On August 12, on the grounds of the former German extermination camp Auschwitz-Birkenau, another Great March of Life and Freedom of Poles and the Polish Diaspora took place in honor of the victims murdered there. On the first day, there were concerts, meetings and conversations with historians, artists and interesting people, on interesting topics, not only about memories, as well as exhibitions and discussions.
Particularly noteworthy was the meeting with Stanisław Srokowski — a witness of the genocide in the Kresy region — and the mayor of the commune of Jarocin, Mr. Walczak, who spoke about the progress of the work on the erection of the Wołyń Massacre monument by Andrzej Pityński.
The march ended on August 14, on the anniversary of the death of Saint Maximilian Maria Kolbe — a Polish Franciscan, a martyr of World War II — with a holy mass at the Death Wall. Several thousand people from Poland and Polonia from all over the world took part in the march.
The cult of Saint Maximilian Maria Kolbe is gaining strength and may it draw in more and more circles, because no one else deserves more to be the patron of difficult times, our times, as him.
For the love of holiness
Rajmund Kolbe, later Saint Maksymilian Maria Kolbe, was born on January 8, 1894 in Zduńska Wola, a town in the Congress Poland, which was then still under the rule of the Russian Empire, as the second of five sons of Juliusz Kolbe and Marianna née Dąbrowska. His parents were engaged in cottage weaving. They were devout Catholics and Polish patriots. The children were brought up rigorously and piously. The father belonged to the underground and often read patriotic books to his sons.
Under the influence of the missions preached by the Franciscans from Lviv, Rajmund, his elder brother Franciszek, and a year later, also the younger Józef, joined the Franciscan Order and began their education at the gymnasium in Lviv. Franciszek left the order in 1914 and joined the Legions to fight for Poland's freedom. He never returned to the monastery. In 1943 he was imprisoned in the Auschwitz concentration camp. He died in 1945. Father Juliusz Kolba also fought as a legionnaire. He died in a skirmish between Olkusz and Miechów, probably in 1914.
In the autumn of 1912, Rajmund went to Cracow to continue his studies. However, his superiors, seeing his exceptional abilities, sent him to study in Rome, from which he graduated with two doctorate degrees: in philosophy and theology.
On November 1, 1914, he made his perpetual vows, taking the name Maria. Influenced by the widespread anti-Catholic action he witnessed in Rome, after consulting with his confreres, he founded the Knighthood of the Immaculata. The aim of this association was to evangelize, to deepen the conscious and responsible Christian life, to fight for the conversion of schismatics, heretics and freemasons. In 1919 Maksymilian Maria Kolbe returned to Poland and started working at the Franciscan seminary in Krakow.
In order to achieve the goal of the association and to maintain contact with its members, he started publishing a monthly, and then a weekly, "Rycerz Niepokalanej" (Knight of the Immaculata) in Krakow. Maximilian devoted himself to this program with all his enthusiasm and remained faithful to it until his death.
He was an excellent organizer with imagination. He had plans to reform the Franciscan monastery. He was looking for a place for his publishing house. On the land in Teresin near Warsaw given to him by Prince Jan Drucki-Lubecki in 1927, with the help of twenty "Knights of the Immaculata", including his brother Józef, he built a monastery, a housing estate for monks, a publishing complex and called everything Niepokalanów. In 1928, he established a Franciscan novitiate in Niepokalanów. There were over a thousand applications for the novitiate, he accepted 100, because he set high requirements for the candidates.
In 1930, he left the management of Niepokalanów to his brother Józef, and went on a missionary trip to Japan and, until 1935, he conducted activities similar to those in Niepokalanów (founded monasteries, built churches, ran a publishing house) in the facility in Nagasaki, gaining the recognition of the Japanese government.
In 1936, he returned to Niepokalanów and led the center to a thriving state.
On September 1, 1939, the Second World War broke out. During the German occupation (1939-1945), the activity of the monastery was suspended, and on September 19, 1939, Father Maksymilian and 37 members of the order were arrested for the first time. Arrested again on February 17, 1941, he was sent to Pawiak, where after torture and humiliation his habit was taken away and he was ordered to put on a prisoner's outfit. On May 28, 1941, together with 303 prisoners, he was transported to Auschwitz. There, his striped uniform was marked with the number 16670. In the camp, he secretly performed the duties of a spiritual guide: he kept the spirits up, secretly celebrated masses, listened to confessions, and prayed with the prisoners.
