Commemoration of the 79th anniversary of the death of Father Maximilian Kolbe
79 years ago, Father Maximilian Maria Kolbe, a Franciscan, was killed at the Auschwitz concentration and extermination camp. The anniversary was commemorated at the Memorial.
This year, events commemorating the martyrdom of Saint Maximilian Maria Kolbe at KL Auschwitz differed from those held in the past. In connection with the coronavirus pandemic, pilgrimages to former German Nazi concentration and extermination camp Auschwitz-Birkenau were cancelled. Upon the decision of the ordinary of the Bielsko-Żywiec diocese, Holy Mass was celebrated at the same time in three different churches – the Franciscan church in Harmęże, Saint Maximilian Church in Oświęcim as well as the Our Lady of Succor to the Faithful Salesian Church in Oświęcim.
“Since the end of the war 75 years ago, Reconciliation, Unity and Peace won in Europe, in particular between Poland and German. But Unity and Peace are always a fragile and constant mission. We feel it this year. As a result of this, the European Union is going through the final test. A lot of new nationalisms are a fact in European countries, tensions between nations are growing. We feel that the achievements of Unity and Peace are threatened and we need to protect them with all our might. Maximilian Kolbe can help us in this. For this reason it is so important to celebrate it this year”, said Ludwig Schick, the Archbishop of Bamberg.
“Dear Sisters and Brothers! We cannot allow this, in connection with the future of us all! We will not live a good, human life unless it is shaped in the Spirit of Jesus Christ. Gospel of the love of God, of neighbour, just as Jesus Christ had represented it and taught us, is the guarantee of Unity and Peace. Maximilian Kolbe sacrificed his life for Christ’s message and calls us all to do the same, or at least be ready for it”, the archbishop added.
After ceremonial masses, three delegations visited the Memorial in order to lay flowers under the Death Wall and Saint Maximilian’s death cell. The hierarchs and Franciscans also prayed in cell 18 in the basement of Block 11, where Saint Maximilian was murdered.
“The representatives of different religions who come to the Memorial belong to those who are particularly moved by the Auschwitz crime performed under the sky that we all share. August 14th is a special day when, while recalling the scene of selection of the innocent during a punitive roll call of July 29th 1941, we refer it to such notions as terror, absolute hatred, but most of all courage, love and hope. We often hear the question on their meaning from visitors as well as during in-depth classes and discussions at the International Center for Education about Auschwitz and the Holocaust”, said Andrzej Kacorzyk, ICEAH Director.
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 doctorate in the sciences, and was also ordained a priest. He returned to Poland in 1919. In 1927, he founded the monastery of the Immaculate Mother of God and a publishing house near Warsaw. He was also a missionary in Japan.
On May 28, 1941, he was imprisoned at the Auschwitz concentration camp. Two months later he offered his life for Franciszek Gajowniczek, designated by the SS to death by starvation in reprisal for the escape of one of the prisoners. He died on 14 August 1941, murdered by an injection of phenol in the basement of the so-called Block of Death.
He was beatified by Pope Paul VI in 1971, and was canonized by his Holiness Pope John Paul II on October 10, 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.
“Christian fate and religious life in KL Auschwitz” - 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 Blesseds, 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, while risking their lives.