Liz Yates – An Interview

AN INTERVIEW WITH SISTER ELIZABETH YATES FMM

Liz Yates RIP
Liz Yates RIP

Five years ago Elizabeth Yates came with three other FMM sisters to live in Brixton, the multi-racial area of south London where, the previous year, the tensions had produced a series of violent riots.

The four sisters live in a terraced house near the heart of Brixton. Community itself – to be rather than to do – is the priority for the group. To earn their living they have taken part-time jobs in the locality. Frances teaches in an Anglican school; Molly works with the mentally-handicapped; Joan, the senior member of the community, gives her time to ‘Age Concern’, a welfare group, and Elizabeth herself is a part-time community nurse in the area. What were the considerations which led them to Brixton and what does their presence there mean to local people?

“For most FMMs for a lot of the time in their lives the commitment to an ‘option for the poor’ is often worked out in the context of a mission to a country which has greater needs possibly than the one we’re coming from. Now that option for the poor has come a lot closer to home for many of us, so we have found ourselves returning to the West for various reasons. It so happened that there were five or six of our sisters who had come back from Pakistan, India, African countries, who said we’d like very much to have an insertion into a multi-racial area where there was a notable lack of peace and where we felt that our backgrounds from Third World countries would give us a chance of integrating there and so opting for a specific type of poor person in this country.
“The priorities of our community have a lot to do with open house hospitality, to take those who come to our door or who we bring to our home within whatever context – homelessness, youngsters in trouble with drug addiction, people who have experienced violence, all sorts of things. The second priority is to listen to what is said to us in a place like this, and the third priority has been prayer, which has grown in every way in our own community and with other denominations because in an area like this all the churches come together in the face of the problems of violence, unemployment and discrimination.”

These local churches unite to form the Brixton Council of Churches, led by an impressive Caribbean woman, the Rev. Esme Beswick, Pastor of the New Testament Church. “Down the way we have the Methodists who also have a well-mixed congregation and their church is actually on Railton Road, which we call ‘the front line’ and which I think most African and Caribbean people understand to be where the problems have occurred. Then there are smaller churches which are Pentecostal, which we have also been involved with. There’s a lot of solidarity witness in a place like Brixton. On Good Friday, for example, we walk through Brixton in a procession carrying a cross and there is always an ecumenical service. Most of us don’t go any more to our own church: we go and make our witness procession together. We pray a lot together and we also help in a practical way.”

There is no mosque or temple in the area and the opportunities for interfaith dialogue are fewer than, for instance, in a city like Coventry in the Midlands where another FMM community is living. “But,” says Elizabeth, “we also have a very high percentage of people who don’t practise any type of structured religious activity. We have a lot of marginalised people in the religious context and I think this has brought us together as Christian groups. Not that there are any problems with other people’s religious way of being. It’s not within the Brixton community itself that problems of racism and discrimination occur. There’s a violent element, anti-authoritarian, which perceives authority as a source of oppression and racial harrassment. Otherwise, no one really cares where you come from, who you are, what you do. So Brixton itself is a very free area really. In this context it’s not poor at all. That’s what you find out.”

PEACE WITNESS

For Elizabeth one of the most dramatic results of her coming to live in Brixton has been her growing involvement in the peace movement. Earlier this year she was arrested and imprisoned after a peace liturgy and act of civil disobedience in London. What developments had taken her along that road?

“When I think of myself in the 1960s in relation to the peace issue – I just didn’t think about it. I spent years in Pakistan during an unjust war – I was in West Pakistan when they raped East Pakistan. I’m amazed that these things didn’t cause extraordinary changes in me. They didn’t, although they must have come to bear their fruit. Coming to Brixton had a very serious effect on me in the context of what I understood to be reconciliation and the need for understanding: how, for example, an African woman and a woman from this country might come to understand one another. I had lived in both countries. This developed my awareness of what was meant by peacemaking.
“What I experienced in Brixton, and had already experienced in Liverpool, was that whole sections of our society were suffering abominably due to lack of funds and input to enable these people to live as full lives as possible. Knowing poor people, I realised that in the face of nuclear weapons we are all poor.”

