Maximilian Kolbe was a Polish Priest who lived during the second world war. During the time the Nazis were rounding up Jewish people and taking them off to concentration camps. Here they made them work, starved them, tortured them and eventually killed them.
Kolbe used his Church to shelter over 2000 Jews from the Nazis and ran his own private, yet illegal, radio station speaking out against the Nazis. On 17 February 1941, he was arrested by the German Secret Police – the Gestapo - and sent to Pawiak prison before being transferred to Auschwitz as prisoner #16670.
In July 1941 a man from Kolbe's barracks vanished. The Nazi camp commander, picked 10 men from the same barracks to be starved to death in Block 13 (notorious for torture). This was to deter further escape attempts. (The man who had disappeared was later found drowned in the camp latrine.)
One of the men who was selected was FranciszekGajowniczek. Upon selection he cried out: “My poor wife! My poor children! What will they do?” Kolbe offered himself instead. “I am a Catholic priest from Poland; I would like to take his place, because he has a wife and children. ”
During the time in the cell Kolbe led the men in songs and prayer. After three weeks of dehydration and starvation, only Kolbe and three others were still alive. He encouraged others that they would soon be with Mary in heaven. He provided the prisoners with great hope. Each time the guards checked on him he was standing or kneeling in the middle of the cell and looking calmly at those who entered, while the others lay moaning and complaining, on the ground around him. He was killed with an injection of carbolic acid. Some who were present at the injection say that he raised his left arm and calmly waited for the injection.
Maximilian Kolbe was canonized (declared a Saint) by Pope John Paul II on 10 October 1982 in the presence of FranciszekGajowniczek and his family. 1979 Pope John Paul II lays flowers in the cell where Father Kolbe was murdered. FranciszekGajowniczek died in 1995 in Poland aged 95 – and 53 years after Kolbe had saved him.
Maximilian Kolbe is one of the ten 20th Century Martyrs depicted in statues above the great West Door of Westminster Abbey London.
'I could only thank him with my eyes. I was stunned and could hardly grasp what was going on. The immensity of it: I, the condemned, am to live and someone else willingly and voluntarily offers his life for me - a stranger. Is this some dream?I was put back into my place without having had time to say anything to Maximilian Kolbe. I was saved. And I owe to him the fact that I could tell you all this. The news quickly spread all round the camp. It was the first and the last time that such an incident happened in the whole history of Auschwitz.For a long time I felt remorse when I thought of Maximilian. By allowing myself to be saved, I had signed his death warrant. But now, on reflection, I understood that a man like him could not have done otherwise. Perhaps he thought that as a priest his place was beside the condemned men to help them keep hope. In fact he was with them to the last.'‘ - FranciszekGajowniczek