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Gordon Zahn discusses his book "In Solitary Witness" ; part 2

BROADCAST: Jan. 15, 1965 | DURATION: 00:19:21


Gordon Zahn continues to talk about his book, "In Solitary Witness: The Life and Death of Franz Jagerstatter". When doing his research for the book, it puzzled Zahn to find out that very few young people in Jaggerstatt's home village knew who Franz Jaggerstatt was. Zahn explained Jaggerstatt knew he was doing the right thing by objecting to Hitler's army because a Catholic priest had done the same thing.


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Gordon Zahn I suspect that, I suppose you could say it's in somewhat biblical style, and this is undoubtedly the result of his reading, so he had formal education in the volksschule, which would be the equivalent of fifth grade, I think, that we have here. But he continued to read "The Lives of the Saints", he read the Bible, and he read these little devotional pamphlets, I gather. And it was the inquiring mind that he then set upon himself and when he finally got down to write down his thoughts, he wrote them in the style with which he was most familiar,

Studs Terkel And during Holy Week, writing this week, Franz Jagerstatter writing to his family here, "This week especially must bring us new courage and strength to lighten the burden of our fate." There's sort of a cadence to it, almost. "For what are our little sorrows compared to what Christ had to suffer during Holy Week? He who is not willing to suffer with and for Christ will also not share in his resurrection. And even if the cross that God or" and this parenthesis is good, "even the cross of God (or we ourselves)," "(or we ourselves) has laid upon us becomes a little heavy, it will never get as difficult and heavy as the one which Satan loads on his followers, many of whom already broken under this burden and thrown their lives away."

Gordon Zahn Yes, it's--I have the feeling, you know, that people are going to raise the question--Herman Shumlin did. I quoted a portion of this and he raised the question, "Am I to understand this man wrote that, or did you?" So there will be a suspicion that I, you know, got the main ideas and then wrote them up myself. But, really, all I've done is put punctuation in, break it into paragraphs and maybe I'd have a trouble here or there with one of these long German clauses, not knowing whether it belonged with this sentence or another sentence, but the imagery is his, the sequence of thoughts is his, and it's really remarkable.

Studs Terkel You know, since you mentioned Herman Shumlin, naturally we think of the play "The Deputy", "The Vicar", or whatever it was called in Europe. Different titles. And you as a Catholic layman, sociologist, your comments about it, that it should be shown even though it may be an extreme piece of writing by Hochhuth, I can't help but think of something just occurred to me this moment as we're talking about Jagerstatter, Jagerstatter himself became a vicar, did he not, became a vicar of Christ? Just as Riccardo the priest did in the play.

Gordon Zahn This actually is what I think, that Hochhuth may have been trying to include as a point in his play but which got obscured in all the cutting and in all the emphasis he placed on the failure of Pius XII, the vicar of Christ in this particular case, I think, was Father Fontana.

Studs Terkel A young

Gordon Zahn And had he focused his play on this, far more emphatically and kept Pius XII as just something of a background figure, I think he would have had a much more effective play and probably wouldn't have stirred up any kind of this distorting reaction.

Studs Terkel Except that I think what Hochhuth had in mind, I'm just guessing now, you're much more, better versed in this than I am, is responsibility even in high places defaulted.

Gordon Zahn Oh, I, this undoubtedly.

Studs Terkel Perhaps, but I'm thinking, your hero, Franz Jagerstatter, during his honeymoon visited the Holy See, did he not? I mean, he had audience with Pope Pius XII--

Gordon Zahn I think that would be

Studs Terkel Oh, was it the 11th?

Gordon Zahn Yeah, I think he was.

Studs Terkel Oh, it was the 11th.

Gordon Zahn Well, audience I mean, he probably was one of these one of thousands gathered in St. Peter's.

Studs Terkel But I was thinking, if it were the 12th, I'm wrong then. 'Cause I was thinking, isn't it remarkable how one of the visitors, a man, one of the anonymous visitors, one of the thousands, himself became the vicar of Christ as Father Fontana did--

Gordon Zahn In a sense.

Studs Terkel In the play.

