Father Maximillian Kolbe was a Polish priest who died in the Nazi death camp Auschwitz during the Second World War. His story is one of inspiring sacrifice. When Germany invaded Poland in 1939 Father Kolbe knew the firary would be seized and sent most of the friars home. With the aid of a few remaining friars he turned the resources of the friary to providing shelter for 3,000 refugees, including 2,000 Jews. He was imprisoned and released, but was not deterred. He continued to provide shelter for refugees, until May 1941 when the Nazis closed down the friary and sent Kolbe and his four fellow priests to Auschwitz.
At Auschwitz Kolbe continued his sacrificial ways. The prisoners were slowly and systematically starved, so when food was brought everyone struggled to get their portion. Father Kolbe however, made a practise of standing aside until the others had been fed, often meaning there was nothing left for him. When he did receive a portion he was often found sharing it with others.
But Father Kolbe’s love reached its greatest heights in July 1941. In order to discourage escape attempts the camp had a rule that 10 men would be killed for every person that escaped. After a man from Kolbe’s bunker escaped the rest of the men were led out to face Commander Karl Fritsch. Ten men were selected to be placed in the starvation bunker. One of them, Franciszek Gajowniczek, broke down in sobs. “My poor wife! My poor children! What will they do?”
At this, Father Kolbe stepped forward, took off his cap, stood before the commandant and said, “I am a Catholic priest. Let me take his place. I am old. He has a wife and children.”
The Commandant was astounded. “What does this Polish pig want?” he asked.
Father Kolbe pointed to Franciszek and again made his request. “I am a Catholic priest from Poland. I would like to take his place, because he has a wife and children.”
The Commandant remained silent for a minute, then agreed to Father Kolbe’s request. Franciszek Gajowniczek was returned to the ranks and Father Kolbe took his place. The ten condemned men were led off to Building 13, where they were left without food or water until they starved to death. After four weeks four of the men were still alive, Father Kolbe one of them. As the Nazis needed the chamber for more victims the four were put to death by lethal injection. And so on August 14, 1941 at the age of 47 years, Father Kolbe finally died, having given his life for Franciszek Gajowniczek. Franciszek survived the war and lived to the age of 95. He never forgot Father Kolbe or telling people of his heroic love.
Father of Kolbe of course, was following the example set for him by his Lord Jesus Christ. Just as Christ laid down his life four us, so Father Kolbe laid down his life for his brother.
Source: Information on Father Kolbe obtained from “The Holocaust” website (www.auschwitz.dk).