Hitler's deserter cleared

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The Independent Online
Berlin (AP) - More than half a century after he was beheaded for desertion, a Catholic sexton was cleared by a Berlin court yesterday of a Nazi-era conviction for refusing to serve in Hitler's army.

Franz Jaegerstaetter, who was drafted after the annexation of his native Austria, sought to be excused for service in Hitler's army for religious reasons.

His appeal to be assigned non-combat duty was refused, and a field court sentenced him to death in July 1943 for treason. The Nazis executed numerous religious faithful who sought exemption from military service, or were singled out for other acts of resistance.

The Berlin court has been actively reviewing Nazi-era verdicts at the request of survivors, religious organisations or others, and last spring lifted convictions against three people.

Jaegerstaetter's widow petitioned the court to dismiss the conviction before the 90th anniversary of his birth, on 20 May.

The Catholic diocese in Linz, Austria has begun investigations necessary to beatify Jaegerstaetter, a step toward sainthood.