Friday, August 14, 2009
Each year on August 14 - there's a celebration and memorial of a wonderful man you probably never even heard of. His name was Maximilian Kolbe and he was a Catholic priest in Poland during World War II. During the war, Catholic priests were marked for death by the nazis, and Max was no exception to this rule. But Max was exceptionally wicked as far as any nazi was concerned. His crimes also included trying to harbor Jews and to try and get them out safely. But that is not why he is honored today.
He lived a very good life as a priest - a Franciscan, ordained in Rome, and did much more in his life - but he is honored not so much for his life, but for his heroic death. The nazis sent him to Auschwitz, and someone tried to escape. The punishment for this included not only death for the prisoner trying to escape, but the nazis decided that someone else must be killed as well - just to make the point that escaping was not a good idea. When a father of several children was selected to be killed and tortured for the escape - Fr. Max Kolbe asked to be killed and tortured in his place, telling the guards - he had no family - so please take me instead. And he was brutally tortured, and finally died from the torture. And Fr. Kolbe knew what was coming, yet he still chose to volunteer his life for the young father of several children.
The Catholic church at first was a bit perplexed as to whether or not to honor Max Kolbe as a martyr - because he volunteered to die. But, in the end he was designated as a martyr, specifically, a martyr of charity. Years later, when the church was planning to beatify Kolbe as a saint - the father whose life was spared many years before - spent most of his life's savings to attend the ceremony.
To honor Max Kolbe today - we thought we'd suggest a powerful movie in the movie library you might have missed. Escape from Sobibor, starring Alan Arkin, Rutger Hauer, and Joana Pacula - tells the story of the most successful escape from a concentration camp in Poland during World War II. Yep - another great story you probably never heard about. If time allows - check it out, it is a great film, and an even better story.