Tag Archives: Second World War

A Hidden Life: Tragic, Beautiful, Inspiring

It’s the Second World War.  You’re living in Nazi-occupied Europe.  You’re required to swear an oath of loyalty to Adolf Hitler.  If you refuse, you’ll be charged with treason, imprisoned, and likely executed.  Standing your ground means leaving behind a wife and three young daughters.  You’ll be ostracized by your community and even your religious leaders won’t support you. 

That’s the true story of Franz Jägerstätter, an Austrian farmer.  Jägerstätter became convinced the Nazi regime was wicked and that he could do nothing to support it.  When he was conscripted into the German army in 1940, he refused to swear allegiance to Hitler and the Third Reich.  Jägerstätter’s tragic story is powerfully told in Terrence Malick’s 2019 film, A Hidden Life.

It’s a beautifully made film.  The stark mountains of Austria feature in long, lingering shots which allow for contemplation.  Shots of the rapid rivers and creeks underscore the momentum of the storyline.  Even the weather accentuates the mood as viewers are drawn deeper into Jägerstätter’s crisis of conscience.

The soundtrack is likewise thoughtful.  For example, there’s a pivotal point in the story where we hear the familiar notes of J.S. Bach’s Kommt, ihr Töchter, helft mir klagen from the St. Matthew’s Passion – “Come, you daughters, help me lament.”  There could hardly be a more appropriate piece of music for this moment in the film.  

Although it’s a story with no happy ending, A Hidden Life is profoundly inspiring.  Franz Jägerstätter was a Roman Catholic and his religion was important to him and his wife.  The film intimates that his religion was fundamental to his convictions about Nazism.  However, that doesn’t mean the alienation of Reformed viewers.  There’s one scene in which Jägerstätter pauses a moment before a Madonna and another in which he glances at a crucifix as he walks by on the road.  There are some scenes in which he interacts with Roman Catholic clergy.  Aside from that, there’s nothing specifically Roman Catholic brought to the fore.  Instead, the focus is on Jägerstätter’s steady conviction that Nazism is an evil ideology – certainly a sentiment with which Reformed believers would agree.

A repeated theme in the film is the pressure placed on Jägerstätter to compromise.  He’s told repeatedly that his resistance is going to accomplish nothing.  He’ll never be remembered.  Widowing his wife and leaving his children fatherless was going to be futile.  Even his local parish priest and bishop urged Jägerstätter to stop dissenting.  The only real support he received came from his wife Fani.  Despite all that, Franz Jägerstätter never wavered, not even when faced with the guillotine.

A Hidden Life is a family-friendly film.  There’s no sexual immorality or blasphemy.  There’s one scene in which a fellow prisoner is mocking Jägerstätter’s belief in God, questioning how he can still believe in God in the face of Nazi brutality.  And there are some vivid depictions of that Nazi brutality which may be upsetting to sensitive younger children.  It’s a long film (174 minutes, nearly 3 hours), but the length and the cinematography make the patient viewer reflect.  Christian families will definitely find fodder for discussion.  I enjoyed A Hidden Life tremendously – an unhesitating five stars out of five.


Remembering

poppy

Today is the day we remember and give thanks for the sacrifices made by Canadian soldiers in times past and present.  We should never forget the bravery of these countless men and women, nor should we take their efforts for granted.  Our freedom has come at a cost.

Last year (on the old Xanga Yinkahdinay), I shared some of my grandfather’s wartime experiences.  My Opa (W.H. Bredenhof) fought in the Dutch underground during the Second World War.  Today, I’d like to share some of what he wrote about the end of the war.  It’s rather anti-climactic compared to last year’s account, but it’s true to life.

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In March of 1944 we slowly moved in to the front zone.  Day and night there were Allied planes in the sky; not by the hundreds but by the thousands.  We didn’t see German planes in the skies anymore.  They were finished.  Sometimes the German flak artillery was quite active.  More than once falling shrapnel fell only a few feet away from me.  Several people were killed by it walking in their own yard.

But now another problem started to bother me.  I had a serious infection in my right thumb.  Night after night I couldn’t sleep.  It was a special infection  where the bone grows out of the thumb.  The pain was unbearable for many weeks. Of all things!  We could now finally attack the enemy openly and in full force and I was stuck with a hand that was 3-4 times its normal size.  Finally, I went to the doctor in Genemuiden on April 14 and he sent me to the hospital in Zwolle for an operation.  In the first town there were still German soldiers, but when I came into Zwolle I saw the first Canadian scouts.  Under the knife I went.  Two hours later I was released and went from Zwolle back to Genemuiden to present myself for duty.  It would be the crucial day.  My officer thought that I wasn’t fit for duty.  Well, I thought that I could persuade him otherwise.  But before we got into action the pain came back worse than ever.  The doctor advised me to go back to the hospital in Zwolle.  On the road to Zwolle the Canadians and the Germans were fighting not that far away.  A few stray bullets hit ground not too far from me.

In the hospital I had another operation and the surgeon told me my thumb couldn’t be saved and he also feared for my hand.  I told him to do what he had to do.  The Canadians were there and I was still alive.  Thousands didn’t make it that far.  I didn’t get out of the hospital that day.  My ward had several wounded French Canadians as well.  It was much to my surprise that I could feel my hand later.  It was still a greater surprise when four days later I could feel my thumb.  Then they couldn’t hold me any longer and sent me back to my unit.  My trigger finger worked perfectly.

I took part in the mopping up operations.  Some of the Germans were fanatical.  Some were in hiding, but a light machine gun did wonders.  Many Nazis tried to get away in civilian clothes to Germany.  We caught many.

That is in a few words the experiences of the last few months of the war.  Of course, it isn’t all.  Would we put everything on paper, that alone would fill a book.