The Franciscan friar, Maximilian Mary Kolbe, died in the Auschwitz concentration camp on August 14, 1941. Two weeks earlier, a prisoner had gone missing. The commandant, Karl Fristsch, announced the penalty to the entire camp: ten men would die in the starvation bunker. As his name was called, Franciszek Gajowniczek cried out, “My wife, my children!” Father Maximilian stepped forward and offered to take his place. He and the other nine men were tossed naked into a concrete hole in Building 13.
Francixzek Gajowniczek is pictured above with Pope John Paul II at the canonization of Maximilian Kolbe. The saint saved his life and he was privileged to be a part of the canonization
The camp prisoners waited to hear the howls of anguish coming from the bunker. Instead, they heard feeble voices raised in prayer and hymns of praise. Maximilian was encouraging the men. A Pole assigned to serve at the bunker later told how at each inspection the priest was always in the middle of them, standing or kneeling in prayer. After two weeks, only Maximilian remained alive. When the SS men entered the cell, he offered his arm for their lethal injection.
One prisoner later said his death was “a shock filled with hope, bringing new life and strength…It was like a powerful shaft of light in the darkness of the camp.” Maximilian is a patron of families, for he gave his life for the father of a family. He is a patron of prisoners, for he gave hope to the condemned. —Lisa Lickona, The Magnificat Year of Mercy Companion, page 320 Maximillian Kolbe died August 14, 1941.
About the First Class Relic of St. Maximilian Kolbe
Several Hairs from the Beard of the Saint
How does one come to have a first class relic of a saint who died a martyr’s death in Auschwitz? Of all the relics in Father Kunst’s Collection, perhaps this one is the most incredible.
This is a first-class relic, in the form of hairs from his head and beard, preserved without his knowledge by two friars at Niepolkalanow who served as barbers in his friary between 1930 and 1941. Since his beatification in 1971, these relics have been distributed around the world for public veneration.
Second-class relics, such as his personal effects, clothing and liturgical vestments, are preserved in his monastery cell and in a chapel at Niepokalanow and may be viewed by the faithful who visit
Father Richard Kunst:
The document, included here, authenticates the 1st class relic of hairs from St. Maximilian Kolbe’s beard. The barber, who shaved his beard, was supposed to burn the hair, but the fire went out, and as a result the barber kept these hairs. They are now a 1st class relic of a martyred saint.
A Second Artifact
A Letter of Dismissal Signed by St. Maximilian Kolbe
Considered to Be Among the Rarer Autographs of the 20th Century
The artifact is a letter signed by Father Maximilian Kolbe. It concerns the dismissal of an employee and was signed on March 14, 1939.
The letter includes a redaction seal and is considered to be one of the rarer signatures in the 20th century.
“It is among the rarer autographs of 20th century personages, primarily due to the fact that Kolbe did not gain notoriety till decades after his death.” —Fr. Richard Kunst
The Papal Artifacts’ Collection is fortunate to have obtained, not only his First Class relic, but also, now, his signature.