Sunday, March 19, 2017

Maximilian Kolbe

Auschwitz I Barrack
I have always loved taking off and landing in a plane, looking at the ground below from way up in the air. As we began to land in Berlin for our connecting flight, I was fascinated by the view from above. All the buildings, the cars, the grass and the people looked so small and simple. From the airplane you could not tell who was black, who was white, who was Catholic or who was Jewish. Our difference could not be defined from such a high altitude. This snapshot made me wonder when all this hate for people who are different started and why it started.

It is my sixth day in Poland, so far we have seen Auschwitz I and II, Jewish cemeteries, Catholic cemeteries and the town of Krakow and Oswiecim. It has been a lot to take in so far, trying to understand why these relations between the Jews and the Catholics became so tense. It was one thing to learn about the Shoah in class, however, physically standing on the very grounds that once held the feet of Jewish victims and Nazi soldiers takes a toll on your emotions and understanding.

There was one figure throughout this trip that we have learned about that truly stood out to me. Maximilian Kolbe, a Catholic priest who died in Auschwitz. Father Kolbe helped many Jewish refugees during his time and eventually became a prisoner of Auschwitz. Father Kolbe truly stands out to me because of the cause of his death. Kolbe sacrificed himself to be killed at Auschwitz in order to save the life of another prisoner who had a family. His sacrificing of his own life is selfless and demonstrates that there were still truly good Catholics during this time. Father Kolbe was canonized by Pope John Paul II for his efforts in Auschwitz against the Nazi regime.

During our tour of Auschwitz I, we were able to see the prison cell that Father Kolbe died in. That moment made me feel such a sense of compassion and admiration for Father Kolbe. The room was dark and dreary, with barely any source of light. This man suffered in Auschwitz and to think he gave up his life for another man he barely knew is truly remarkable. I had chills walking through the hallway of the prison cells, looking through the peephole of the doors, seeing only dark grey cement and a small block of cement in the corner. The rooms were so bare and cold. This experience makes you reflect on yourself because sometimes we get caught up in everyday life and forget to be good people, helping others through selfless actions.

When we think about the Shoah, many times, simplistically, we think the Catholics hate the Jews. In Father Kolbe’s case, that is not true. Although the Nazi’s were Catholics and targeted the Jews, there were many other factors that played into this. The Jews were not the only targets, there were Gypsies in the camps, Homosexuals and even Catholics that were helping the Jews such as Father Kolbe. Father Kolbe’s story demonstrates that Jewish-Catholic relations during the Shoah were not so black and white. There were many Catholics that sympathized with the Jews and tried to help them. Looking back on The Holocaust Kingdom by Alexander Donat, there was a Catholic family that took in Donat’s son and raised him away from the Nazis while his parents were trying to survive. Donat’s son was in a Catholic orphanage as well and the workers there knew that he was not Jewish, but instead of turning him into the Nazis, they helped him to become baptized so he was Catholic.

Donat’s experience during the Shoah proves that there were many good Catholics that wanted to help the Jews. Maximilian Kolbe’s story demonstrates as well that there were Catholics that tried to save the Jews. Although there were not enough to stand up against the Nazis, the good Catholics did what they could. Seeing the camps and visiting the gravesites in person makes you realize how bad the hate truly was. However, hearing the stories of the Catholic individuals that fought for the lives of the Jews gives hope that the tension that remains between the two religions will soon be demolished. And from now on, I will think of my view from the plane of Berlin, the simplicity of it all. We may be different, but from far away we are truly the same.


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