Most of us know the story of a remarkable man whose name was Maximilian Kolbe
He was a Polish Roman Catholic priest, who was imprisoned for his faith in Auschwitz
There he would share his meagre rations of food with those who were hungry; and would encourage the other prisoners to forgive their persecutors and overcome evil with good.
One day a man in Kolbe’s block escaped from the camp and so all of the men from that block were brought out into the hot sun and made to stand there all day – with no food or drink.
At the end of the day, the man who had escaped was still missing.
So the Nazi commandant told the assembled prisoners that ten men would be arbitrarily selected to die in the starvation cell – in place of the one that had escaped.
One of the men selected was a Polish sergeant, Franciszek Gajowniczek, imprisoned in Auschwitz. for aiding the Jewish resistance in Poland.
He begged to be spared because he was worried that his family would not be able to survive without him.
As he was pleading with the commandant, Maximilian Kolbe silently stepped forward and said that he would like to take the man’s place to allow the sergeant to be able to care for his wife and children.
And amazingly this exchange was allowed: The sergeant returned to his place in the ranks and Kolbe took his place in the starvation bunker.
During the next two weeks the prisoners were not given any food or water Every day the guards came and removed dead bodies from the bunker. However instead of being greeted with the usual sounds of screaming and cursing, all they heard was Kolbe and the others singing hymns and praying.
One after the other died, until only four were left including Maximilian. The authorities felt that death by starvation was taking too long for the remaining four and the cell was needed for new victims.
Each prisoner in turn was given a lethal injection of carbolic acid (phenol) in the vein of his left arm. Maximilian, with a prayer on his lips gave his arm to his executioner. Maximilian Kolbe was 47 years old when he was executed on August 14, 1941
What happened to the Polish Sergeant Franciszek Gajowniczek?
Well, he was released from Auschwitz after spending almost five and a half years in the camp.
When Pope Paul VI beatified Maximilian Kolbe in 1971, Gajowniczek was a guest of the Pope.
In 1972, over 150,000 people made a pilgrimage to Auschwitz to honour the anniversary of Maximilian’s beatification. One of the first to speak was Gajowniczek who declared “I want to express my thanks, for the gift of life.”
He was again a guest of the Pope when Maximilian Kolbe was canonized on October 10, 1982.
He never forgot Father Kolbe and spent the five decades from his time at Auschwitz until his own death in March 1995 at the age of 95 honouring the man who died on his behalf.
Just before he died he said that “as long as he . . . has breath in his lungs, he would consider it his duty to tell people about the heroic act of love by Maximilian Kolbe.”
The ability to remember is a wonderful gift that God has given to us.
The Bible is a book of Memories too.
There we can recall God’s goodness to his people starting with the stories of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob in the Old Testament.
There we remember – in the New Testament – the story of God sending his own Son Jesus into the world to bring mankind back into a right relationship with God – culminating with the ultimate sacrifice that Christ made on our behalf on the Cross
But the Bible is more than just a book of memories. In it we are reminded how God wants us to live
Jesus gave us two great rules to govern life in our society: the first was this: to “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul and with all your mind” The second was to “Love your neighbour as yourself”
We remember the past with thanksgiving; we live in the present in joy; we look to the future in hope
Scripture reference: John 15 verses 9-17