Radical Islamist units in Syria are sidelining more moderate groups that do not share the Islamists' goal of establishing a supreme religious leadership in the country. Special Report
Farmer beheaded by Nazis beatified in Austria
VIENNA (Reuters) - An Austrian farmer beheaded by the Nazis for refusing to serve in Hitler's army was beatified by the Roman Catholic Church on Friday in a ceremony attended by his 94-year-old widow.
Around 5,000 people joined 27 bishops and cardinals to honour Franz Jaegerstaetter, a devout Catholic who died in 1943, aged 37.
"He gave his life in mighty-hearted self-denial and with an upright conscience, in loyalty to the gospel and for the dignity of mankind," Pope Benedict wrote in a Latin message read out during the service in Linz.
His widow Franziska, visibly moved, carried a gold cylinder containing a relic (piece of bone) of her husband to the altar of the packed cathedral in the central Austrian city.
After the 1938 Nazi takeover of Austria, Jaegerstaetter, who lived in the Linz region with his wife and children, was drafted twice and completed his basic military training.
Both times the mayor of his hometown declared him indispensable at home. After returning for the second time, Jaegerstaetter vowed to reject further call-up orders.
When he was drafted again in February 1943, he belatedly reported to his designated unit and declared on arrival that he could not use a weapon on duty due to his beliefs.
He offered to serve as a medic. Jaegerstaetter was arrested as a conscientious objector and executed a month later in a military prison near Berlin.
His beatification followed that of Sister Maria Restituta, an Austrian nun and surgery nurse beheaded by the Nazis after being caught dictating the text of a satirical anti-Nazi song to a hospital secretary for wider distribution.
Historians said Jaegerstaetter's beatification showed Austria's Catholic church was coming to grips with its behaviour in 1938-45 when Austria was part of Germany's Third Reich.
"The church and the Nazi regime had a very ambivalent relationship," said Oliver Rathkolb, director of the Ludwig Boltzmann Institute for European History in Vienna.
"Following the so-called annexation (of Austria) in 1938 there was a very strong rapprochement and a symbolic acceptance of the Nazi regime within the Catholic church."
REVISITING THE PAST
Higher-ranking clerics remained mostly passive or sided with Nazi rule while some priests and other Catholics tried to resist, he said. Austria also provided a significant number of the top Nazi leaders including Hitler.
After World War Two, church officials took a low profile and avoided looking into its old Nazi links although a more honest attitude has emerged over the past 15 years, said Rathkolb.
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.
While widows of fallen soldiers received post-war pensions, Franziska Jaegerstaetter waited years because many Austrians treated her husband more as a deserter than a resistance figure.
She fought a drawn-out battle to receive support and recognition, an archives statement said.
"Wehrmacht deserters are still battling for recognition that they actually were anti-Nazi resistance fighters. This is a highly charged question in our society," Rathkolb said.
A decade ago, a Berlin court lifted the death sentence against Jaegerstaetter and said World War Two had not served the people but only the Nazis' hunger for power. Those resisting a crime could not be branded as criminals, it said.
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