Prisoners 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 others.

In 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 for you?"


A 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.

A 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.

In 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.

'The 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 fire.

The 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.'

Astounded, the icy-faced Nazi commandant asked, 'What does this Polish pig want?'

Father 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.'

Observers 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 ...

 

 



© 2011-13 Louis Bülow.  Privacy  All Rights Reserved.
 www.oskarschindler.com   www.auschwitz.dk   www.deathcamps.info   www.shoah.dk