During the Second World War, Father Maximilian Kolbe gave shelter to thousands of Polish people, both Christians and Jews. He risked his life to help these suffering people.
On February 17, 1941, he was caught and sent to a prison in Warsaw. A guard who saw his Franciscan habit and his rosary asked, “Do you believe in Christ?” Father Kolbe answered, “Yes, I do.” The guard struck him in the face and asked again. Father Kolbe kept giving the same answer, and the guard kept beating him. After that, Father Kolbe was given a striped convict’s uniform and the number 16670. He was sent to a concentration camp, where he endured very hard work and beatings that almost killed him. Even then, he secretly heard confessions and spoke to the other prisoners about God’s love.
One day a prisoner escaped from the camp. To punish the rest of the prisoners, the officers said 10 men would be killed. These men would be dropped into a pit and left to slowly and painfully starve to death. As the men were gathered, one cried out, “My wife, my children! I shall never see them again!” Father Kolbe took this man’s place.
While they were in the pit, Father Kolbe led the nine other men in prayer and song. The depths of that pit sounded like a church full of people. No one had heard anything like it in the prison before. Father Kolbe prayed and suffered bravely, as Jesus did. He gave his life for another and he lifted the spirits of the other nine men who died. After his death, the news of Father Kolbe’s great love spread to the whole world.