A Hidden life (감춰진 비애) Chang O. Kang
Although there are plenty of good movies, it is always intriguing in finding one which is related to Christian faith when that is eclipsed by dark enforcement. ‘A hidden life’ was one of them which was brought to light in 1960’s. I happened to watch it the other day and this compelling story about a conscientious objector mesmerised me.
This true event happened in the tight-knit small village of St. Radegund, Austria which had been annexed in the Germany during the Nazi period.
Franz Jägerstätter, a farmer, a devout Christian, born and brought up in the high mountain area that reminded me of the beautiful and pristine view from the film ‘Sound of Music’. Franz is married to Fani, a remarkably loyal and faithful wife and they have three charming little girls.
Then the war breaks out and everything changes. He is called up for joining the German army but refuses to serve when France surrenders. He sees it as meaningless war that is simply in the course of Hitler/ Nazi’s power grab.
The country is already deeply consumed into the Nazi regime and the tide has turned that anyone objects Hitler is regarded as traitor. As soon as his defiance is noted, the local authorities and villagers begin to castigate him and his family by ostracising; turn their backs on the family, give silent treatment, resent, spit at them, produce verbal and even physical attacks etc. He turns to his local priests who blame him or are sympathetic with but powerless.
Consequently, he is taken to prison and waits months for his trial. During his time in prison, he and Fani write letters to each other and give each other strength. The authorities inclusive the judge try to change his mind by interrogation; cajoling, threatening, beating, persuading him in the concept of morality, ethics and even theological debate. They promise of non-combatant work or even suggest him to swear a fake oath of allegiance to Hitler and his regime. Meanwhile, his family in the mountain goes through incredulous hardship as their farming is needed collaborative help which no-one offers.
After months of brutal incarceration, Franz is found guilty and sentenced to death. Despite many opportunities to be rescued, he continues to refuse and is executed in August, 1943.
This film prompted me to remember the film ‘Silence’ that depicted how the Catholic faith was seeded in Japan in the 17th century. Two Portuguese Jesuit priests who are sent to Japan but fail as they are arrested and apostatise at the end. They endure the persecution on them by the authorities but can’t bear of watching any longer the unimaginable sufferings Japanese followers receive. The authorities believe that the propagation of Catholic faith will cease if they can force the priests give up their faith and preaching. The priests eventually give in renouncing their faith for the followers’ sake and settle down as Japanese citizen.
These two are totally different stories in many ways but same deployment was introduced in breaking them down and to the submission respectively.
The Jesuit priests too, were approached in the similar tactics like the ones that Franz bore with. But, unlikely the Jesuits, he remained his stance same all the way by refusing to fight in the Hitler’s war claiming the war was illegal. It was a martyrdom he chose and got finally executed. A couple of apostates and a martyr the other.
After watching this film which was quite moving in the unusual plot, a big question seeped into my head. Franz was lucky in a way that his own family especially his own children were not brought to the persecution although they had to endure the hardship because of him. The Japanese followers were the children of the priests in the spiritual concept of Catholic faith. I wonder if Franz could’ve taken his belief to the death if his family was facing the same fate as the followers of the Jesuits.