Blog: Through Testimony

Religious Resistance in Auschwitz: The Sacrifice of Saint Kolbe

Fri, 08/12/2016 - 10:15am -- deanna.pitre

Contributor: Benjamin Biniaz

Fri, 08/12/2016 - 10:15am

Remembering Father Maximillian Kolbe

Remembering Father Maximillian Kolbe

A Franciscan friar and Catholic priest, Maximillian Koble sacrificed his life for another man in Auschwitz. After 14 days of being confined in a prison cell without food or water Kolbe was murdered by SS guards. Kolbe was beatified and then canonized as a saint by Pope John Paul II in 1982, and known as “The Patron Saint of Our Difficult Century.”

Michael Preisler on Father Kolbe's Sacrifice

Language: English

Michael Preisler explains the story of Maximilian Kolbe volunteering himself in place of another prisoner, who was going to be killed. Preisler was a prisoner at Pawiak prison after Kolbe had been deported from Pawiak to Auschwitz. 

  • Michael Preisler on Father Kolbe's Sacrifice

    Language: English

    Michael Preisler explains the story of Maximilian Kolbe volunteering himself in place of another prisoner, who was going to be killed. Preisler was a prisoner at Pawiak prison after Kolbe had been deported from Pawiak to Auschwitz. 

  • Jan Dudzinski on Maximillian Kolbe

    Language: English

    Jan Dudzinski recalls his interaction with a priest he would later discover was Maximillian Kolbe at Pawiak prison. 

  • Jacek Dabrowski remembers Maximilian Kolbe

    Language: English

    Jacek Dabrowski remembers visiting Maximilian Kolbe at his monastery before Kolbe was taken prisoner. Dabrowski was taken to Pawiak prison only two weeks after Kolbe was deported from Pawiak to Auschwitz. 

Maximilian Kolbe, born in Poland in 1894, was a Franciscan friar and Catholic priest. He spent most of his life studying theology and dedicating himself to the church, traveling across Europe and Asia during his lifetime. 

He was a well-respected member of the church, but is perhaps best known for the time he spent as a prisoner. When Word War II broke out, Kolbe was one of the few friars that remained with his monastery in Poland; eventually it was shut down, and Kolbe and the others that stayed were arrested and sent to Pawiak Prison. There he spent a few months before he was deported to Auschwitz.

Photo of Father Maximillian Kolbe.In July, about a month after Kolbe’s arrival at Auschwitz, three prisoners disappeared from the camp and were missing during role call. As a punishment, the officers rounded up 10 prisoners to be taken to an underground cell and starved to death. One prisoner pleaded with the officer that he had children and a family, and Kolbe volunteered to take his place.

Stories say that Kolbe survived without food or water for two weeks in the underground prison cell. He was the last of the ten to die, eventually executed by lethal injection. Because of his sacrifice, Saint Kolbe was beatified and then canonized as a saint by Pope John Paul II in 1982.

Kolbe is mentioned in several testimonies in the Visual History Archive by survivors who heard his story, people who had met him before the war, and other prisoners who spent time in Pawiak prison.

Jan Dudzinski, a Jewish survivor, was one of those prisoners who met Kolbe during his time at Pawiak prison, although Dudzinski did not realize it at the time. Dudzinski recalls finding a group of newcomers to the prison praying together and advising them to stop, as they would be punished if the guards saw them. “One of these men turned around to me and looked at me like, I don’t know, it was unusual, and he thanked me very much for the information. They dispersed and I went my way.” He realized years later that this man he’d spoken to was Father Kolbe.

Kolbe said “I’ll take his place.”

Jacek Dabrowski, a Polish priest himself, met Kolbe at his monastery at the start of the war. Dabrowski remembers encouraging Kolbe to escape, to which Kolbe shook his head. “In some way, he agreed that he had to be arrested and to be killed.”

The memory of Kolbe’s sacrifice is kept alive by his feast day, August 14th, the date of his execution at Auschwitz. Also, his story of sacrifice and resistance is preserved in the Visual History Archive through the memory of survivors.

Posts are contributed by individual authors. The opinions are solely the authors’ and are not necessarily a reflection of the views of USC Shoah Foundation.

About Benjamin Biniaz

Benjamin Biniaz is a sophomore at Yale University. During his 2016 summer break he is interning with USC Shoah Foundation’s communication department. His family has been involved with the Institute for many years since his grandmother Celina Biniaz and great- grandmother Phyllis Karp gave their testimonies to the Visual History Archive in 1996.  

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