Two other experiences also helped to change her thinking. “I had problems with the person in authority over me at work and I found myself enlisting the support of other colleagues to take my point of view. I suddenly realised what I was doing – that I was building her up into an enemy figure. So with thought and prayer I tried to change and to make peace. I asked forgiveness of all the people whom I thought I had wronged.”
The other moment of insight came on a beautiful spring day when Elizabeth was out walking with friends on nearby Clapham Common. “The blossom was magnificent. A friend said to me ‘Do you know that Clapham Common has been designated as a burial ground in the event of a nuclear war?’ and I thought: it’s all true. Our Government actually has the intention of using nuclear weapons.”

In 1984 Elizabeth went to South Zaire (Shaba) for six months to work on the Angolan border
with other FMMs setting up an emergency post for the many refugees coming into Zaire. Afterwards she felt called back to Brixton and to be more involved in work for peace. “I felt that apart from my work locally and our presence here as a community, I had to be part of a national effort to oppose these nuclear policies.” So she went in search of the peace movement. She joined Pax Christi and also a small group called Catholic Peace Action whose focus was on the need for both dialogue and resistance – two things which Elizabeth feels should always go together.

With others from this group, Elizabeth took part in nonviolent civil disobedience when they chained themselves to the doors of the Ministry of Defence in London during a religious service held outside. At that stage few other Franciscans were involved in the peace movement but after this act of witness an Anglican Franciscan, Terry Tastard, wrote to Elizabeth. They met and formed a network called ‘Franciscans for Justice and Peace’. 80 Franciscan women and men, Roman Catholic and Anglican, now belong and they have held their own events and prayer vigils.

In undertaking civil disobedience, Elizabeth became engaged in a difficult and sometimes painful dialogue with her own sisters. “The sisters in this province have over a period of years come to an understanding that there are some people who find it impossible to refuse the call to make some sort of statement about what is really God’s will and what is the will of human authority. If there’s a clash that statement has be something quite serious – a statement in which a law is broken which is considered an immoral law, in fact an illegal law.

“I don’t believe in confrontational acts without dialogue. That’s not Franciscan. One perhaps has to make a rather startling statement but not without dialogue. At no time can I as a human being confront and judge the truth of another human being who has perceived something differently. Without dialogue ‘Franciscans for Justice and Peace’ and civil disobedience don’t even come together – and they must.”

On Ash Wednesday 1987 300 Christians from various Christian groups came together for an act of worship to be followed by an act of civil disobedience. “At the act of worship we prayed for forgiveness for our sins individually and as a nation and we took the blessed ashes and marked our foreheads with the cross, like Christians throughout the world. Then as a worshipping community we went to the Ministry of Defence, the ‘nerve centre’ of all plans for nuclear war and any other use of weapons. In prayer, we marked that building with the same sign of the cross, using the same blessed ashes, in acknowledgement of the sin of our society of which we are a part.”

For that public action 45 people, including Elizabeth, were arrested and charged with criminal damage. Those involved considered civil disobedience to be ‘holy obedience’ – an assertion that God’s law is above human law. At her trial Elizabeth told the court that she would not pay any fine once she was found guilty by the law of the land. Having acted in conscience on behalf of the poor, she felt obliged to accept any punishment in the same way a poor person would have to. The court’s decision was to send her to Holloway women’s prison for a week. What was prison like?

