A Short Story about St. Maximilian Kolbe
You didn’t know me.
You didn’t know my name, my heritage, my religion. You knew that I had a wife and two sons after I cried out, begging humanity for mercy. You knew that I faced certain death amidst the harsh, cold, prison walls. You did not know what sort of death awaited; you only knew that death was certain.
Yet amidst that blood-streaked gray sky, you raised your hand as I stood in front of the crowd looking out. You walked forward, moving closer to me. You moved steadily towards what could only be death, and for what? To save a man whom you felt had more to lose than yourself.
You looked at me, your eyes filled with clarity. You moved amidst the crowds, pushed through the throngs of people, walked up to the soldiers clothed in green. The hundreds present were silent—in that moment, the world seemed to stop.
The gates were foreboding and grim and spoke of death. The wind howled and roared against the barren wooden barracks. The entrance to this forsaken place was filled with a lie. You knew this, you knew that you were condemned, you knew that you were the walking dead, and yet you spoke. You dared to look them in the eye, you dared to bring light into the dismal darkness of a never-ending gray night. You did not quiver in your speech, did not hesitate, you breathed those words as if they were not even a thought.
Your voice was clear and strong, “I am a Catholic priest. Let me take his place.” The words echoed through the darkened, hallowed camp. Never was there so deep a silence amongst that somber mill of death. You were being led to your death. Later we would learn that you were locked in that tight, cold, barren, iron cell for two weeks as they attempted to starve you to death. You watched as the other nine around you died. You watched and you prayed. And as you prayed, they watched you. We now know that they watched you and tried to kill you, starve you, deny you of water—but you lived. You would not die, and they were mystified. You prayed for their souls, for your murderers, for those whom others would call merciless bastards. In your last moments, you prayed for mercy. While you were present in that cell, those iron bars were your chapel, the concrete floor your altar.
You extended your arm to receive the lethal injection. I wonder if you knew that they were tired of waiting. They told us that you did not flinch, but reached out to them, almost as if to embrace them with God’s Mercy. Later accounts would say that you looked at them with love as they extended to you only carbolic acid. You died praying. You died in silence amidst a hall of murder as a martyr of charity, as others would later come to know you.
You did not know that my sons would be lost to the war. You could only pray from the heavens as I remained in that camp for over five years. You did not know if I would only be put to death another death another day, but that didn’t matter to you. You looked at me and saw a human, where others saw a worker. You looked at me and saw a soul, where others saw only weak flesh and bones. You didn’t have to say anything, but you chose to give life by sacrifice, to sacrifice to generate hope, to hope to be a light.