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75th Anniversary of the Martyrdom of St. Maximilian Kolbe


About 2,000 people participated in the events commemorating St. Maximilian Kolbe murdered 75 years ago, on August 14, 1941, at the German Nazi concentration and extermination camp Auschwitz.

On the anniversary of these events, a Holy Mass was celebrated at the Death Block by the Metropolitan bishop of Cracow Cardinal Stanisław Dziwisz. The events were attended by Prime Minister of Poland Beata Szydło, bishops, priests and nuns, as well as parliamentarians and representatives of the local authorities. The guests of honour were the family members of Maximilian Kolbe and former prisoners of Auschwitz.


- Maximilian, by giving his life for a fellow man, has become a symbol of the spiritual heroism of man - said Franciscan father Jarosław Zachariasz in the sermon. - Today, despite the passage of 75 years, we know that Auschwitz has brought with it unprecedented experience, created situations previously unknown, the toughest of all, difficult to describe morally, untold, and unexpected in historical patterns of courage and Holiness – said father Zachariasz.

- The frightening novelty about Auschwitz lied, however, in the numbers. (...) Humans beings died in a crowd and in a hurry, anonymously, marked with multi-figure numbers, undetected, killed not by cruelty, but to make room for others. It could seem that it did not matter how he dies: heroically or in humiliation, since no one was to find out. The heroism in Auschwitz was a heroism in a small number of large numbers – stressed father Jarosław Zachariasz.

The Archbishop of Bamberg Ludwig Schick addressed the assembly with words of greetings. He stressed that as every German, he comes to Auschwitz with a heavy heart. - Here, as nowhere else you can see what we, Germans, did to the Jews, Poles, Roma, as well as other Nations because of their origin, nationality, religion. Regardless of that, after 1945, Auschwitz has become a place of forgiveness, reconciliation, mutual understanding of nations and friendship. (...) Without reconciliation in Auschwitz there cannot be any reconciliation between the nations of Germany, Poland and others - said the German cleric.

- Let us strive to make this reconciliation (...) develop permanently, so that these Nations that are close geographically, morally and politically, become very close to each other, stressed the Archbishop of Cracow, Cardinal Stanisław Dziwisz at the end of the mass. - So that we can fight for reconciliation and peace in the world, peace, which at the moment is at risk. The model of this reconciliation that fight for peace is father Maximilian Kolbe, as was said by John Paul II. They preached love, love also for the enemy. These words from a letter from the bishops are very important and need to be remembered. “We forgive and ask for forgiveness.” We speak different languages, (...) but are united by one language, the language of love, the language of the Gospel – this is what father Maximilian Kolbe has taught us, stressed Cardinal Dziwisz.

The liturgy was celebrated near the hunger cell in Block 11, in which 75 years ago father Maximilian Kolbe was murdered, and was the highlight of the anniversary celebrations. A group of pilgrims arrived at the former camp before the mass from the St. Maximillian Franciscan Centre in Hamęże and from the St. Maximillian Church in Oświęcim.

During the anniversary celebrations, flowers and grave candles were laid against the Wall of Death in the courtyard of Block 11, as well as on the camp assembly ground, where on 29 July 1941 Maximilian Kolbe sacrificed his life for a fellow inmate Franciszek Gajowniczek. Prayers were also said in the hunger cell in Block 11.

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 of Niepokalanów and a publishing house near Warsaw. He was also a missionary in Japan.

On May 28, 1941, he was imprisoned in Auschwitz concentration camp. Two months later, he offered his life for Franciszek Gajowniczek, designated by the SS men to death by starvation in reprisal for the escape of one of the prisoners. He died on 14 August 1941, murdered by with phenol injectionin the basement of the so-called Block of Death.

He was beatified by Pope Paul VI in 1971, and was canonized by 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 clergy and religious life at Auschwitz” - online lesson presenting the priests and clerics, nuns, and clergy of other Christian churches are imprisoned by the Germans in Auschwitz. It also describes stories of later Saints and Blesseds, among others St Maximilian Kolbe and Teresa Benedicta of the Cross (Edith Stein). The lesson also shows various aspects of religious life in the camp, run by the prisoners, risking their lives.

The lesson is available in Polish and English language.