“I personally didn’t suffer in a way I might have suffered had I been younger. I was ready, prepared spiritually, in a way I might not have been before. I can’t say that what I saw appalled me, I suppose because I’ve seen so much worse. I know what really oppressive regimes can do. Nevertheless I was considerably distressed by the knowledge of the forgotten, which is what all these women were. They were forgotten women, for whatever reasons they had landed there, and some of the reasons were pathetic. One was that she hadn’t paid her television licence. Another one was offered bail of £2,000 and she had only received £8 worth of stolen goods. Other people had been involved in crimes of violence and many were involved in addiction. One little woman hadn’t been able to speak to anyone for three months because she didn’t speak English. She spoke Urdu and I happened to speak Urdu…

“The experience was that of the forgotten. There appeared to me to be vast numbers of women for whom much more could be offered which would be therapeutic rather than punitive. It seemed to be a vast lost opportunity because what I experienced most among the young women I was with was that they had no inner resources. So to be left in a room on their own – which you are in the first couple of days while they’re sorting out where you should go – some young girls couldn’t cope with being alone. One kid completely destroyed all the bits of furniture she had, screaming and howling with almost fear of herself. It would seem to me that this could be a place where people might learn something about inner resources which would build them up.”

Did Elizabeth find any common threads of faith or community amongst women from such diverse backgrounds as she met in prison? “There were problems as regards cultures which is perhaps new to the prisons. There was no problem with anybody’s faith at all, but neither did it surface in any way. There was a friendship and kindness one towards the other pf people in a common trouble, but ultimately it didn’t happen quickly. People were very wary. Then little things started to happen. Odd things were said to me like ‘It’s almost like having my mum in prison, you know, with you to look after me’.
“I felt guilty that I had only five days there when people had five years, ten years, fifteen years and I couldn’t get over the generosity of those women when they said on the Monday ‘You’re out tomorrow. Wonderful. Think of us.’ – I couldn’t get over their generosity. All I could offer was a kind of solidarity and a caringness and I think gentleness. I wanted to be gentle. I felt pretty meek. It would have taken me a lot longer to know what I could give really.

“It was an experience of solidarity with poor people. If you feel called to make a statement against that which is making us all poor, and it is the nuclear weapons which make us all poor, then of course it is part of the programme to know the poor in their poorest way. I feel grateful more than anything.”

On her way out of prison Elizabeth met a Quaker woman who was being released at the same time. In the peace movement Christians of every denomination come together because of their common purpose: “However we may be perceived socially, the authenticity of the Christian peace movement lies in that we come together in the name of Jesus Christ, with all our weaknesses and with all our differences. The other things don’t even get remembered when that happens.”

Work for peace by building up the local community in a place like Brixton and by building up the global community of the whole world is integral, Elizabeth believes, to the FMM calling. “We have had quite a period of renewal and we have emerged, I am happy to say, from the last few international meetings with four important themes: evangelising community, option for the poor, inculturation and dialogue.

“We’re asked to go to where the poor are and that can change constantly. We’re asked to try to become part of that, and we’re asked to try and keep all the doors and windows open, in the name of, and the Lord, Jesus Christ, and in the style that our foundress Helene de Chappotin, and St Francis of Assisi, offered. So I don’t personally believe that if that is what you follow that you can at any time avoid the issues of peace and what peace is about in the international situation today and in our local situation. I don’t think you can turn your back on the problems of racism and discrimination because of what we are asked to do. I don’t think you can ever opt out of choosing life rather than death, which brings you into the area of abortion, euthanasia, etc. I don’t think you can ever forget those who are unemployed, those whose lives are so limited – the elderly, the handicapped, the Aids sufferers, the outcasts. You can’t avoid what’s happened to the Third World, where Western aid is going, the refugees, the expense of the arms race. All this you can’t avoid if you follow what we have been asked to live.”

Valerie Flessati
October 1987

Liz Yates in Memoriam

Liz Yates, may she rest in peace, died on 11 January 2021.

Liz Yates RIP
Liz Yates RIP

During any form of active peace-making groups of people from all sections of society are thrown together in a common vision. For us the witness site was the Ministry of Defence in London and the vision was a nuclear-weapons free world. Below is a photo of a group outside Bow Street Magistrates Court in 1984. Second from the left is Liz Yates. This Court which closed in 2006 was often the court where those who were arrested for nonviolent protests against nuclear weapons were called to defend their actions.

