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82nd anniversary of the death of Father Maximilian Kolbe


Father Maximilian Maria Kolbe, a Franciscan friar, was killed in the German Nazi concentration and extermination camp Auschwitz 82 years ago on August 14, 1941. The anniversary of this event was commemorated at the Memorial. A solemn Mass was celebrated at Block 11, which housed the camp prison and where the monk was murdered.

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Several hundred people attended the mass, including Zdzisława Włodarczyk, an Auschwitz survivor, bishops and priests, and representatives of the provincial government, local authorities and the faithful. Bishop Roman Pindel of Bielsko-Żywiec welcomed the pilgrims, and the Mass was presided over by Franciscan Bishop Tadeusz Kusy of the Central African Republic, who also delivered the homily.

Speaking about the patron saints of the Bielsko-Żywiec diocese, he emphasised the importance of Father Kolbe's figure: - a Conventual Franciscan, missionary, and martyr who gave his life for a fellow Auschwitz prisoner and was poisoned to death on 14 August 1941. Today we celebrate and commemorate his feast day in the Church and our diocese. Thus, we have convened today at the site of his martyrdom and death - he pointed out.

- He suffered an ordeal and was sentenced to death by starvation in a bunker. This is how God chose him.  What guided Father Maximilian throughout his life? The love of God and man - Bishop Kusy said in his homily.

For the 14th time, the commemoration of Father Kolbe was attended by Archbishop Ludwig Schick of Bamberg, who referred to contemporary events. - The commemoration of Maximilian Kolbe is being held for the second time since Russia's invasion of Ukraine. St. Maximilian Kolbe knows what war is and what war means for people, which is why he urges us today, in 2023, particularly those politically responsible, to do all in our power to restore a just and lasting peace in Ukraine, so the people will no longer have to suffer and refugees can return to their homeland - said Ludwig Schick.

During the anniversary ceremonies, flowers were laid at the Death Wall in the courtyard of Block 11 and at the camp's roll-call square at Block 17, where Maximilian Kolbe sacrificed his life for fellow inmate Franciszek Gajowniczek on 29 July 1941. The church hierarchy and Franciscans also prayed in cell 18 in the basement of Block 11, where St Maximilian was murdered.
He was born as Rajmund Kolbe on 8 January 1894 in Zduńska Wola, near Łódź. In 1910, he joined the Franciscan order in Lviv and was given the name Maximilian. In 1912, he began his philosophy and theology studies in Rome, earning doctorates in both disciplines and was ordained a priest. He returned to Poland in 1919. In 1927, he founded the Niepokalanów monastery and publishing house near Warsaw. He was also a missionary in Japan.

He was arrested at Niepokalanów on 17 February 1941, where he had served as superior and Prior. After several months of investigation in Warsaw's Pawiak prison, he was deported to Auschwitz on 29 May 1941. In the last days of July that year, following a prisoner's escape, the camp supervisor sentenced 10 inmates from the same unit to death by starvation in retaliation. Franciszek Gajowniczek, one of the accused, implored for mercy on behalf of his spouse and offspring. Hearing these words, Father Kolbe stepped out of line and approached the SS men with a proposal to take the place of the distraught prisoner. Karl Fritzsch, who carried out the selection, agreed, and Father Kolbe joined the other prisoners who were escorted to the cellar of Block 11.

After two weeks, an order was given to empty the cell. Most prisoners were already dead, but some still showed signs of life, among them Father Kolbe. Hence, the SS men decided to execute the surviving prisoners via phenol injections.

He was beatified by Pope Paul VI in 1971 and canonised by St John Paul II on 10 October 1982. In 1999, the Pope proclaimed him the patron saint of honorary blood donors. He is also a patron of the Bielsko-Żywiec diocese.

"Christian clergy and religious life at Auschwitz" - is an online lesson presenting profiles of priests and seminarians, nuns, and clergy of other Christian churches incarcerated by the Germans at Auschwitz. It also contains the stories of later saints and blesseds, including Fr Maximilian Kolbe and Teresa Benedicta of the Cross (Edith Stein). The lesson also highlights various aspects of religious life in the camp practised by prisoners at the risk of their lives. 

The lesson is available in English.

The profile of Father Kolbe is also presented in episode 23 of the podcast "On Auschwitz", while episode 31 addresses the fate of Christian clergy and religious life in KL Auschwitz.