Thursday, August 14, 2008

67 years ago

On this day in 1941, Father Maximilian Mary Kolbe died at Auschwitz. You may know his story, but it certainly bears repeating.

During World War II, the Polish priest sheltered refugees from his home nation, including 2,000 Jews, whom he hid from Nazi persecution. In February 1941 he was arrested by the Gestapo and imprisoned in Pawiak, and was later transferred to Auschwitz.

In July 1941 a man from Kolbe's barracks vanished, prompting the camp commander to pick 10 men from his barracks to be starved to death in the infamous Block 13. One of the selected men, Franciszek Gajowniczek, cried out, lamenting that he had a family.

Kolbe stepped forward and offered to take his place. 'I wish to die for this man.' The surprised commander asked him to identify himself. He simply answered, 'I am a Catholic priest.' He was allowed to take Gajowniczek’s place.

During the time in the cell he led the men in songs and prayer. After three weeks of dehydration and starvation, only Kolbe and three others were still alive. Finally he was murdered with an injection of carbolic acid and cremated in the ovens.

Father Kolbe was canonized by Pope John Paul II in 1982. Franciszek Gajowniczek attended the ceremony.

Lord, grant me St. Maximilian’s courage.

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