Scrapbookpages Blog

July 22, 2012

Father Kolbe, the Catholic priest who died in place of another at Auschwitz

Filed under: Holocaust — Tags: , , , , — furtherglory @ 9:53 am

This quote is from a piece written by Dean Stroud which you can read in full here:

In July 1941 in the Auschwitz concentration camp, a Nazi officer selected a group of prisoners to die a slow death by starvation. Some prisoners had attempted to escape, and the Nazi response was to kill prisoners as a lesson against trying such things.

One of the men selected to die in the “starvation pit” pleaded not to be among those killed because he had a family. At that moment a Catholic priest, Father Maximilian Kolbe, volunteered to take the man’s place. He had no family, he said, and no one awaiting him. He would die in the man’s place.

Uncharacteristically, the Nazi allowed the exchange. In the starvation pit, the priest never despaired or fell into bitterness. He encouraged the other prisoners until he alone was left alive. Finally, tired of waiting for him to die, the Nazis killed him. Years later, when Pope John Paul II beatified Father Kolbe, the Jewish man whose place he had taken, was sitting in the audience with his wife, children and grandchildren.

I feel that this story needs some explanation, especially the term “starvation pit,” so I am putting in my two-cents worth.

The photo below shows the door into prison cell No. 21, one of the “starvation cells” in Block 11, the internal prison in the main Auschwitz camp.

The door into Prison Cell No. 21 in Block 11 at Auschwitz

Cell No. 21, shown in the photo above, has two religious pictures which were scratched into the wall by a Polish political prisoner, using only his fingernails. The wooden door of the cell has  a piece of glass covering the upper half of the door where there are more scratchings made with fingernails.

Cell No. 27 was a “starvation cell” in Block 11

Cell No. 21 and No. 27 were called “starvation cells” because prisoners, who had been condemned to death, were kept there without food and water until they died.

Cell No. 27 is where the first prisoners were gassed with Zyklon-B at Auschwitz, on the orders of the Camp Commander Karl Fritsch, but that is another story.

Block 11 has window wells to let light into the prison cells in the basement

The prison cell that was occupied by Father Kolbe

Father Maximilian Kolbe was a Catholic priest who was arrested by the Gestapo on February 17, 1941 because he had hidden 2,000 Jews, and because he was broadcasting reports over the radio condemning Nazi activities during World War II. On May 25, 1941, he was sent to the main Auschwitz camp as a political prisoner.

The following quote is from Wikipedia:

In July 1941, a man from Kolbe’s barrack had vanished, prompting SS-Hauptsturmführer Karl Fritsch, the Lagerführer (i.e., the camp commander), to pick 10 men from the same barrack to be starved to death in Block 11 (notorious for torture), in order to deter further escape attempts. (The man who had disappeared was later found drowned in the camp latrine.) One of the selected men, Franciszek Gajowniczek, cried out, lamenting his family, and Kolbe volunteered to take his place.

Gajowniczek was a Polish political prisoner who had been arrested because he was aiding the Jewish resistance in Poland, although he was not a Jew himself.

This quote is from Wikipedia:

Franciszek Gajowniczek (November 15, 1901 – March 13, 1995[1]) was a Polish army sergeant whose life was spared by the Nazis when Saint Maximilian Kolbe sacrificed his life for Gajowniczek’s. Gajowniczek had been sent to the Auschwitz concentration camp for aiding the Jewish resistance in Poland.

Father Kolbe was canonized a saint in the Catholic Church on Oct. 10, 1982 in a ceremony held at the Auschwitz I camp.

This quote is from Wikipedia:

Gajowniczek was released from Auschwitz after spending five years, five months and nine days in the camp. Though his wife, Helena, survived the war, his sons were killed in a Soviet bombardment in 1945, before his release.[1]

PopePaul VI beatified Maximilian Kolbe in 1971; for the occasion, Gajowniczek was a guest of the Pope.  […]

His wife, Helena, died in 1977.[1] Gajowniczek was again a guest of the Pope when Maximilian Kolbe was canonized by John Paul II on October 10, 1982.

The wife and children and grandchildren of Gajowniczek may have been with him at the beatification of Father Kolbe, but strangely Wikipedia doesn’t mention it, nor does Wikipedia mention that Gajowniczek was Jewish.

Dean Stroud’s version of the story is better because he tells how a non-Jew sacrificed his life so that a Jew could live.  If only more non-Jews had given their lives so that the Jews could live, there would have been no Holocaust.