of a certainty, she had not cured the world of all its ills. So long as there were people in the world—indeed life of any kind— there would always be poverty, treachery and misfortune. Millions of quiet personal tragedies would continue, invisible beneath the veil of the world’s grandness. Helpless victims of ill-chance or ill-intent would suffer quietly: the despair of an old man who’d lost his wife to disease; a cat trapped and starving to death in a dry well; the muffled cries of a woman ravaged in some back room by a spurned suitor. Nature’s apparent cruelty would endure.

So, here I am…

Ich bin eine Deutscher. Meine Mutter ist Deutsch. Mein Vater, ein Rumäne, kämpfte um Hitler im Krieg. Ich liebe meine Eltern sehr viel. Sowohl meine Mutter als auch Vater beide gefühlt der Krieg persönlich. Seit einer sehr langen Zeit konnte ich nicht meine Eltern offenbare Unterstützung dafür verstehen — was Hitler tat: entweder fur Hitler kämpfen, oder nichts tun. Ein Teil von mir konnte nicht ihnen dafür verzeihen. Aber jetzt — Ja, schließlich — verzeihe ich ihnen, wie ich muss mir verzeihen. (entschuldigen Sie meinen armen Deutschen. Ich habe Deutsch in einer langen Zeit nicht gesprochen…I have let my German lapse here in British Columbia…I must rectify that)…

We can't all be saints. We do what we can, each of us, in our own way, according to our own unique qualities and strengths…no more, no less…And then face ourselves and ultimately God…

I am coming to terms with what courage is and how each of us must follow our own journey in striving for integrity, courage and honor in our daily lives. I thought I was a very accepting person. Since I was quite young I strove to fight against prejudice, protected the weak and fiercely defended those who couldn’t defend themselves (those who were ridiculed, shunned and picked upon—usually for being different). But I’d forgotten my own tenet when it came to those closest to me. I think I have a lot to learn yet.




Nina Munteanu is an ecologist and internationally published author of novels, short stories and essays. She coaches writers and teaches writing at George Brown College and the University of Toronto. For more about Nina’s coaching & workshops visit www.ninamunteanu.me. Visit www.ninamunteanu.ca for more about her writing.

4 comments:

Jean-Luc Picard said...

A fine post, as ever, Nina.

Have you seen the German movies 'Downfall' and 'Sophie Scholl:The Final Days'? I think these you would love. I know I did.

Sophie Scholl, by the way, was on of the members of 'The White Rose', which was an anti-Nazi group operating in Germany in WW2. It tells of her capture.

sfgirl said...

I think I heard of "Sophie Scholl: the Final Days", Jean-Luc. I will definitely look it up. Thanks!

Princess Haiku said...

This is a very moving post, Nina. I have the greatest respect for moral courage.

sfgirl said...

Thank you Princess Haiku. I have to admit that, as compelled as I felt to post this, it was also difficult for me. Thank you for your warm support.