We became familiar with the magistrates there and no doubt they became familiar with our arguments and our positions. Many were sent to prison from that Court for these protests and many were fined or “bound over to keep the peace”. That required signing a form to affirm protests would cease. If the defendant refused a sentence of seven days might be given and if fines were not paid a similar sentence might be given at a later time.

We call to mind and pray for Liz Yates whose vision of a nuclear free world we shared together. She had spent many years in Pakistan as a Franciscan missionary and midwife. She too witnessed in prison for a nuclear-weapons free world. The second photo is Liz with Sarah Hipperson and Carmel Martin on an Ash Wednesday service outside the Ministry of Defence. We call to mind Liz Yates and her special witness to serve the poor and work for peace.

May Liz rest in peace and rise in glory.

Obituary: Sarah Hipperson

Sarah Hipperson was a founder member of Catholic Peace Action and a Greenham Common women peace activist at Yellow Gate for 17 years

Sarah Hipperson died at the age 91 on 15 August 2018, an important date in the Catholic calendar which association would have given Sarah great joy. She is most importantly remembered as arguably one of the most committed Greenham women peace activists who from 1983 to 2000 lived at Greenham Common Yellow Gate and watched its transformation from an RAF military base to an American nuclear cruise missile base to an open common for the public including a memorial peace garden. She was born in 1927 in Glasgow and her early life was disrupted by the separation of her parents when she and all her siblings were sent into care under the supervision of the Sisters of Charity in Glasgow. She recalls her time under the Catholic nuns’ supervision with affection and her First Communion day with special joy. There is no doubt that from an early time her faith was a most important force in her life and which gave her a sense of identity and value as an individual which was to be an important part of her self confidence in all the struggles that were to follow.

Her formal education was limited and when she applied to join the nursing school in Eastern District Hospital Duke Street Glasgow the matron initially refused her entry on the grounds that she had not completed the necessary educational requirements. Not to be put off by such obstructions from authority even at that early age she argued her case with the matron saying that she should be given a chance and was finally accepted. She repaid the matron’s trust by winning the anatomy and physiology prize in her first year. She went on to qualify as a nurse midwife and to work in some of the poorest parts of Glasgow after further training as a district nurse. She had a great respect for how her very materially deprived patients coped with the harsh conditions of life in Glasgow during this time but her desire to travel and to see more of the world led her to apply to become a nurse in the army. She was however refused entry to the army when she failed the medical having what was to prove to be an insignificant heart murmur. One can only wonder how her life might have evolved if she had been then accepted into the army.

Her continual desire to travel led her to emigrate to Canada where she married and had five children. She returned to UK to London in 1969 where to all appearances she had a materially secure middle-class life and was even appointed a magistrate. Her experience on the magistrates’ bench proved to be a strain as her discordant voice in support for the often poor and inadequately represented defendants made her unpopular among her fellow justices of the peace. After a few years she finally resigned from the bench sensing that her presence was giving the legal process a legitimacy she could not support.

