The Sixty-Fifth Anniversary of the Outbreak of the Second World War


The Fraternal General Chapter and International Formation Directors Meeting of the Friars Minor Conventual, the Franciscan order, ended its two-week session with mass in front of Block no. 11 at the site of the Nazi Auschwitz camp. The Minister General, Friar Joachim Giermek, a Polish American, said mass for nearly 200 friars from 39 countries. Giermek is the first of the 118 Ministers General of the Franciscans over the course of their 800-year history to have Polish roots.

In his sermon, Friar Joachim said that the Franciscans wanted to come to Auschwitz to bear witness against everything it represents. “We are doing so on this very day, September 1, the 65th anniversary of the outbreak of the Second World War, the beginning of a world conflict that reached its culmination in this place,” he said. “We want to convey the Christian message that shows the evangelical sense of brotherhood and solidarity.”

Friar Joachim stressed in his homily that “too many of our Jewish brothers and sisters, as well as our Christian brothers and sisters, lost their lives in Auschwitz.” He went on to say that “we weep together with our Jewish brothers and sisters and thank them for remembering and reminding others about what was done here.”

Friar Joachim stated that many Jews had lost their faith in God as a result of the tragedy they lived through. “This happened, in part, as a result of the actions of some people who called themselves Christians, but who did not live by their baptismal vows.”

There were also Christian participants in the drama of Auschwitz who lost their faith in God and man for the same reason. However, Friar Joachim stressed that, for many people, the Auschwitz events served as a signal for accepting anew the Gospel and authentic Christian principles.

The Minister General of the Franciscans referred to the figure of St. Maksymilian Kolbe, who perished in the camp. “We Franciscans remember in a special way our brother Maksymilian Kolbe, who died a martyr’s death for the sake of his neighbor, disregarding his own good and his own rights, even the right to life. In this way, he expressed the supreme law of love: the right to love and to be loved. Only love is creative,” said Friar Joachim. “All hatred is deadly.”

The Franciscan General Fraternal Chapter of Ministers Provincial and Provincial Custodes and the International Congress of Formation Directors met in Poland for the first time in their history, and debated the most important challenges facing the Franciscan order at the beginning of the twenty-first century.

The Franciscans are a Roman Catholic fraternal order founded in 1209 by Saint Francis of Assisi (1182-1226). In 1223, Pope Honorius III confirmed the Rule of Saint Francis, and the brothers officially adopted the name of Friars Minor. They preach the need for poverty and love of one’s neighbor. The Franciscans have existed in Poland since 1237. The Friars Minor are now present in 73 countries around the world. Of the 4,500 friars, 1,150 are Poles.

(see (PAP)/szf/Bielsko-Biała, September 1, 2004)

Ceremonies Marking the 65th Anniversary of the Outbreak of the Second World War Held at Westerplatte and Wieluń.

Westerplatte: Roll Call of the Fallen

The main observances on the Polish seacoast began at Westerplatte at 4:45 AM. In the name of the government, Premier Marek Belka paid tribute to the defenders of Westerplatte and others who fought for Polish independence during the Second World War. Archbishop Tadeusz Gocłowski, the metropolitan of Gdańsk, prayed for the intention of the defenders. The roll call of the fallen was also read out, and flowers placed at the monument to the Defenders of the Coast.

Wieluń: The Sirens Sounded

The Polish commemoration of the 65th anniversary of the outbreak of the Second World War began with a flight of aircraft over this town as a reminder of the air raid by the Luftwaffe. The first bombs of the war fell on Wieluń a few minutes before the bombardment of Westerplatte on September 1, 1939. There was no military presence in the city, which was completely undefended. The 16,000 residents were sound asleep.

During the observances in Wieluń, Aleksander Kwaśniewski recalled how German bombs fell on the sleeping, undefended inhabitants of the town 65 years ago. The hospital was bombed despite having the Red Cross symbol painted on its roof. The air raid claimed 1,200 civilian victims.

President Kwaśniewski stressed that the Poles were the first to put up such decisive opposition to the expansion of fascism. He added that “we made it plain to the Third Reich that we would not yield to their demands, even if we paid the highest price for the defense of our honor.” He said that the role of Polish soldiers during the Second World War merits the highest admiration. “We express great acknowledgement to you, honored veterans, for the lasting glory with which you covered the uniform of the Polish soldier. We thank you for your efforts and for the blood you shed. I bow low before the ashes of your comrades who placed the supreme sacrifice, their own lives, on the altar of the homeland.”

President Kwaśniewski emphasized that Poland and Germany now share stronger bonds than at any time in the past thousand years. “We are partners in the European Union and allies in NATO,” he said. “Relations between us inspire dialogue and trust. We are working together to assure peace and stabilization in Europe.” Kwaśniewski suggested that “the vision of a united continent could not come true” without reconciliation and partnership between Poland and Germany.

President Kwaśniewski unveiled a plaque commemorating the air raid on Wieluń. The inscription reads “September 1: World War II began with an attack on Wieluń by the German Luftwaffe.”

During the attack on the seven-centuries-old city, 1,200 people died. The Nazis bombed the hospital despite the fact that there was a Red Cross symbol on the roof; forty people, mostly patients and staff, died. German aircraft also bombed the landmark collegiate church and nearly completely destroyed the center of town.

pi, IAR
September 1, 2004, © Agora S.A. (abridged by jarmen)

The Minister General of the Order of Friars Minor Conventual, Fr. Joachim Giermek , celebrates mass at the Death Block.
The Minister...