One Number, Two Names


Prisoner #16670

We need to remember that number.

It was the one assigned to Father – now Saint – Maximilian Kolbe while he was held as a prisoner at the Auschwitz death camp in Poland during World War II.

You can read some of his story here (briefly excerpted below) at Bishop Robert Barron’s ministry, Word on Fire, if you are not yet familiar with it.

You need to be.

On August 14, 1941, age 47, Father Maximilian Kolbe laid down his life for a fellow prisoner, Franciszek Gajowniczek.

In retaliation for another prisoner’s escape, the Nazis quickly condemned 10 men to death by starvation, a horrific and brutal punishment all too typical of that evil regime.

Gajowniczek was one of those 10 men.

But then this happened:

Franciszek Gajowniczek  . . . let out a cry of pain for his family and this holy priest [Kolbe] volunteered to take his place.

What followed were weeks of unimaginable horror, as the men suffered the pains of dehydration and starvation.

But this holy man not only offered to be one of the suffering, he ministered to them as well.

After three weeks there were only four prisoners left alive. It was on this day in 1941, the day before the Church celebrates the Assumption of St. Maximilian’s beloved Mary, the Immaculata, that Fr. Kolbe and three fellow prisoners were killed with injections of carbolic acid.

Gajowniczek miraculously survived the prison camp and was able to get back to his remaining family.

Decades later Gajowniczek

was a guest of Pope Paul VI in the Vatican, when Maximilian Kolbe was beatified for his martyrdom on October 17, 1971. In 1972, Time magazine reported that over 150,000 people made a pilgrimage to Auschwitz to honor the anniversary of Maximilian’s beatification – Wikipedia.

In 1982, Kolbe  was canonized by his fellow Pole, Pope John Paul II.  Gajowniczek died on March 13, 1995 at the age of 93, so many years after what would have been his certain death had it not been for Father Kolbe’s ultimate sacrifice.

One Number, Two Names.

We need to remember all three.

No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.


Image Credit: Wikimedia Commons, Public Domain

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