at Auschwitz were slowly and systematically starved, and
their pitiful rations were barely enough to sustain a
child: one cup of imitation coffee in the morning, and
weak soup and half a loaf of bread after work. When food
was brought, everyone struggled to get his place and be
sure of a portion. Father Maximilian Kolbe however,
stood aside in spite of the ravages of starvation, and
frequently there would be none left for him. At other
times he shared his meager ration of soup or bread with
the harshness of the slaughterhouse Father Kolbe
maintained the gentleness of Christ. At night he seldom
would lie down to rest. He moved from bunk to bunk,
saying: "I am a Catholic priest. Can I do anything
prisoner later recalled how he and several others often
crawled across the floor at night to be near the bed of
Father Kolbe, to make their confessions and ask for
consolation. Father Kolbe pleaded with his fellow
prisoners to forgive their persecutors and to overcome
evil with good. When he was beaten by the guards, he
never cried out. Instead, he prayed for his tormentors.
Protestant doctor who treated the patients in Block 12
later recalled how Father Kolbe waited until all the
others had been treated before asking for help. He
constantly sacrificed himself for the others.
order to discourage escapes, Auschwitz had a rule that
if a man escaped, ten men would be killed in retaliation.
In July 1941 a man from Kolbe's bunker escaped. The
dreadful irony of the story is that the escaped prisoner
was later found drowned in a camp latrine, so the
terrible reprisals had been exercised without cause. But
the remaining men of the bunker were led out.
fugitive has not been found!' the commandant Karl
Fritsch screamed. 'You will all pay for this. Ten of
you will be locked in the starvation bunker without food
or water until they die.' The prisoners trembled in
terror. A few days in this bunker without food and water,
and a man's intestines dried up and his brain turned to
ten were selected, including Franciszek Gajowniczek,
imprisoned for helping the Polish Resistance. He
couldn't help a cry of anguish. 'My poor wife!'
he sobbed. 'My poor children! What will they do?'
When he uttered this cry of dismay, Maximilian stepped
silently forward, took off his cap, and stood before the
commandant and said, 'I am a Catholic priest. Let me
take his place. I am old. He has a wife and children.'
the icy-faced Nazi commandant asked, 'What does this
Polish pig want?'
kolbe pointed with his hand to the condemned Franciszek
Gajowniczek and repeated 'I am a Catholic priest from
Poland; I would like to take his place, because he has a
wife and children.'
believed in horror that the commandant would be angered
and would refuse the request, or would order the death
of both men. The commandant remained silent for a
moment. What his thoughts were on being confronted by
this brave priest we have no idea. Amazingly, however,
he acceded to the request. Apparantly the Nazis had more
use for a young worker than for an old one, and was
happy to make the exchange.
Franciszek Gajowniczek was
returned to the ranks, and the priest took his place ...