There are a few 'inspirational' stories that I found in Auschwitz. One of them is about a Polish priest. For the past several posts, there have been photos of hundreds of prisoners who died here, and it seems fairly easy to scroll past those faces, and in a few minutes, forget about them. But, when those faces have a name and a story . . . well, that face is not so easy to forget.
Maximilian Kolbe was a Polish Conventual Franciscan friar most famous for volunteering to die in place of a stranger here.
In 1912 he was sent to Kraków, and in the same year to a college in Rome, where he studied philosophy, theology, mathematics, and physics. He earned a doctorate in philosophy in 1915 at the Pontifical Gregorian University, and the doctorate in theology in 1919 at the Pontifical University of St. Bonaventure. During his time as a student, he witnessed vehement demonstrations against Popes St. Pius X and Benedict XV in Rome and was inspired to organize the Militia Immaculata, or Army of Mary, to work for conversion of sinners and the enemies of the Catholic Church through the intercession of the Virgin Mary. The Immaculata friars utilized the most modern printing and administrative techniques in publishing catechetical and devotional tracts, a daily newspaper with a circulation of 230,000 and a monthly magazine with a circulation of over one million. While he was highly regarded for his devotion to the Catholic Church, some of his writings had an unsettling anti-Semitic sentiment.
Between 1930 and 1936 , he took a series of missions to Japan, where he founded a monastery at the outskirts of Nagasaki, a Japanese paper, and a seminary. The monastery he founded remains prominent in the Roman Catholic Church in Japan. Kolbe decided to build the monastery on a mountain side that, according to Shinto beliefs, was not the side best suited to be in tune with nature. When the atomic bomb was dropped on Nagasaki, Kolbe’s monastery was saved because the blast of the bomb hit the other side of the mountain, which took the main force of the blast. Had Kolbe built the monastery on the preferred side of mountain as he was advised, his work and all of his fellow monks would have been destroyed.
Even though he may have been criticized for his anti-Semitic writings, during the World War II he provided shelter to refugees from Greater Poland, including 2,000 Jews whom he hid from Nazi persecution in his friary in Niepokalanów. He was also active as a radio amateur, with Polish call letters SP3RN, vilifying Nazi activities through his reports.
In July 1941 a man from Kolbe’s barracks vanished, prompting SS-Hauptsturmführer Karl Fritzsch, the deputy camp commander, to choose men from the same barracks to be placed in one of the camps starvation cells to die in order to deter further escape attempts.
This action was based on the Nazi's "Doctrine of Collective Responsibility."
One of the selected men, Franciszek Gajowniczek, cried out, lamenting his family and who would take care of his wife and children. Kolbe volunteered to take his place.
During the time in the cell, Kolbe led the men in songs and prayer. After several weeks of dehydration and starvation, only Kolbe and three others were still alive. (Some reports say Kolbe was the only survivor.) The story of his survival spread throughout the camp, and Kolbe became an inspiration to the other prisoners. To squelch the hope he had given others, the Nazis executed him by a lethal injection of carbolic acid.
It is reported that the man who had disappeared was later found drowned in the camp latrine.
Father Kolbe was beatified as a confessor by Pope Paul VI in 1971 and was canonized by Pope John Paul II on October 10, 1982 in the presence of Franciszek Gajowniczek, the man who he took the place of to go into that starvation cell. Upon canonization, the Pope declared St. Maximilian Kolbe not a confessor, but a martyr.