In the 80s as a parishioner of Our Lady of Lourdes Wanstead she became active in the Justice and Peace group and motivated by the Dr. Helen Caldecott film, Critical Mass, on the dangers of nuclear war she organised invitations to the local churches to a viewing of the film hoping to start discussions. She noted that in fact the usual response was horror and awareness followed by social paralysis. In 1982 she noticed an invitation by Dan Martin who was then the Justice and Peace worker for the Roman Catholic Diocese of Southwark to meet in the forecourt of Westminster Cathedral to discern a Catholic response to nuclear war preparations. This was to form the beginning of Catholic Peace Action and her first introduction to non-violent civil disobedience. At that time the Catholic Church’s teaching on nuclear deterrence was at the least ambiguous. The then Pope John Paul II’s address to the General Assembly of the United Nations in June 1982 gave a moral acceptance to nuclear deterrence as a step towards nuclear disarmament. To many in the Church this was taken as an endorsement of the policy or as was often termed loosely the “doctrine” of nuclear deterrence. Others in the Church saw this doctrine as a kind of heresy and there was no indication of nuclear disarmament. This was a time when the cold war was at its height. Mrs. Thatcher’s government then dominated the political scene, Mr. Heseltine the secretary of State for Defence was telling Parliament that protesters ran the risk of being shot and to be a peace activist often meant regular visits to court and sometimes jail for non-violent protests that were interpreted by the authorities as illegal. Greenham Common was designated to be the place where 96 nuclear cruise missiles, each with a capacity of 15 times that of the bomb at Hiroshima, would be stationed to counter the Soviet SS20 threat in the East. There was a general sense of uncertainty, the cold war political rhetoric was fierce and the introduction of these intermediate-range nuclear weapons made nuclear war more likely. The debate and division within the Catholic Church at this time was heated but respectful. Senior well known Catholic lay people in the Church and senior religious leaders took opposing views in public and while some developed a theology of nuclear deterrence others not only voiced and debated opposite views but advocated and took part in non-violent civil disobedience at military bases and at the Ministry of Defence London. To sustain people through the legal process and often jail time affinity groups which could be described as base Christian communities were set up among which Catholic Peace Action (CPA) was one in London and which Sarah became a founder member. Her first act of civil disobedience was carried out with this group and she described it as crossing an invisible line which marked out her commitment to no longer being a bystander.

In 1983 she moved to live at Greenham Common though continuing her discerning and support for Catholic Peace Action and their support for her. She attended their monthly meeting which focused on non-violent protests at the Ministry of Defence which often led to court cases and prison sentences.

The Imperial War Museum has recorded (oral history) an extensive oral history of Sarah’s story where she describes the harsh conditions of living in the mud of Greenham Common, the brutality of the bailiffs and police, her over 20 imprisonments, her numerous court appearances, her fasting which on one occasion lasted 31 days in Holloway Prison when she lost over 2 stone in weight. She records the moving experience of attending Mass on Sundays in Holloway Prison with the marginalised women whose faith was an inspiration.

She describes the grassroots non-violent spirituality of women and her confidence in the ultimate removal of the cruise missiles. She relates that the women at Greenham were neither saints nor sinners but were described by opponents as “bloody women” and she was proud of that description and that they were rooted in non-violence whatever faith tradition or none they claimed. She never hid her own Christian faith at Greenham and the unifying spirituality among them was the women’s non-violence and their anti-nuclear position and willingness to participate in protests that put them at risk of arrest.

Often social activist like Sarah never see the results of their struggle and it may be another generation that reaps the benefit but in the case of the Greenham Common women history gives them a visible definite legacy. In 1987 the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty was signed by Mr.Reagan and Mr. Gorbachev and soon after the cruise missiles were removed as were the SS20s from the East. The Ash Wednesday annual Pax Christi demonstration at the Ministry of Defence against nuclear weapons is a legacy that Sarah was happy to see in her lifetime and the Catholic Church is now no longer ambiguous about any “theology” of nuclear deterrence. The very possession of nuclear weapons is condemned with clarity at the highest level. Sarah was very aware that her prayer for a nuclear free world remained unanswered in her time, we still have much to do but considering one “bloody woman’s” contribution to the cause of non-violent peace building she will be to all who knew her an inspiration and a challenge.

The Glasgow nuns who were so instrumental in Sarah’s Catholic formation have a lot to answer for. May Sarah rest in the peace of Christ which in her life, at a great personal cost, she struggled to embody.

“Greenham: Non-violent Women-v-Crown Prerogative”

More about Sarah’s book

Sarah Hipperson’s oral history at the Imperial War Museum

Breaking the Bylaws

From the Greenham Newsletter, 1991. Text by Dido.

After the Cruise missiles had all been removed, there followed a long struggle between the Ministry of Defence, who wanted to retain the base, and the people of Newbury who were demanding the return of their common land.

The House of Lords returned their rights to the common land to the people of Newbury and in 1997 Newbury was able to buy back its common land from the Ministry of Defence for £7million. Two years later cattle were back grazing and the rights of the commoners were re-established. A memorial has been designed in memory of the Greenham Common peace women.

