80th anniversary of death of Father Maximilian Kolbe
Father Maximilian Maria Kolbe, a Franciscan, was killed in the German Nazi Auschwitz concentration and extermination camp 80 years ago. The anniversary of this event was commemorated at the Memorial.
Due to the Covid-19 pandemic, this year the events commemorating Saint Maximilian Maria Kolbe’s martyrdom at KL Auschwitz differed from those organized in the past. The Eucharist in honour of Saint Maximilian was celebrated simultaneously at Franciscans church in Harmęże as well as in Saint Maximilian’s Church in Oświęcim.
The Holy Mass that gathered the representatives of church authorities, the Parliament, government and local self-government authorities was celebrated at Saint Maximilian’s Church in Oświęcim and presided over by Ludwig Schick, the Archbishop of Bamberg.
In the Homily, Priest Marek Studenski said: “No one of the young gathered here is a camp Survivor, we do not even have the right to guess how one could feel in this place, what people’s decisions, nightmares and tragedies could be. But on the other hand, such individuals as for example Saint Maximilian prove that it was possible to reach the heights of humanity, that a human is capable of great victories. We gather here today thanks to Saint Maximilian. Fortunately, thank God, the Museum for us constitutes only the Memorial. Looking at Saint Maximilian one can reach the conclusion that it is possible to win, to fight over the suffering. One is even able to, while carrying their own insupportable cross, serve the other and even lift their spirits”.
“One can ask the question what helped Saint Maximilian survive the camp bearing witness of utmost love that lays down the life for friends. He was the man who cooperated with grace”, he added.
“In order to commemorate the 80th anniversary of incarceration and martyrdom of Father Maximilian Maria Kolbe, a Franciscan, International Centre for Education about Auschwitz and the Holocaust at the Auschwitz Memorial, together with Saint Maximilian’s Center in Harmęże, organized the educational session entitled “Testimony” dedicated to Father Kolbe”, said Andrzej Kacorzyk, ICEAH Director.
“Christian fate and religious life in KL Auschwitz” is an online lesson presenting the priests and clerics, nuns, and clergy of other Christian churches imprisoned by the Germans in Auschwitz. It also describes stories of later Saints and the Blessed, including St Maximilian Kolbe and Teresa Benedicta of the Cross (Edith Stein). The lesson also presents various aspects of religious life led by the prisoners in the camp, risking their lives.
Rajmund Kolbe was born on 8 January 1894 in Zduńska Wola. In 1910, he joined the Order of Franciscan Friars in Lviv, where he received the name Maximilian. In 1912, he began his studies in philosophy and theology in Rome, obtaining his doctorates in the sciences, and was also ordained a priest. He returned to Poland in 1919. In 1927, he founded the monastery in Niepokalanów near Warsaw and a publishing house. He was also a missionary in Japan.
He was arrested in Niepokalanów on 17 February 1941, where he served as superior, guardian. After several months of investigation in the Pawiak prison in Warsaw he was transported to Auschwitz on 29 May 1941. When at the end of July, as retaliation for the escape of a prisoner, camp commander order to sentence 10 prisoners from the same block to death by starvation, one of the inmates, Franciszek Gajowniczek, begged to be saved for his wife and children. When Father Kolbe heard these words he stepped out of the line and offered to replace the inmate in despair. Karl Fritzsch, who was responsible for the selection, agreed and Father Kolbe joined the prisoners led to the basement of Block 11.
After two weeks, it was ordered to empty the cell. Most of the prisoners were already dead, but some of them, including Father Kolbe, were giving signs of life, so the SS officers decided to kill them with phenol injections.
He was beatified by Pope Paul VI in 1971, and was canonized by Saint John Paul II on 10 October 1982. In 1999, he was pronounced by the Pope as the honorary patron of blood donors. He is also the patron of the Diocese of Bielsko-Żywiec.