Today is the feast of St. Maximilan Kolbe, who died 14 August 1941 in Auschwitz, volunteering to undergo the most extreme torture and death in place of another prisoner with a family. His story:
A second son was born on January 17, 1894 to Julius Kolbe and Mary Dabrowska at Zdunska-Wola in Poland. He was baptized Raymond. His parents worked as weavers. At the age of 10, Raymond had a vision of the Blessed Virgin Mary showing him two crowns, one red and the other white, and asking him to choose which he wanted. He chose both.
At the age of 13 Raymond entered the junior seminary and in 1911 took vows in the Franciscan Order taking the name of Maximilian. He was ordained in Rome in 1919 and shortly after developed tuberculosis.
Maximilian had a great devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary and established a magazine called the “Knight of the Immaculata” to teach the Gospels to all nations. He also founded “Niepolalanow” (City of the Immaculata). This housed about 700 Franciscan priests and brothers who, with antiquated machinery printed the magazine. He also founded a house in Nagasaki, Japan.
When Poland was invaded by Nazi troops, Maximilian sent many of the community home to their families. He and some of his brother friars were arrested and later released on the feast of the Immaculate Conception in 1939. Maximilian was later again arrested and sent to the concentration camp at Auschwitz where he was housed in Block 14. Here he suffered the hard labor and tortures of the other prisoners, but he continued his priestly duties, and was known as a man of great compassion and love.
In 1941 a prisoner from his block escaped. In retaliation, 10 men were chosen from that block to die from starvation. Maximilian, who had not been chosen, witnessed one of the chosen men begging for mercy. His response was to step forward and say to the commandant, “I am a Catholic Priest. I wish to die for that man. I am old, he has a wife and children.” The officer, anxious to get rid of the old, accepted the exchange. After two weeks of starvation, Maximilian was still conscious and alert, praying for his captors. He was given a lethal injection and died on August 14, 1941.
What greater love can a man have than to lay down his life for a another?And we might ask, “How many other unknown men and women in those camps did likewise?”