Gordon Zahn A bearer of Christ, I suppose, would probably be--

Studs Terkel A bearer

Gordon Zahn Each of us, if there is some meaning to the phrase we use so frequently, the mystical body of Christ, obviously he was acting

Studs Terkel Well then, the question comes up in your living in the village of Sankt Radegund, the young, they speak, they'd rather not talk about, they were polite to you, courteous, cooperative but that rather, "Well, he was crazy and perhaps best not to bring it up," what about the young of the village?

Gordon Zahn They, for the most part, apparently do not know much about it and certainly do not think much about it. I, this is a real failing in my research. This troubled me because I thought, you know, I'd be able to devote quite a bit of attention to them. I just couldn't reach them. Partly it was the mechanics of research, it was difficult to get them in a setting where you could talk to them apart from the adults, but the three young men that I did interview, young men who should have had some insights into this because one was the son of his closest friend, one was the son of the village secretary, and the other was supposedly the most intelligent boy at the present time in the village. He'd gone to gymnasium, he knew some Greek and so on and so forth, and I wanted to get their thing. The only thing I got out of the three of them was from this latter, the last-mentioned one, blurted out, said, "Well, if you ask," he says "I know the pastor keeps raving about this man, considers him a saint, and so on and so forth. But I must say that I consider what he did to be in effect treason." "[German]," you know, this type of thing. "And when one's Fatherland is involved, one must fight." You know, this.

Studs Terkel He's a young organization man.

Gordon Zahn He's a young organization man and, yet, he is strangely enough the one I would almost place as being the type of person we'd look for if another Jagerstatter were to come from this. He has no parents, I think he's about 24, 23, and he is the head of the house with several young brothers and sisters and so forth, and the responsible figure and this very intelligent boy, and as far as he sees, this man is just

Studs Terkel Well, there he is, he has become a responsible figure, the head of the house, educated, but his way of thinking or feeling or what has become, made him the established [plot?] while here he must then be the establishment.

Gordon Zahn But it's tragic that he's the only one who had an idea. Actually, I think we should be more pleased that he was annoyed with Jagerstatter, he rejected him, than these other two, which "I don't know anything about it, we don't talk about it, we don't think much about it," you know, complete unconcern.

Studs Terkel Now you come to another point, the one you just made is, I know, one of my favorite--troubles, bothers me, just that, the fact the others couldn't care less, to use a cliche. That's part of our way of life today. This, at least he is angry at Jagerstatter, he is sore, he is passionately against him. He is alive. But the other two means nothing. It's the indifference, also almost their animal-like acceptance of.

Gordon Zahn So, while I felt that this was a failed, this part of the research failed, perhaps it got the truth anyway, that this is a way. Had I gone through all the young people in that village, this may have been the same kind of response they would've gotten from them all.

Studs Terkel And, so ,the question to ask then, Gordon Zahn, is the impact of Jagerstatter's martyrdom or act is not the impact on the village?

Gordon Zahn No. This is true, and not as yet, anyway. There are some who apparently think of it and who a couple of them say, "Of course, what he did was a great thing. He may indeed be a saint someday or something like this, but, again, this is not for us to decide, it's for us to get along with our farming and do something like this." This is the attitude that I think sort of prevails.

Studs Terkel This comes to you now,

Gordon Zahn Of course, this is all that Jagerstatter would have wanted anyway.

Studs Terkel You point, oh, I was going to ask you about yourself in this book. You point out that his act is even more remarkable than Thomas More's.

Gordon Zahn Yes.

Studs Terkel Because Thomas More had the intellect and knew his act would have impact on the community. This man, indeed, may have been aware he might have been killed and died anonymously.

Gordon Zahn He expected to be, I think. I suspect, as I point out, that he wrote what he thought would be three or four farewell letters. The first one he wrote when he was arrested. "This is the end now. They'll just take me and shoot me," or something like this. And he carried on this vein in that he never knew when it was going to come to an end. He just did. But here he is, a little man that nobody is going to pay much attention to. It's remarkable that he said "No." It's even more remarkable that he was required to say "Yes" and killed for not saying "Yes." What difference would it have made had they just, you know, sort of closed their eyes and sent him back to work his farm or something like this? It was important that even this man hidden away in a little village serve in the Nazi forces.

