by Henry Wiebe
A Franciscan priest, Maximilian Kolbe, was imprisoned in Auschwitz by the Nazis in February of 1941. Rather than allowing his circumstances to get him down, he looked for how he could serve others. He shared his meagre food, gave up his bunk to prisoners who did not get a bed, prayed for the guards and generally sought to be a positive influence. He was known as the Saint of Auschwitz.
In July of that year one prisoner escaped. It was the practise of the Nazis to randomly place 10 other prisoners in solitary confinement and let them starve to death if a prisoner escaped. This was to discourage any other attempts to escape. Franciszek Gajowniczek was one of the ones selected to die by starvation. He immediately despaired of ever seeing his wife and children again. He pleaded for mercy. No exceptions! At this the priest offered to take the man’s place. He had no family and was already old. This huge offer was accepted by the warden. In confinement Maximilian sang with the other 9, taught them the ways of the Lord and told them to anticipate a better future after death. Death row seemed to be turned into a haven. Maximilian was the last to die, but not of starvation. They finally injected carbolic acid to bring on death.
After the war was over Gajowniczek devoted the rest of his life to honoring this priest and the Lord. “Somebody died for me,” he declared, “similar to Christ dying for our sins.”
Likely none of us has had to endure circumstances anywhere close to those of Maximilian, yet he was able to live on the sunny side.