Tuesday, March 28, 2006

Maximilian Kolbe, a saint who would not stand idle as his brothers suffered


The story of Maximilian Kolbe is well known to Catholics, but I was not sure how well it is known to everyone else. I thought he was a good man to mention, since is a sign to us to do what we can for our brothers and sisters, no matter what differences we have.

When I was young my mother had alot of religious catalouges. I was looking though one and saw a book called No greater Love: The Story of St. Maximilian Kolbe. I aked my mother what it was and she looked and made a worried face. I was eight and she told me she would tell me some other time, but basically Father Kolbe had given his life for another.

When I grew up I realized that mom did not want to go into great detail because Fr. Kolbe had given his life at Auschwitz for one of ten men who were to be executed after another prisoner escaped. The can be difficult to explain the Holocaust to an eight year old.

St. Kolbe once wrote:

'No one in the world can change Truth'What we can do and should do is to seek truth and to serve it when we have found it. The real conflict is an inner conflict. Beyond armies of occupation and the hecatombs of extermination camps, there are two irreconcilable enemies in the depth of every soul: good and evil, love and sin. And what use are the victories on the battlefield if we ourselves are defeated in our innermost personal selves?'

When a prisoner escaped at Auschwitz ten were executed. As they chose the men to die that day, they chose a young married man. At that point, this is what happened:

Near the end of July, a prisoner apparently escaped, and men from Kolbe's bunker were paraded in the blazing midday sun, knowing what to expect. One man from each line was selected at random, including a sergeant, Francis Gajowniczek. He cried out in a despairing voice, "My wife, my children, I shall never see them again!" Then a man stepped out from the ranks and offered to take Gajowniczek's place. He was prisoner 16670, Father Maximilian Kolbe. The SS man, "Butcher" Fritsch, did not care who went to the Bunker, so long as there were ten of them, so he nodded. "Who are you?" he asked carelessly. "I am a Catholic priest. I wish to die for that man. I am old; he has a wife and children." Father Kolbe and the nine others were led off to the death chamber of Cell 18.

and what of the man who lived, Francis Gajowniczek?

Francis Gajowniczek, the man for whom Maximilian Kolbe gave his life, survived the war and was present at the 1971 beatification (blessing) ceremony of Father Kolbe. Gajowniczek died in 1995.

Links for info on St. Maximilian

My Hero Project
Patron Saint Index

4 comments:

erudit said...

David, thanks for telling us about this saint! His story reminds me of that of St. Maria of Paris:

"Sent to the notorious Ravensbrück women's concentration camp north of Berlin, Mother Maria managed to survive almost to the war's end, all the while caring for the bodies and souls of her fellow prisoners. In captivity she occasionally traded bread for needle and thread in order to embroider images which gave her strength. Her last work of art was an embroidered icon of Mary the Mother of God holding the child Jesus, his hands and feet already bearing the wounds of the Cross.

On Good Friday, March 31, 1945, with the gunfire of approaching Russian troops audible in the distance, Mother Maria took the place of a Jewish prisoner who was to be sent to the gas chamber and died her place.

'At the Last Judgment I shall not be asked whether I was successful in my ascetic exercises, nor how many bows and prostrations I made,' she had explained earlier in her life. 'Instead I shall be asked, Did I feed the hungry, clothe the naked, visit the sick and the prisoners. That is all I shall be asked.' "

Story of Mother Maria

Bent El Neel said...

Thanks David and Erudit. Those are vertainly beautiful stories and I'm glad I started my day with them (this blog is usually the first I visit every day because there's always a lovely saint story or picture)

I especially loved the quote by Father Kolbe about the truth. I'd like to quote that on my blog David, it's very timely actually :)

Just one question though, and forgive my ignorance here. I used to hear a lot of people saying that the Catholic church had to shoulder some blame for the Holocaust. Someone actually told me recently that the captive Jews used to be pushed into the concentration camps under the sign of the cross!!!

