War often brings out the good in people, in a way that we could never imagine.
One such man was Maximilian Kolbe (1894-1941)
Maximilian Kolbe was a Roman Catholic priest, who was put in a Nazi concentration camp, Auschwitz for his faith.
In the camp, he would share his meagre rations of food with those around him who were hungry.
There he encouraged the other prisoners to forgive their persecutors and overcome evil with good.
One day a man in Kolbe’s block escaped from the camp and so all of the men from that block were brought out into the hot sun and made to stand there all day - with no food or drink.
At the end of the day, the man that had escaped was not found.
So the Nazi commandant told the assembled prisoners that ten men would be arbitarily selected to die in the starvation cell - in place of the one that had escaped.
One of the men selected was a polish sergeant, Francis Gajowniczek.
He begged to be spared because he was worried that his family would not be able to survive without him.
As he was pleading with the commandant, Maximilian Kolbe silently stepped forward and stood before the commandant.
The commandant turned to him and said asked him what he wanted.
Kolbe pointed to the polish sergeant and said, "I am a Catholic priest from Poland; I would like to take his place, because he has a wife and children to care for."
The commandant stood silent for a moment in disbelief.
He then allowed the sergeant to go back to his place in the ranks and Kolbe took his place in the starvation bunker.
Every day the guards came and removed dead bodies from the bunker. However instead of being greeted with the usual sounds of screaming and cursing, all they heard was Kolbe and the others in the bunker singing hymns and praying.
After two weeks, the cell had to be cleared out for more prisoners. Only four prisoners were left of whom Kolbe was one.
And so on August 14, 1941, Kolbe paid the ultimate price, dying by lethal injection.
And what you might ask became of the polish sergeant, Francis Gajowniczek.
He lived another 53 years dying on 13th March 1995 at the age of 95.
But he never forget Kolbe.
After his release from Auschwitz, Gajowniczek spent the next five decades honouring the man who died on his behalf.
Just before he died he said that
“as long as he . . . has breath in his lungs, he would consider it his duty to tell people about the heroic act of love by Maximilian Kolbe."
The ability to remember is a wonderful gift that God has given to us.