While it is primarily the villains that are often remembered when it comes to WWII and the Holocaust, this terrible event also birthed many true heroes, and recognizing and remembering them is important as well. One such hero is Father Maximilian Kolbe, who is now recognized as Saint Maximilian Kolbe.
Kolbe was born in Poland in 1894. He joined the Conventual Franciscans in 1910 and took his first vows in 1911 and his final vows three years later in Rome. In 1912 he was sent to Krakow, and by 1919 he held a doctorate degree in theology and another in philosophy.
Kolbe began to speak out against the Nazi party and actually provided shelter to more than 2,000 Jews over the years. He hid these refugees in his friary over the years. However, in February of 1941 he was captured by the Gestapo and sent to Pawiak prison. Three months later, on May 28th, he was sent to Auschwitz.
The end of Kolbe's life came a short time later. In July of 1941 three prisoners vanished from Auschwitz. The camp's commander decided to select ten men that were to be placed in an underground bunker and slowly starved to death. One of the men chosen to enter the bunker cried out "My wife! My children!" Hearing this, Father Kolbe volunteered to take his place instead.
In the underground cell, Kolbe celebrated Mass every day. He also sang hymns with the prisoner and tried to keep the other men encouraged and calm. Guards reported that every time they checked on him he was standing or kneeling in the center of the cell, watching the guards with an expression of calm. Finally, after two weeks of starvation, all of the prisoners in the cell were dead except for Father Kolbe. To empty the cell, the guards gave Kolbe an injection of carbolic acid which witnesses say he accepted calmly by raising his arm towards the needle.
Father Kolbe was beatified and made a saint in 1982, on the tenth of October. Pope John Paul II beatified him, declaring him as a martyr. He is one of only ten martyrs from the 20th century featured as a statue above the Great West Door of Westminster Abbey. While his beatification elicited some controversy, the Pope disagreed with the criticism and carried out the beatification. Today, Kolbe continues to remain one of the more well-known saints in the faith and has inspired many others.
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