Studs Terkel Because this one deviant, this one dissenter, the one rebel with his own cause, or as Peter Viereck says, "this unadjusted man," a phrase I'd rather say, "non-adjusted," I prefer non-adjusted, unadjusted means he couldn't quite make it, but non-adjusted, deliberately refused to adjust.

Gordon Zahn Yeah, rejecting adjustment

Studs Terkel Yes. And, so, they had to have him. He was this sore, this pimple that broke, that spoiled the whole beauty of the

Gordon Zahn Because they could see, it was a, [certainly a?] case. It was proven. He'd been opening his mouth now ever since they came in in 1938 and here it was 1942 and apparently he hadn't converted anybody else to be anti-Hitler. He could have just kept on saying the things he was saying until the end of the war and produced his farm work and so forth. It was important that he say "Yes," and maybe he just got lost in bureaucracy, I don't know, but I suspect that all along the line people made the judgment "This man has to give in."

Studs Terkel Well, Gordon Zahn, we come back to you then, the what I call the theological detective. Here you are, you had seen this little paragraph in your research about Father Reinisch with a Chaplain Kreutzberg.

Gordon Zahn Yes.

Studs Terkel And this, you knew then there was something, is that it? There was

Gordon Zahn Oh, yes. I was immediately attracted to the

Studs Terkel But you did it for two reasons. You say as a Catholic, but also that in your preface here earlier you mention the fact that the potential of the church, the potential of religious commitment today in the time of, as resisting nuclear war more than ever, this untapped you feel.

Gordon Zahn Yes, this, I think, will probably be the only really controversial touch to the book, is that there may be people who take issue with my feeling that in our day and age, perhaps the religious communities, and that's not only mine but I would say all the religious communities, have to look into their own nature again and rediscover the fact that they have a mission of prophecy, that they have always to speak the right redeeming word in any given day, and the right redeeming word in our day may possibly be, "No, you can't go along," you know, just as it was in the first century. "No, you can't throw this pinch of incense on the altar stone," you know. And this to investigate, to see what their potential is as a source of dissent, disobedience, and then, of course, to develop the supports for the people who do make a stand like Jagerstatter. This, I think, was the most horrible thing he had to bear, is a feeling that he was all alone, that the church wasn't supporting him. He felt he was doing what the church required of him, but everybody he turned to said, "No, you are not." And at the end when Kreutzberg told him about the priest that had been executed the year before--

Studs Terkel Oh, he knew, oh, he--Jagerstatter knew of this priest.

Gordon Zahn Just at the end. Kreutzberg told me that he spent three hours the first time he met Jagerstatter trying to convince him he should change. And then said he'd come back for the answer. He wasn't able to get back for a couple of weeks, and when he did get back the man said, "Yes. I still can't serve." And then the priest congratulated him on his strength of conscience. He didn't say "You're right," but he congratulated him on his strength of conscience, asked him to write a statement setting forth his ideas, which he did, which is in the Appendix here, and then told him about Father Reinisch who had been executed the week before, and he said "When I told him this, his eyes lit up, and it was as if a great burden had dropped from him, and he said, 'I've always known that I couldn't be wrong, but if a priest did this,' then he was sure it was right."

Studs Terkel So Jagerstatter found this solace, that there was someone else and a priest, but that someone else, he was not alone. This ultimate discovery before he was beheaded.

Gordon Zahn Yes.

Studs Terkel He was not alone.

Gordon Zahn It must have been very strengthening, this thing for him at the end.

Studs Terkel Back to this theme of yours, this purpose of yours, the fact that the church can be an organ, an instrument for dissent.

Gordon Zahn Not only can be, but should be. This is, I am disturbed by the situation that's so widely publicized in Los Angeles, for example, even worse to some extent all the religious communities in the Deep South. Here is a case where the religious community which should be speaking out against injustice and so forth is maintaining this same prudent silence, not wanting to rock the boat too much, not trying to put too great a burden upon the faithful. This, I think, is the danger. The church doesn't expect martyrs and therefore it's not going to get them.