I found that very hard to come to terms with. Reading the stories you posted here, it's aparent that there were Catholic clergy in the camps as well. What is the origin of those claims about the guilt of the church then??

Egypeter said...

Hands down one of the best blogs on the net!!!!

You're the best Dave!

DavidNic said...

Good question about the claims of the guilt of the church.

Actually the origin of those stories is a play from 1963 by Rolf Hochuch's called "The Deputy" It was a very anti-Catholic play that started those rumors.

Until then it was accpeted that the pope has been one of the lone voices in Europe against what was going on.

There have been alot of books since then that debate the issue back and forth.

Some quotes from during the war and after:

"No keener rebuke has come to Nazism than from Pope Pius XI and his successor, Pope Pius XII."

* Rabbi Louis Finkelstein, chancellor, Jewish Theological Seminary of America in the New York Times, March, 1940.

"Pius XII took an unequivocal stand against the oppression of Jews throughout Europe."

* The 1943-1944 American Jewish Yearbook

"In the most difficult hours of which we Jews of Romania have passed through, the generous assistance of the Holy See…was decisive and salutary. It is not easy for us to find the right words to express the warmth and consolation we experienced because of the concern of the supreme pontiff, who offered a large sum to relieve the sufferings of deported Jews…. The Jews of Romania will never forget these facts of historic importance."

* Rabbi Alexander Safran, chief rabbi of Romania note to Monsignor Andrea Cassulo, Papal Nuncio to Romania, April 7, 1944

"The Church and the papacy have saved Jews as much and in as far as they could save Christians.... Six million of my co-religionists have been murdered by the Nazis, but there could have been many more victims, had it not been for the efficacious intervention of Pius XII."

* Dr. Raphael Cantoni, director of the Italian Jewish Assistance Committee, American Jewish Yearbook 1944-1945, 233.

"We share in the grief of humanity at the passing away of His Holiness Pope Pius XII. In a generation affected by wars and discords, he upheld the highest ideals of peace and compassion. When fearful martyrdom came to our people in the decade of Nazi terror, the voice of the Pope was raised for the victims. The life of our times was enriched by a voice speaking out on the great moral truths above the tumult of daily conflict. We mourn a great servant of peace."

* Golda Meir, Israeli Prime Minister, message of condolence to the Vatican, sent 1958.

"Hitler distrusted the Holy See because it hid Jews. The Germans considered the Pope as an enemy."

* Jewish historian Richard Breitman, professor at American University in Washington, D.C. Statement made in Italian newspaper "Corriere della Sera" on June 29, 2000.

"During the Nazi occupation of Rome, three thousand Jews found refuge at one time at the pope’s summer residence at Castel Gandolfo. Amazingly, Castel Gandolfo is never mentioned or discussed in the anti-papal writings of many of the pope’s critics. Yet at no other site in Nazi-occupied Europe were as many Jews saved and sheltered for as long a period as at Castel Gandolfo during the Nazi occupation of Rome. Kosher food was provided for the Jews hidden there, where, as George Weigel has noted, Jewish children were born in the private apartments of Pius XII, which became a temporary obstetrical ward."

* Rabbi David G. Dalin, Ph.D., July 29, 2005 interview with Dr. Thomas E. Woods.

In the end the Nazi's were so anti faith of any kind that amid their many crimes is the betrayal of the Christian history of Germany by horrible act beyond counting.

I think that alot of it is a combination of general anti-Catholic thought but also...human disbelief in coming to terms with such horror.

The idea, the papacy is so powerful that how could it not do more. How could someone not have stopped what happened. A simple and sorrowful human searching for why that casts blame in many directions.

A couple links on the issue
http://www.corazones.org/apologetica/nazi_iglesia/holocausto_pio12_mcgatheng.htm
http://www.ewtn.com/library/answers/piusjews.htm
http://www.catholicleague.org/pius/truth.htm