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 below 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:
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.
St. Maximilian Kolbe, pray for us.
Papal Artifacts highly recommends this biography of St. Maximilian Kolbe. Ignatius Press has said of it,
The famous French author’s unique writing style captivates the reader with the heroic story of Saint Maximilian Kolbe, a modern apostle of Catholic evangelization, Marian spirituality, and a martyr of charity. With the encouragement of Pope John Paul II and the help of documentation (some unpublished) given to him by the Vatican, Frossard chronicles the dramatic and moving life of this Polish Franciscan who volunteered to die in place of a fellow prisoner in Auschwitz.
While his heroic martyr’s death is well known, Frossard shows how Kolbe’s whole life was one of extraordinary generosity in devotion to his ideal of “love without limits.” Kolbe was that rare combination of mystic, intellectual genius, theologian, and down-to-earth practicality. His tremendous creative energies (despite constant bouts of tuberculosis and less than one lung) enhanced the lives of all those who knew him, the millions who read his publications, and the countless persons inspired by his example. Forget Not Love reveals the interesting and impressive details of Kolbe’s childhood, vision of Mary, brilliance in his studies, his founding of the largest monastery in the world (700 Franciscans), massive printing apostolate, missionary journeys to Japan, and his final act of love in Auschwitz. Frossard has captured the heart of the man whom Pope John Paul II declared “the patron saint of this difficult century.”