In 1941 a Polish priest was arrested at his friary. The Nazis noticed his German name and offered to let him go. Wishing to be with his native people, the priest insisted on going with all the others who were arrested. After a brief stop in one of the smaller concentration camps, he was transferred to Auschwitz, where he was given the number 16670.
Though he was rather sickly and frail, the guards gave him some of the hardest work. Still, he persevered, always trusting in the love of Jesus and Mary. One day, some men were discovered to have escaped from camp. Of course, this infuriated the camp commander, so he decided to pick ten random prisoners to starve in a bunker as a way to deter any further escape attempts. Prisoner 16670 was not chosen. The final prisoner chosen, a man by the name of Franciszek Gajowniczek, begged for mercy from the guards because of his wife and children. Prisoner 16670 stepped forward, announced he was a Catholic priest, and volunteered to take the man’s spot. St. Maximilian Kolbe, who could have escaped imprisonment due to his German name, sacrificed his life so the other prisoner could have a chance to survive and return to his family! What love this priest of Jesus Christ had for God’s children!
In the bunker, there could be heard hymns sung and prayers recited to our Lord and His Mother. There were not cries of pain and anguish, but instead songs of joy and peace. St. Maximilian encouraged his fellow victims that soon they would be in Heaven with Jesus and His Mother Mary. Two weeks passed and still St. Maximilian remained alive, so the guards finally gave him a lethal injection.
As for Franciszek, he survived Auschwitz and reunited with his wife after the war (though his sons were killed). He was present at the canonization of St. Maximilian and spread the story of St. Maximilian’s heroic love as long as he lived.
Let’s strive to imitate the heroic virtue of St. Maximilian Kolbe! We will put others’ needs before our own. We will go where we can best serve the Lord and bring about His glory, even if it means a little extra suffering for us. We will encourage one another in times of extreme suffering so that we might not cry in pain and anguish, but instead sing out to the Lord in joy and peace. Perhaps we may even lay down our own lives so that others may live.
“For Jesus Christ, I am prepared to suffer still more.”