Wednesday, May 20, 2009


St. Maximilian Kolbe (1894-1941) was a saintly Franciscan priest of Poland. He was arrested and imprisoned by ‘Gestapo’, the German secret police under the Nazi regime. Later he was shifted to the Nazi concentration camp of Auschwitz in Poland.

One day, one of the prisoners in the concentration camp was found to be missing. The authorities assumed that he had escaped, though later it was found that he had died by drowning in the camp latrine. It was ruled that instead of the missing prisoner, ten prisoners from the same barracks should be starved to death, to deter further attempts for escape. Of the ten prisoners selected to be killed, one was Franciszek Gajowniczek. Hearing the sentence of doom, he cried out desperately, “Oh, my poor wife, my poor children! I shall never see them again.” The prisoners present were in tears seeing this scene.

Hearing his cry in agony, Fr. Kolbe boldly stepped forward and said, “I am a Catholic priest. Let me take his place. I am old. He has a wife and children.”

The request of Fr. Kolbe to die instead of Franciszek was granted. The ten prisoners including Fr. Kolbe were shut in a closed chamber and left to die by starvation. Fr. Kolbe strengthened the prisoners and led them in prayer, rosary and singing of hymns. The prisoners died one after another by dehydration and starvation. Fr. Kolbe stayed alive, enlightening them by his words and prayer.

Finally, on 14th August, 1941, Fr. Kolbe was killed by injecting poisonous carbolic acid into the vein in his left hand. He readily raised his hand for receiving the deadly injection, with a prayer on his lips. The cell in which Fr. Kolbe was killed is now a shrine, a source of inspiration to innumerable pilgrims.

Franciszek Gajowniczek died at the age of 95 in 1995, 53 years after Fr. Kolbe saved him. He could witness the canonization of Fr. Kolbe by Pope John Paul II on 10th October, 1982.

St. Maximilian Kolbe was a martyr of charity, a true follower of Jesus who taught and demonstrated the Gospel of love and sacrifice. Jesus said, “My commandment is this: love one another, just as I love you. The greatest love a person can have for his friends is to give his life for them” {John 15:12, 13}.


This is story No. 131 in this site. Please click ‘older posts’ at bottom of page to read previous stories in this site.

By: Dr. Babu Philip, Professor, Cochin University of Science & Technology, Fine Arts Avenue, Kochi-682016, Kerala, India.

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