could only thank him with my eyes. I was stunned and
could hardly grasp what was going on. The immensity of
it: I, the condemned, am to live and someone else
willingly and voluntarily offers his life for me - a
stranger. Is this some dream?
was put back into my place without having had time to
say anything to Maximilian Kolbe. I was saved. And I owe
to him the fact that I could tell you all this. The news
quickly spread all round the camp. It was the first and
the last time that such an incident happened in the
whole history of Auschwitz.
a long time I felt remorse when I thought of Maximilian.
By allowing myself to be saved, I had signed his death
warrant. But now, on reflection, I understood that a man
like him could not have done otherwise. Perhaps he
thought that as a priest his place was beside the
condemned men to help them keep hope. In fact he was
with them to the last.'‘
Kolbe was thrown down the stairs of Building 13 along
with the other victims and simply left there to starve.
Hunger and thirst soon gnawed at the men. Some drank
their own urine, others licked moisture on the dank
walls. Maximilian Kolbe encouraged the others with
prayers, psalms, and meditations on the Passion of
Christ. After two weeks, only four were alive. The cell
was needed for more victims, and the camp executioner, a
common criminal called Bock, came in and injected a
lethal dose of cabolic acid into the left arm of each of
the four dying men. Kolbe was the only one still fully
conscious and with a prayer on his lips, the last
prisoner raised his arm for the executioner. His wait
was over ...
personal testimony about the way Maximilian Kolbe met
death is given by Bruno Borgowiec, one of the few Poles
who were assigned to render service to the starvation
bunker. He told it to his parish priest before he died
ten condemned to death went through terrible days. From
the underground cell in which they were shut up there
continually arose the echo of prayers and canticles. The
man in-charge of emptying the buckets of urine found
them always empty. Thirst drove the prisoners to drink
the contents. Since they had grown very weak, prayers
were now only whispered. At every inspection, when
almost all the others were now lying on the floor,
Father Kolbe was seen kneeling or standing in the centre
as he looked cheerfully in the face of the SS men.
Kolbe never asked for anything and did not complain,
rather he encouraged the others, saying that the
fugitive might be found and then they would all be freed.
One of the SS guards remarked: this priest is really
a great man. We have never seen anyone like him ..
weeks passed in this way. Meanwhile one after another
they died, until only Father Kolbe was left. This the
authorities felt was too long. The cell was needed for
new victims. So one day they brought in the head of the
sick-quarters, a German named Bock, who gave Father
Kolbe an injection of carbolic acid in the vein of his
left arm. Father Kolbe, with a prayer on his lips,
himself gave his arm to the executioner. Unable to watch
this I left under the pretext of work to be done.
Immediately after the SS men had left I returned to the
cell, where I found Father Kolbe leaning in a sitting
position against the back wall with his eyes open and
his head drooping sideways. His face was calm and
it was that Father Maximilian Kolbe was executed on 14
August, 1941 at the age of forty-seven years, a martyr
of charity. The death certificate, as always made out
with German precision, indicated the hour of death