On this International Holocaust Remembrance Day, and the commemoration of the 70 anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz, I wanted to bring you the story of Fr. Maximilian Kolbe.
Fr. Kolbe was born in 1894, in what today is Poland, of an ethnic German father and a Polish mother.
Kolbe described an apparition of the Virgin Mary that he had as a child of nine, an apparition which strongly influenced him all of his life:
That night I asked the Mother of God what was to become of me. Then she came to me holding two crowns, one white, the other red. She asked me if I was willing to accept either of these crowns. The white one meant that I should persevere in purity, and the red that I should become a martyr. I said that I would accept them both.
He became a Franciscan priest, and achieved two doctorates, one in philosophy and one in theology. He had a brilliant mind, was interested in astrophysics and even designing the concept of an spacecraft that looked like an airplane, long before the Space shuttle. He founded an order inspired by Mary and spreading the word through media. At one point he had over 700 Franciscan friars at his monastery working to put out a newspaper, a magazine and a radio program. He also went to Nagasaki and started a monastery there, built on the backside of the mountain away from the city, contrary to Shinto tradition. When asked about why he did that, he said, essentially, “what I have done, I have done”. The monastery continued and was one of the few structures to survive the bomb drop in 1945 because it was built on the backside of the mountain.
In 1936, Fr. Kolbe returned from Asia to Poland and the ever encroaching threat from the Nazis. When the Nazis invaded, one of the first groups they targeted were the intelligentsia who might spread dissent. Fr. Kolbe was right up there on the list. He was arrested but let go initially. He refused the protection of declaring himself an ethnic German which he could have because of his father. Instead he said, “I am Polish”. Upon his release he continued work at his monastery, where he continued to speak out strongly against them through his media, and where he and other monks provided shelter to refugees from Greater Poland, including 1,000–2,000 Jews whom he hid from Nazi persecution in their friary in Niepokalanów. In 1941, the Nazis came for him again, arresting him again, and this time, taking him to Auschwitz.
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