The Saint of Auschwitz: Maximilian Kolbe

Auschwitz-saints

Maximilian Kolbe was born on January 8, 1894 in Poland. His parents, Julius Kolbe and Maria Dabrowska named him Rajmund Kolbe. Kolbe had one older brother named Francis and two younger brothers named Joseph and Walenty, Unfortunately, neither Joseph or Walenty lived until five years old. When Kolbe was twenty, his father was captured by the Russians. Kolbe’s father was fighting for a partially free Poland which was under Russian control.

In 1907, Kolbe and his older brother joined the Conventual Franciscans. In 1911, Kolbe changed his first name from Rajmund to Maximilian. Seven years later, he was ordained as a priest. During World War II, Kolbe hid an approximated amount of 2,000 Jews. On February 17 in 1941 Kolbe was arrested by the Gestapo and imprisoned. Three months later he was sent to Auschwitz as #16670.  

Sometime between May and August in 1941, a man went missing. The German custom with missing prisoner was that for every prisoner not present, ten men would be starved. A man named Franciszek Gajowniczek was picked to be starved. As the guards gathered the group, Gajowniczek sobbed over his family. This prompted Kolbe to offer to take his place. Kolbe convinced the guards to let Gajowniczek stay in the camp and let him take his place to die. The ten prisoners were then held in a cell and left to die. By the end of three weeks, Kolbe and two other men still lived. The guards then injected carbolic acid into these remaining prisoners.

For this heroic deed, Kolbe is known as the Saint of Auschwitz and he was canonized by Pope John Paul II on October 10, 1982. Kolbe is the patron saint of drug addicts, political prisoners, families, journalists, prisoners, and pro-life movements. Pope John Paul II named Kolbe “The Patron Saint of Our Difficult Era”.

When I first heard the story of Maximilian Kolbe was surprised. In Night by Elie Wiesel, Wiesel tells of man who keeps his promises in Hitler because God has stopped keeping His promises. Thousands of Jews lost their faith in God in the Holocaust. Recently, I hear of men and women who kept their faith in God. Whoever carved the words “I believe in the sun even though it doesn’t shine, I believe in love even when it isn’t shown, I believe in God even when He doesn’t speak” has faith with magnitude. These few people who put their faith in God in the most violent and murderous era has caused me to wonder about my faith. If people who went through the Holocaust have faith, what is making me stumble? Kolbe was an example of Jesus’ work on Earth. Like Kolbe, Jesus died in someone else’s place. 

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