Thursday, April 22, 2010

Maxmilian Kolbe: Saint of Auschwitz

Elaine Murray Stone has documented one of the most inspiring stories to take place in a Nazi concentration camp in her slim, readable volume, Maximilian Kolbe: Saint of Auschwitz. The story begins with Maximilian's early life in Poland, and continues on through his ordination as a friar, his advanced schooling in Rome, and his role as founder of two monasteries and several Catholic newspapers. Kolbe was arrested and released once after the Nazi invasion of Poland, but was later rearrested and sent to Auschwitz.

As a young boy, Kolbe was a handful, but a vision changed his life. While he was still young, he was praying in church, and he saw an image of Mary holding out a red and a white crown. She told Kolbe the white one meant he would be pure forever, and the red one meant he would be a martyr. Then, she asked Kolbe which one he wanted. He asked for both of the crowns, and from that day on, he aspired to be a priest.

Kolbe went on to school in Poland and later Rome, where he excelled. He became a friar and started an organization dedicated to serve Mary in the way a medieval knight would serve a queen. Kolbe also used the printing press to found monasteries and publish Catholic newspapers in both Poland and Japan.

Near the beginning of World War II, Kolbe was sent from Japan back to Poland to rest and recover from tuberculosis. He was outspoken against the Nazi agenda of exterminating Jews and anyone weak. The Nazis arrested Kolbe when they invaded, along with most clergy. He was released and chose to return to the friary instead of escape to America or go into hiding. He was arrested again in 1941, and eventually sent to work at Auschwitz. In Auschwitz, Kolbe encouraged prisoners, heard confessions, and even celebrated an underground Mass.

One day, after a prisoner escaped, Kolbe's barracks was sentenced to be punished. The guards selected ten men to be thrown into a cell and starve to death. As Kolbe watched, one of the men began to cry and mentioned his wife and children. Kolbe stepped forward and asked the guards to choose him instead, as he was older and had no family. The guard agreed, and Kolbe was killed. Francis Gajowniczek, the prisoner Kolbe saved, survived the war and was reunited with his wife. He spent the rest of his life telling others about Kolbe's sacrifice.

Kolbe indeed earned a white crown of purity and the red crown of a martyr. Today, Maximilian Kolbe is known as a hero to all, and as a saint to Catholics around the world.

What I Like: This is an inspiring story, and Kolbe was a remarkable man. His accomplishments even before being martyred are amazing. He exhibited such sincere, unwavering faith through hardship, illness and obstacles. He is a wonderful example for readers to follow.

This book is easy to read, fast-paced and clear. It includes several black and white illustrations, and will hold the attention of any reader. It is an excellent model of non-fiction writing. Stone traveled extensively to research her book, and a complete bibliography is included.

The book explains many Catholic ideas, such has the process for becoming a saint, and the way a friar relates to his community. It also explains many aspects of World War II. Stone does a good job giving background information within the story, without interrupting the flow of action.

What I Dislike: Nothing

Overall Rating: Excellent

Age Appeal: Publisher lists 8 and up, but I think there are lots of details about the concentration camps. I would say 12 and up.

Publisher Info: Paulist Press, 1997; ISBN: 0-8091-6637-2; Paperback, $8.95

Buy it Now at for $7.49

OR Buy it at for $8.95.

Special Info: Protestant readers should note Mary is often referred to as "the Virgin Mary" or "the Blessed Virgin." Also, Stone writes, "[Francis] prayed to Maximilian Kolbe to intercede for him, that he might live a long time." Francis' prayers were in 1965, after Kolbe's death.

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Ticia said...

Looks like a really interesting book, I'll have to remember it for a few years from now.

Erin said...

Thanks, Ticia, for reading reviews at CCBR. I found this book very inspiring, and my husband and I had a really good discussion about it, so you may even enjoy it now. :) Erin