Studs Terkel You're asking to expect Christians.

Gordon Zahn Yes. This is his point. I can't say, of course, that if we were placed in the same situation and the bishop said, "Now, you may not do this even if your head is going to be chopped off," I'm not going to say that all Christians or even many Christians would be able to stand up under such pressure, but at least a few more would I'm convinced, and those few more who do stand up that way would at least have the satisfaction of knowing they are not alone.

Studs Terkel Talking with Gordon C. Zahn, who teaches sociology, a very distinguished professor of sociology at Loyola, and the book based on his research, the letters of Jagerstatter, his own findings in talking to the villagers is one of the most powerful, I think, and fascinating in years. It's called "In Solitary Witness", and Holt Rinehart and Winston are the publishers. The subtitle, "In Solitary Witness: The Life and Death of Franz Jagerstatter", and the question arises even as we're ending now this conversation, Professor Zahn, it's the, what makes a Jagerstatter? We come to this again, don't we? The mystery of this rebel, of Dr. Stockmann in Ibsen's play, this is non-religious, who said "No" to the community, the spa is poisoned, they stoned him. Thoreau, who said "A man must be a man first, subject after," they jailed him, Jagerstatter says "No" to Hitler, they beheaded him. They're all related, aren't they?

Gordon Zahn Yes. And Jagerstatter felt that for himself the answer was apparently he had been given the grace to see things that his fellow Catholics had not. It's not an adverse judgment against these others, we recall that phrase, do not cast stones at our priests and bishops because they are only men and can make mistakes, too. But he saw it as a response to his special insight that had been given him and he could do nothing else.

Studs Terkel Am I right in assuming this, Dr. Zahn, you doing this, undertaking this work and writing this book in the middle of the 20th century with nuclear bombs, with revolutions occurring, the revolution of human aspirations, rising aspirations all over the world, you wrote this about Jagerstatter and yet the sub-theme is really us, isn't

Gordon Zahn This is, yes, I would say is an accurate description of a motivation that's down there. Of course, we sociologists are supposed to be value-free in our work, but I think hidden in this are some pretty clear values on my part. I don't think, however, it's distorted my findings or the story or anything, I just want to present the issue to everyone. Must we be responsible for our actions? And I think we must.

Studs Terkel This is the question asked by the enthusiastic reviewers, whether they be Dwight Macdonald or Peter Viereck or Archbishop Roberts, who's quite a man, who I want to make the subject of one of our discussions soon. And Guenter Lewy, who wrote "The Catholic Church and Nazi Germany", that this question you raise here, "If a man like Jagerstatter, from a small village without formal education and with no support from his religious community could make such a choice, how could the conscience of the West have been so indifferent in the face of Nazi blasphemy?" And now we have to go a step further and speak of the world today in the face of etc., etc. today, 1965.

Gordon Zahn Well, I think there are many things that we're not concerned enough about, that we feel too helpless about. I personally have been involved in such organizations as seen in the American Pax Society and Catholic Peace Fellowship and so forth. I am concerned about the acceptance of nuclear armament and nuclear war and all that this entails. I'm concerned about the fact that even at the Council we had, we presented a spokesman cautioning the Council against being too--

Studs Terkel You're talking about the Council in Rome now.

Gordon Zahn Yes, the Vatican Council. Excluding weapons that might, the military people might feel necessary. I think--

Studs Terkel Here's the question, it's hard to separate the man and cloth, the man in uniform. As Christ and Caesar cannot be in one body apparently.

Gordon Zahn No.

Studs Terkel This is what Jagerstatter was saying, too. Gordon Zahn, our guest and I hope very much Dr. Zahn you'll be our guest again very soon. There are many things I know that you have to tell us, the audience. This book first, powerful one. "In Solitary Witness: The Life and Death of Franz Jagerstatter". Umlauts over the A's, you know. With Dr. Gordon Zahn, Holt Rinehart and Winston. A most important book. The word "important" is over- used these days. This really is. Thank you very much.

Gordon Zahn Thank you very much.