In 1994, the year before he died, Franciszek Gajowniczek visited St. Maximilian Kolbe Catholic Church of Houston and recounted his memories.
On July 30, 1941, at the Auschwitz, a German officer ordered the men to assemble, because a prisoner from their barracks had escaped. “This was to serve as an example to everyone,” Gajowniczek said, “so they would be afraid to flee.”
Ten men were chosen to die.
“The officer stood in front of me and pointed and I knew I was chosen to die. ‘I am losing my wife, and my children will now be orphaned.'"
According to Gajowniczek then Kolbe stepped out from the crowd of other prisoners and said "I want to take the place of this man. He has a wife and a family. I have no one. I am a Catholic priest.“
Gajowniczek said he looked at the priest but that concentration camp rules forbade them from saying a word. “He had a satisfied look on his face and seemed very contented that he was doing this.”
The 10 were taken away, stripped naked, confined and left to starve. On Aug. 14, 1941, the four who had not yet died, including the priest, were each injected with a poison.
Kolbe, Gajowniczek told the congregation, “is the patron saint of anyone in need . . . the patron saint of anyone that needs help.”
In 1982 Gajowniczek sat at the canonization of Kolbe. I too was blessed to sit at that event. I looked down from my seat on the colonnade at the crowd of people in the special section where he and all of his family sat and witnessed the effects of one life of sacrifice. It made the sacrifice of the Mass even more powerful, especially looking out at the crowd filling the square.