Commemoration of the 81st anniversary of the death of Father Maximilian Kolbe
Eighty-one years ago, the Franciscan friar Maximilian Maria Kolbe was murdered in German Nazi concentration and extermination camp Auschwitz. On the anniversary of the event, a mass was celebrated at the Memorial, near Block 11, which housed the camp prison and where the monk was murdered.
It was attended by Auschwitz survivor Zdzisława Włodarczyk, representatives of the state, church and local government authorities, and employees of the Memorial. The Bishop of the Bielsko-Żywiec diocese, Roman Pindel, presided over the Mass.
“Both Golgotha in Jerusalem and the Death Block here at Auschwitz, where we find ourselves today, are, on the one hand, places of death, arousing horror and thoughts of man's wickedness and expected justice, but on the other hand, they are places where love is expressed. In the case of Golgotha, we are referring to Jesus' love for every human being. On the part of man and the Son of God at the same time, and to man, or towards man of the whole world and of all times (...) Hence Maximilian is a martyr of love. The love that makes a person willing to give his life for another, an unknown person“, Bishop Roman Pindel said during his homily.
“Saint Maximilian, a follower of Jesus, up to his voluntary death, stands up and fights for the right to life of a man who is needed by his family, wife, and children“, the bishop added.
During the ceremony, flowers were laid at the Wall of Death in the courtyard of Block 11 and at the camp's roll-call square where, on 29 July 1941, Maximilian Kolbe sacrificed his life for a fellow prisoner, Franciszek Gajowniczek. The church hierarchy and Franciscans also prayed in cell 18 in the basement of block 11, where St Maximilian was murdered.
The Archbishop of Bamberg, Ludwig Schick, also relayed his message to the gathering. “Saint Maximilian Kolbe is the initiator of the Polish-German reconciliation (...) and remains its initiator to this day. He urges us not to discontinue the work of reconciliation accomplished, and to continue doing so. Kolbe urges Germans and Poles not to forget Christian brotherhood and good neighbourliness. Build solidarity and peace for a peaceful future in Europe and the world“.
The relevance of education in the context of the commemoration was stressed by Andrzej Kacorzyk, deputy director of the Auschwitz-Birkenau State Museum. “Today's solemn ceremony in honour of Fr Maximilian Kolbe will strengthen interest in the history of the presence and deeds of the Franciscan friar in the German Nazi camp of Auschwitz, and thus the fate of hundreds of thousands of victims. It is essential - also for the educational perspective of the Memorial - to constantly emphasise the value of human life and respect for others and their right to dignity“, Kacorzyk stressed.
In connection with the 81st anniversary of the death of the Franciscan friar, a podcast has been published that discusses the arrest, incarceration in Auschwitz, the sacrifice of life and the death of Maximilian Kolbe.
On the Auschwitz-Birkenau State Museum website, the online lesson "Christian fate and religious life in KL Auschwitz" is also available in Polish and English. - The lesson presents profiles of priests, seminarians, nuns, and clergy of other Christian churches imprisoned by the Germans in 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 led in the camp by prisoners at the risk of 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 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.