Maximilian Kolbe

Above the West door of Westminster Abbey in London are statues of ten 20th century martyrs. Among them stands Maximilian Kolbe, a Conventual Franciscan Friar from Poland who died as Prisoner 16670 in Auschwitz Concentration Camp on 14 August 1941.

He had been arrested and imprisoned after sheltering 2000 Jewish people and other refugees from Greater Poland in the Friary in NiepokalanówAs a radio amateur he had also criticized Nazi activities through his radio reports.  
Maximilian Kolbe 1939 photo

After a prisoner disappeared from Auschwitz in July 1941, the deputy camp commander selected 10 men to die by starvation and dehydration in the notorious Block 13. Maximilian Kolbe was not one of those selected but he volunteered to take the place of another man, Franciszek Gajowniczek who was crying out for his family. This was accepted.

During the weeks that it took the 10 to die Maximilian led the others in prayer and singing. The 4 still left alive after 3 weeks, including Maximilian, were murdered by carbolic acid injections on 14 August 1941. 

"No one has greater love than this, to lay down one's life for one's friends." John 15: 13
Stained Glass in Conventual Franciscan church, Szombathely, Hungary

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Image Credits: photo of Westminster abbey statue wikicommons


  1. What a terrible (wonderful) story.
    It's good to be reminded of these sort of people (and there were many such) in the camps.
    As time passes people forget.
    Thanks for this Nancy.

    1. Terrible story indeed, although inspiring. I have visited Auschwitz and one of the things that impressed me during and after that visit is how terrible times and extreme suffering can bring out both the worst and the best in we humans.

  2. I first learnt about the 10 martyrs of Westminster Abbey through an article in a Christian magazine The Plain Truth in 1999. I purchased the book The Terrible Alternative Christian Martyrdom in the 20th Century edited by Andrew Chandler, and the stories about the 3 women and 7 men have remained with me forever.


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