- Historical event:
- 14 August 1941
- St. Maximillian Kolbe is today one of the most well-known saints of the 20th century. He was killed by the Nazis in Auschwitz via lethal injection on this day in 1941. He gave his life to save another prisoner.
On this day in 1941 Catholic priest and Franciscan Conventual Friar St Maximilian Maria Kolbe died in the Nazi extermination camp at Auschwitz.
Kolbe became one of most prominent saints of the 20th century. The Nazis had interred him because he stated that “Nobody in the world can change Truth” and hid around 2,000 Jews in his monastery at Niepokalanów, in Terezin near Warsaw. St Maximilian was of mixed ethnic descent; his father was German, while his mother was Polish.
He was interred as prisoner number 16670. In summer 1941 three prisoners managed to escape from the camp. One of the camp commanders, SS Hauptsturmführer (captain) Karl Fritzsch, was furious when he heard about this and ordered that 10 prisoners were to be starved to death in reprisal.
Among them was Polish prisoner Franciszek Gajowniczek. When he heard he had been selected, he wailed: “My wife! My children!” St Maximilian Kolbe bravely offered to take Gajowniczek’s place. The Germans agreed to this and sealed him in a starvation cell with nine other prisoners.
They remained in the cell for two weeks, but St Maximilian continued to celebrate Mass with the others and sang hymns for them. He offered them words of comfort, telling them that they would soon join the Virgin Mary in Heaven. He also had ample time to hear their confessions, so that their place in Heaven was guaranteed. After two weeks St Maximilian was the only one left alive.
The Germans wanted to empty the cell, so they decided to kill him via injection. He was injected with phenol (carbolic acid), the usual Nazi execution method. He died a martyr, bravely extending his hand towards the injection. Franciszek Gajowniczek, the man for whom he sacrificed himself, survived the camp and lived another 53 years.