In May 1941 Maximilian Kolbe, a Polish Roman Catholic priest was taken to Auschwitz, a Nazi concentration camp, because the monastery, which he had founded and was running, was ministering to Jewish refugees.
During his imprisonment, he constantly gave himself for the sake of others, refusing food so his brethren could eat and offering his life for the sake of others. Even as the men were suffering from hunger and thirst, drinking their own urine or the mucky condensation on the wall to survive, Maximilian (pictured) carried on his priestly work celebrating the Lord’s Supper with bread and wine smuggled in for that purpose.
In order to discourage escapes, the camp had a rule that if a man escaped, ten men would be killed in retaliation. Near the end of July of the same year, a prisoner from Maximilian’s block apparently escaped. Maximilian prayed and held out hope that the escaped man would be found and they would be set free.
Finally men from Kolbe’s block were paraded in the blazing midday sun, knowing what to expect. One man from each line was selected at random, including a sergeant, Francis Gajowniczek. Gajowniczek cried out in fear, “oh my wife and my children, I will never see them again, what will they do? ” Maximilian stepped forward and asked the commandant to let him take Francis’ place.
The Nazi commandant did not care who went to the death bunker, so long as there were ten of them. “Who are you?” he asked. “I am a Catholic priest,” answered Maximilian. “I wish to die for that man. I am old; he has a wife and children.” The officer had more use for a young worker than for an old one, and was happy to make the exchange. Father Kolbe and the nine others were led off to the death chamber to be left to starve to death.
During that difficult time, Maximilian comforted his fellow prisoners; he prayed for them, sang hymns and said psalms. He gave them hope, reminding them that suffering in this world will end and then they will know the glory of God in heaven. One of the guards said of the priest, “Never before have we seen anything like this. When we made our morning rounds at the bunker to remove starvation – consumed corpses, we would find among the heaps of agonized, half-dead victims one who was always in prayer on his knees or standing, one who was always bright and fully conscious, one who was always peaceful and well kept. That one was Father Kolbe. As if in ecstasy, his face was radiant. His body was spotless, and one could say that it radiated light. We will never forget the impression this made on us.”
After two weeks, only four of them were alive and only Maximilian was fully conscious. Because the chamber was needed for other prisoners, the four were killed with injections of carbolic acid on 14 August 1941.
This story reminds us that it is possible to be loving and peaceful even when we are facing persecution and death. And the key to this is prayer, worship and trust in God. Father Kobe’s life is a testimony to all that true worship always fills the worshiper’s heart with love and peace that automatically overflow to those around.
Today if you are going through tough times you can do the same thing. Sing His praise and thank Him for His goodness as you remember that God loves you dearly. As you do this open your eyes to see what can you do to ease the pain of those around you.