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Maximillian Kolbe and World War II Polish Remembrance Day

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Each year the Polish-American community of Buff alo hosts a Mass commemorating the life and death of Maximilian Maria Kolbe, the 47-year-old Polish Conventual Franciscan friar who gave up his life in exchange for that of another Polish prisoner at the Auschwitz concentration camp.

In Auschwitz, Maximilian was prisoner number 16670, a Polish Catholic, one of 15,000 Polish Christians imprisoned at Auschwitz in 1941. In July of that year, a camp prisoner escaped and 10 men from Maximilian’s barrack were picked to suffer death by starvation as a means of punishment and as a deterrent to other prisoners. Chosen among the 10 men was Franciszek Gajowniczek, a married man with children. Maximilian stepped forward and offered to take his place. What followed for Maximilian and the other men was a slow and excruciating death lasting two weeks. He was the last of his group to remain alive. Hastening his death, he was executed by the Nazi’s by a lethal injection of carbolic acid on Aug. 14, 1941. The next day he was thrown unceremoniously into the crematorium. He was 47 years old.

After the war was over, witnesses to the event came forward which led to Maximilian Kolbe’s beatifi cation. Then on Oct. 10, 1982, he was canonized by Pope John Paul II as a martyr. He is frequently referred to as the saint of Auschwitz. His feast day is celebrated on the day of his death of August 14.

In memory of Maximilian Kolbe’s heroic act of love in desperate times, the Polish American Congress of Western New York and the Polish Legacy Project-WWII of Buffalo invite the Western New York community to join together in prayer for the 23rd annual World War II Polish Remembrance Mass to be held Aug. 16, at St. Stanislaus Bishop and Martyr Church, 389 Peckham St., Buffalo, at 12 noon. It is with thoughts of the martyrdom of St. Maximilian Kolbe in mind that the Mass also remembers:

All the Polish victims, both Jewish and non-Jewish of Auschwitz and all the concentration camps established by the Nazi’s during World War II;

The almost 2 million Polish forced laborers who suffered, and the many unnumbered, who died of sickness, starvation, or euthanized and whose infants and children were neglected and starved to death in Nazi Germany during World War II;

The Polish men and women who died as a result of concentration camp medical experiments such as the Polish women at Ravensbruck concentration camp;

The righteous Poles who were murdered in their attempts to hide their Jewish neighbors and in so doing forfeited their own lives such as the Ulma family of Markowa;

The 200,000 children who were stolen from Polish orphanages, or from their families and sent to Germany to become German, the majority of whom were never recovered after the war and lost their Polish identity forever;

The 22,000 Polish soldiers murdered at Katyn forest by the Russians;

The thousands of Polish families who were deported to Siberia by the Russians and the men, women and children who died from starvation and exposure;

The 566 patients of the psychiatric hospital in Kobierzyn near Krakow and Kalwaria Zebrzydowska who were killed as part of Hitler’s euthanasia action against the terminally ill, the mentally ill and the infirm;

The Polish Catholic priests who died in Dachau concentration camp.

The Polish Catholic nuns who died in the labor camp at Bojanowo.

The Remembrance Mass is a time of honoring, remembering and mourning the glaring atrocities committed against the Polish people and nation during World War II. Please join us to honor St. Maximilian Kolbe and the millions of Christian Poles who were victims of Nazi and Soviet regimes during World War II. A table will be set up where anyone attending can place photos of victims and survivors of Poland’s tragic occupation during World War II. The Mass will be celebrated in Polish and English by Father Michal Czyzewski, pastor of St. Stanislaus Church. The entire diocesan community is invited. The Mass will also be aired on the radio station WLOF 101.7 FM at 12 noon.

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