The 87-year-old, who was one of the last women to leave the camp, said: “It is 14 years since the memorial peace garden was opened to mark the commitment and determination of women in their efforts to make this world a more peaceful place.

“The garden was maintained by the peace women through a commemorative fund appeal. But the time has come to ask the owner of the site Greenham Common Trust to take over the management of the site which they have kindly agreed to.

“It is a fitting end to the protest. At the end of the day you have to put your differences aside and give things back to the community. Long after we are gone people will be saying: ‘What happened here?'”

The site represents the four elements of earth, fire, water and air and is planted with British species.

It includes a flame sculpture, which symbolizes the campfire, and a stone and steel spiral sculpture, engraved with the words “You can’t kill the Spirit”.

A tree was planted to mark the official handover.

Greenham Common Trust chief executive Chris Boulton said: “The Peace Garden marks an important part of the history of Greenham Common. The trust would like to thank Sarah and the other peace women for the upkeep of the garden and for asking us to manage it in the future.”

On July 12th [1991] Georgina and Jean won the Bye-laws Case in the House of Lords. The Greenham bylaws were declared illegal. Trespassing is no longer a criminal offence and women aren’t arrested anymore for going in.

Sarah Hipperson dies

Sarah Hipperson has died on this day, 15 August 2018, at the age of 90.

Sarah spent 17 years living at the Main Yellow Gate of Greenham Common protesting against the siting of 96 nuclear cruise missiles and was a founder member of Catholic Peace Action in 1982. Her non-violent protests resulted in over 20 imprisonments and numerous court appearances. She lived to see the removal of the nuclear cruise missiles from UK and the transformation of Greenham Common back to its original purpose for the common use of the public.

Update: Read her Obituary.

Homily for Franz Jagerstatter Memorial Service

This was delivered as the homily on 9 August 2018 in the Crypt Chapel of Westminster Cathedral London by Ray Towey for the Franz Jagerstatter Memorial Service arranged by Pax Christi


The story is simple, a peasant farmer in Austria is conscripted to fight for Hitler, refuses claiming being a Catholic and being a soldier in Hitler’s army is incompatible so they kill him to preserve military morale. In 1943 German military morale was in serious jeopardy. The battle of Stalingrad had been lost.

The German state needed men at the eastern front. Franz was isolated in the Church, in the village, in his country. To his knowledge then no-one had taken a stand like this. I use the word peasant farmer purposefully not so often used now about Franz, to us it has negative connotations but the Gospel writer is clear about what is a negative:

I thank you Father Lord of heaven and earth because you have hidden these things from the wise and learned and have revealed them to children. (Luke ch10: 21)

This Gospel passage is uneasy reading because ever since I entered formal education I have striven to be someone who is both wise and learned. To the Gospel writer that comfortable self-image or illusion was an obstacle that Franz did not have.

In 1982 I returned from 2 years in a mission hospital in Nigeria. The overwhelming experience of working as a doctor in Africa is watching helplessly the premature death of scores from diseases easily preventable by a little money or curable by modest means.

This remains the global injustice of our time, so the injustice of the Falklands invasion at that time was minor in comparison and I could see no need for further human sacrifice. There was enough premature death in the world, more than enough in Africa alone.

And so, the armada travelled to the South Atlantic to right the wrong bringing with it a military hospital well equipped and I thought why not just make a small detour and share a few drugs from the pharmacy, a few bottles from the blood bank, Nigeria is close by to the east. We won’t delay you long, but don’t forget Sierra Leone, Ghana, we have friends there too, and what harm if we do delay you long?

Even a child could see the need but the wise and learned had other plans.

There was worse to come. The cruise missiles in Greenham Common were an essential counter to the SS20s of the Soviets and the Pershing 2s in Europe would give us the superiority we needed to keep our Christian culture safe and the Church at the highest level then was ambiguous.

