A MAN FOR OTHERS: Maximilian Kolbe in the Words of Those Who Knew Him by Patricia Treece

A MAN FOR OTHERS: Maximilian Kolbe in the Words of Those Who Knew Him

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Fr. Kolbe's story deserves to be told, and the man himself seems to merit the sainthood officially conferred upon him by his fellow Pole, John Paul II; but this heavy dose of artless Catholic piety (Kolbe's, Treece's, and many of her informants') threatens to overpower the reader. Born in 1894, Kolbe won a bit of immortality 47 years later in Auschwitz when he volunteered to replace another prisoner in the starvation bunker. An inmate from Block 14A had escaped, and in reprisal the Nazis chose ten others to be locked up without food or water till they died. Kolbe somehow lasted two weeks before being given the coup de fir/ice with an injection of carbolic acid. During the two-and-a-half months he spent in the death camp, he played the part of a ministering angel in hell--comforting his despondent fellow prisoners, sharing his pitiful rations with them, enduring repeated savage beatings by the SS. Kolbe's pre-Auschwitz career had some interesting features as well. Despite his dreamy, ascetic, Prince Myshkin appearance, Kolbe was a phenomenal organizer: he founded and ran the largest Catholic monastery in the world, Niepokalanow. And he spent six years in Nagasaki establishing a Franciscan community (only slightly damaged by the atomic bomb) that later doubled as an enormous orphanage. But while Kolbe's heroic virtues are past doubting, this dossier of awestruck testimony (mostly depositions for his canonization ""trial"") makes him sound so monomaniacally devout and supersonically heaven-bound as to be something less than human. ""When in the camp we suffered hunger, cold, and when we slept on the ground or on hay under tents--and it was already a snowy and icy November--and we had no water to drink, and while we hadn't changed our underwear for three months, and while the insects and filth tormented us, Father Maximilian bore it all with joy,"" etc. Old-fashioned hagiography, in sum, for lovers of that genre.

Pub Date: Nov. 10th, 1982
Publisher: Harper & Row