Saint Maximilian Maria Kolbe, O.F.M. Conv., (8 January 1894 – 14 August 1941) was a Polish Conventual Franciscan friar, who volunteered to die in place of a stranger in the Nazi German death camp of Auschwitz, located in German-occupied Poland during World War II.
Kolbe was canonized on 10 October 1982 by Pope John Paul II, and declared a martyr of charity. He is the patron saint of drug addicts, political prisoners, families, journalists, prisoners, and the pro-life movement. John Paul II declared him “The Patron Saint of Our Difficult Century”. Due to Kolbe’s efforts to promote consecration and entrustment to Mary, he is known as the Apostle of Consecration to Mary.
Death at Auschwitz: After the outbreak of World War II, which started with the invasion of his country by Nazi Germany, Kolbe provided shelter to refugees from Greater Poland, including 2,000 Jews whom he hid from Nazi persecution in his friary in Niepokalanów. On 17 February 1941, he was arrested by the German Gestapo and imprisoned in the Pawiak prison. On 28 May, he was transferred to Auschwitz as prisoner #16670.
At the end of July 1941, three prisoners disappeared from the camp, prompting SS-Hauptsturmführer Karl Fritzsch, the deputy camp commander, to pick 10 men to be starved to death in an underground bunker in order to deter further escape attempts. When one of the selected men, Franciszek Gajowniczek, cried out, “My wife! My children!”, Kolbe volunteered to take his place.
In his prison cell, Kolbe celebrated Mass each day and sang hymns with the prisoners. He led the other condemned men in song and prayer and encouraged them by telling them they would soon be with Mary in Heaven. Each time the guards checked on him, he was standing or kneeling in the middle of the cell and looking calmly at those who entered. After two weeks of dehydration and starvation, only Kolbe remained alive. The guards wanted the bunker emptied and they gave Kolbe a lethal injection of carbolic acid. Some who were present at the injection say that he raised his left arm and calmly waited for the injection. His remains were cremated on 15 August, the feast day of the Assumption of Mary. (From Wikepedia.)
St Maximilian’s life and death demonstrates that we can even in terrible situations be faithful to Jesus’ nonviolent teaching regarding the love of our enemies.