‘KOLBE’S GIFT’ is a play that is challenging and thought provoking. I booked thickets to see it way back in July, as I knew that the demand for tickets would be great. I was not mistaken. The demand to see this production forced the provision of another showing .
Blessed Maximillian is one of my favourite saints and the play forced me to look at his life from a different perspective: How did his gift of life to Franciszek Gajownicek (his fellow prisoner in the concentration camp at Auschwitz) impact on the survivor’s lfe? And more importantly:- How is his gift of life to Franciszek Gajownicek impacting on my life?
Here is a summary of his story at Auschwitz as written at Courage.net
To discourage escapes, the Auschwitz had a rule that if a man escaped, ten prisoners would be killed in response. In July 1941, the Nazis thought a man from Kolbe’s bunker had escaped. (After this incident, the “escaped” prisoner was found drowned in the camp latrine.)
“The fugitive has not been found!” the commandant Karl Fritsch screamed. “So ten of you will die in his place in the starvation bunker.” Ten men were selected, including Franciszek Gajowniczek, who had been imprisoned for helping the Polish Resistance. When he was selected, Franciszek could not help but cry out, “My wife! My poor children! What will they do?”
Suddenly and silently, Maximilian Kolbe stepped forward. Astounded, the Nazi commandant asked,“What does this Polish pig want?” Maximilian took off his cap, and stood before the Commandant and requested, “I am a Catholic Priest from Poland; I would like to take this man’s place because he has a wife and children.”
The Commandant remained silent for a moment, then accepted the request. The Nazis had more use for a young worker than for an old Priest. So Franciszek Gajowniczek was returned to the ranks, and Maximilian took his place.
Soon after Kolbe was thrown with 9 other men into the starvation bunker and left to die. One by one, the men died of hunger and thirst. After two weeks, only four were left alive. But since the cell was needed for new prisoners, the camp executioner came in and injected a lethal dose of carbolic acid into the left arm of each of the four remaining men. And soon it was all over…
So Father Maximilian Kolbe was executed on August 14, 1941, at the age of forty-seven, a martyr of charity. His body was removed to the crematorium, and without dignity or ceremony, disposed of.
An excellent portrait of the people surrounding Blessed Kolbe’s life at the concentration camp was meticulously painted, line by line, details that would come together as a unified whole as the meaning of the gift of his life, for Franciszek Gajownicek’s played out in front of us. My heart went out to Franciszek and his wife as they struggled with the doubt and derision of acquaintances as he told the story of Fr. Maximillian’s sacrifice over and over again.
Franciszek Gajowniczek lived a full life, dying on March 13, 1995, in Poland at the age of 95… 53 years after Kolbe had saved him from execution. Franciszek never forgot the priest. After his release from Auschwitz, Gajowniczek spent the next five decades paying homage to Father Kolbe. Every year on August 14 he went back to Auschwitz and honoured the man who died on his behalf.
The nuggets which I took away with me:
- Stand up for what you know to be true, proudly and without faltering.
- Live out your Faith. Even unto death.
- You are either a Christian with convictions, or you are an empty vessel, worth little. Truth will endure.
- The blood of the martyrs is the seed of Faith.
- You have nothing to fear if you believe in Jesus.
- I too have a job to do. I will play a part in a story that I do not know is unfolding, however small.
- God will use me.
The story of Blessed Maximillian Kolbe can be bought from CTS publications. It is based upon his writings and first-hand testimonies from people who knew him., many of whom the author Fr. James E. McCurry, has known and interviewed.
The release of this play this week is not coincidental. This story marries beautifully with the readings of today.
(Readings taken from Universalis- emphasis mine)
|Second reading||2 Timothy 1:6-8,13-14 ©|