What was this doctrine of nuclear deterrence, a necessary modern moral relativism for the Church or a new heresy, is that too strong a word and who was for the burning? everyone? and so we asked, where do we stand and we made a stand and not like Franz, alone, but we were few. Like Dorothy Day we had the nerve to call ourselves Catholic and thereby Catholic Peace Action. We were non-violent but did not keep the law and counted jail time as a duty or was it a spiritual pride in the new indulgences? were we the orthodox or the heterodox? Time would tell.

We added our small voice to others in and out of the Church. We shared with a few of our own bishops but at the time like Franz were not affirmed and learnt how to be strangers in our communities, our Church and country which we loved. But let me not forget Bishop Gumbleton from Detroit and Pax Christi who wrote us a good character witness letter for our bad disobedient behaviour which we copied for the court, usually to no avail, so unlike Franz we were not alone but we were few.

Fr. Daniel Berrigan has a reflection on Franz written some years before Franz’s beatification:

“As for Franz he will not go away, he will not go away from the Church that sent him on his way alone.

His way, which should have been the way of the Church.

So he lingers half unwelcome……….”

After the war Franz’s name was added to the memorial in his parish cemetery of those who had died for Austria but it was secretly erased. For some in his village his name was most unwelcome.

In his own diocese of Linz 40 priests were sent to concentration camps and 11 died. In the Archdiocese of Vienna which was twice the size of Linz 9 priests were sent to concentration camps and 1 died. There was resistance in the Church to the Nazi regime but it was thin and patchy. One of his parish priests had been banned from the parish by the regime for delivering an anti-Nazi sermon and even he advised him accept the conscription, he saw his bishop who advised the same.

When the wise and learned advised him to fight for Hitler was he choosing the way of suicide? This was his terrible deep spiritual anguish.

When he was transferred to the Berlin prison he met with the prison chaplain who related to him the case of an Austrian priest Fr.Reinisch who had refused to take the oath to Hitler and was executed a year before. Fr.Reinisch had been conscripted to the medical corps but still refused the oath stating that he opposed the Nazi world view which had resulted in murder, the elimination of the mentally disabled, forced sterilisation, the illegal annexation of Austria. The chaplain relates that Franz breathed a sigh of relief and was greatly encouraged and said, “l can’t be on the wrong path after all, if even a priest has decided the same and has gone to his death for it then it’s all right for me to do it too.”

I think this was the first time he had heard of anyone refusing conscription for Christian reasons and it suggests that even at this late stage he was still in need of more support that his stand was correct and not a suicide.

After the war the search for justice began but there were to be dispensations, if you had the secrets of the VI and V2 rockets there was an amnesty. The learned and the wise needed you, and a new and comfortable life in the West or the East guaranteed. These wonderous Nazi indiscriminate weapons of terror had their uses. The VI became cruise missiles and the V2 ballistic missiles, just add a nuclear warhead when required.

And so… Coventry, Hamburg, Dresden, Hiroshima, Nagasaki….we know who won the battles but who won the values?

In 1941 while doing his military service after his second call up Franz writes, “Ybbs is a beautiful town.. there’s quite a large mental asylum here, which used to be full of patients but now probably even the mad have become sane, because there are no longer very many of them in the asylum. My dear wife there must be some truth in what you told me once about what’s happening to these people.

Franz and Franziska Jagerstatter
Franz and Franziska Jagerstatter

In May 1943 Franziska writes to Franz of the sudden death of a disabled child who had been put in a home for the disabled. Hundreds of thousands of disabled children, psychiatric patients, mentally disabled adults, Downs syndrome children were killed during the war. Bishop von Galen of Munster was a vociferous opponent of this Action T4 euthanasia programme and was placed under virtual house arrest in 1941.

In Europe these days Downs syndrome is becoming a rarity. For them we have developed our own final solution.

And what of us? The state may not need us in uniform but it still needs our obedience or is it just our silence?

But now it will never be so hard because we have Franz. Thank you, Franz from the bottom of my heart for making my small journey clearer, less lonely, more loyal, more forgiving and with no place for bitterness.

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