On July 29, 1941, the prisoners from block 10 held a long roll call, during which 10 prisoners were selected to starve to death as a punishment for the escape of one of the prisoners of this block. Among those chosen was Franciszek Gajowniczek No. 5659, who was very desperate that he would never see his wife and children again. Father Kolbe voluntarily replaced him and went to the death row. When asked who he was, he replied that he was a Catholic priest. In his cell, he prayed and supported the convicts for 12 days. He died on August 14, 1941, ultimately killed by an injection of phenol by a camp official. His body was cremated in the camp crematorium.
A few weeks before his death, Maksymilian said to his fellow prisoner Józef Stemler: "Hatred is not a creative force. Love is a creative force." Do you need a greater proof of love for God and man?
On October 25, 1944, Franciszek Gajowniczek was transferred to the Sachsenhausen concentration camp, where he was liberated by the American army. He died in 1995 at the age of 94.
The figure of Maximilian Maria Kolbe is known primarily for this heroic act that led him to sainthood. This extraordinary deed is extremely important for modern generations. It makes you believe that in such extreme times of contempt you can save humanity, you will not become just a number. His heroic attitude was appreciated by the Catholic Church. On October 17, 1971, Pope Paul VI personally, in a solemn manner, beatified Father Maximilian. Eleven years later, on October 10, 1982, Pope John Paul II completed the work, canonizing Maximilian Maria Kolbe.
A patron for difficult times
We know a lot about Father Kolbe's sanctity, but less about his other qualities and merits, which allow us to talk about him as a patron for the difficult times we live in.
His outstanding abilities were first noticed by a local pharmacist who helped him prepare for junior high school. In middle school, Rajmund showed outstanding abilities in mathematics and physics. During his studies, he wrote an article entitled "Eteroplan" about an interplanetary vehicle, which he designed based on Newton's law of action and reaction, and in 1915 he submitted a sketch of "Eteroplan", an apparatus enabling travel into space, to the patent office. It was a project of an interplanetary vehicle, based on the principle of a three-stage carrier rocket.
Father Kolbe was a visionary, efficient manager and organizer of works. He started the construction of the monastery in 1927 with twenty brothers. On the eve of the outbreak of war, the Niepokalanów community had over 700 monks. The order was then the largest in the world. A seminary school and the world's only monastic fire brigade operated here.
In his pastoral work, Father Kolbe used the latest technological achievements, which were the media at that time.
Niepokalanów was an unquestionable example of publishing success. From January 1922, Father Kolbe began publishing a monthly (later weekly) "Rycerz Niepokalanej" (Knight of the Immaculata). He gave the monthly the character of a catechetical magazine. The circulation of the first edition was 5,000 copies, and in 1939 it reached the number of one million copies.
In Niepokalanów, he also published "Mały Dziennik" (The Little Daily) from 1935. Both magazines touched not only on religious topics, but also on social, political and cultural ones. Kolbe showed that the clergy could and should participate in social life. The Niepokalanów printing house also published monthly magazines for children "Rycerzyk Niepokalanej" (Little Knight of the Immaculate) and "Mały Rycerzyk Niepokalanej" (Tiny Knight of the Immaculate), as well as "Mission Bulletin", "Informator Rycerstwa Niepokalanej" (Knights of the Immaculate Informer), "Echo Niepokalanowa" (Echo of Niepokalanow) and "Kalendarz Niepokalanej" (Calendar of the Immaculate), which in 1937 had 440,000 copies in circulation.
From 1938, Niepokalanów had its own radio station, the signal of which was the melody "At the mountains, valleys". Father Kolbe also thought about television, launching an airport, and other technical innovations. He was able to adapt his work to the needs and circumstances.
After being released after his first arrest, he immediately returned to Niepokalanów and organized about 3,000 places for displaced Poles from the Poznań region, including about 2,000 Jews. Unable to issue any publications, he organized continuous adoration of the Blessed Sacrament and opened workshops for the population: a forge, a tinsmith's shop, a bicycle and clock repair department, a photography department, a tailor and shoemaker's shop, a sanitary department, etc.
All his actions coincide with the difficult period of shaping the Second Polish Republic and during the war. He prayed out of love for Mary — the mother of Christ, through her he loved people and did everything so that they would also love God and each other. Modern man needs such moral models — only such love can give hope, can save the world.