All photographs copyright © Alan Jacobs.

The Cell of Father Maksymilian Kolbe

Another famous story involving Block 11 is that of the Polish Franciscan Maksymilian Rajmund Kolbe. In late July 1941, there was a successful escape.


Father Maksymilian Maria Kolbe

According to camp policy Lagerführer Karl Fritzsch selected a number of men from the escapee's block, in this case 15 prisoners from Block 4, to be killed by starvation. After the final man had been selected, Father Kolbe actually broke ranks and approached Fritzsch. It was remarkable that he wasn't beaten to death or shot on the spot, just for this act. He volunteered to take the place of another man whom he knew had a family. Fritzsch accepted. Father Kolbe was taken to this starvation cell in Block 11. Still alive after two weeks, he was killed by phenol injection administered by the Block Elder, Hans Bock, (serial number 5). Bock was one of the original criminals carefully selected from German prisons to serve as work foremen and block leaders.

After the war, the Roman Catholic Church bestowed sainthood on Father Kolbe. In a 1979 pilgrimage to Auschwitz/Birkenau, Pope John Paul II honored Father Kolbe, and made the point that he was not the only one to overcome evil: "How many here earned similar victories? The victorious were people of various faiths, various ideologies, and surely not only believers."”*

The man whose life Father Kolbe saved, Franciszek Gajowniczek, survived the camp and lived a long life (95). He died in 1995.

*John Paul II, in: Auschwitz 1940-1945 Vol. 4, p. 35, The Resistance Movement, Swiebocki, H., editor.