August 14, 1941
Review of "A Man
for Others" by Patricia Treece
I was half way into
this book when I felt the urge to send copies to everyone I know.
"There is no
poetry after Auschwitz," people say. Others insist that there can be no
God after Auschwitz, and no man either, at least not man as we had wished
humanity to be. We live in an ugly world of mindless cruelty blasted into our
minds by 24-7 news broadcasters. One atrocity after the other invites us to be
cynical, to be selfish, and to think that our only satisfaction can be found in
the next good meal or drug fix or other self-indulgent, transient pleasure.
Polish Catholic priest and Auschwitz prisoner, was one of the most remarkable
people who ever lived. His kindness, trust in God, and active compassion
shatter our most cynical, selfish stances.
"A Man for
Others" is an amazingly easy and engaging read. For the most part, the
book consists of transcripts of oral recollections of Kolbe's life from his
most intimate friends, family members, and fellow Auschwitz prisoners. The most
profound truths are expressed in simple language. A middle school student could
read this book, and then reread it later in life, and gain new understanding of
its incredible story.
Maximilian Kolbe was
born to a family so poor that they could not afford to send him to school, and
under a foreign occupation so oppressive the colonizing powers refused Polish
children the ability to study in the Polish language. He developed active
tuberculosis and coughed up blood regularly. At times, his body was so weak, he
felt himself close to death. In spite of hardships that have stunted many a
life, Kolbe founded a religious order that prospered in Poland and in Japan.
While founding these
orders, Kolbe, the man in charge, observed absolute poverty. He gave freely of
whatever money he accumulated. He slept on bare floors under leaking ceilings.
The Polish and Japanese peasants among whom he lived were poor, and he allowed
no privileges for himself, in spite of his impossible work load and tubercular
lungs. The people who knew him during these years, long before his fame spread
throughout the world, observed that he was a saint in the making.
When Nazis invaded
Poland on September 1, 1939, they targeted Kolbe, and all other priests, monks,
and nuns. Kolbe was arrested on September 19. He and other priests were packed
into train cars. When they asked for water, they were called "Polish
swine" and told they were "destined for extermination."
Prisoners were fed starvation rations and had to sleep on the ground in winter.
In December, Kolbe was released. His followers encouraged him to flee Poland.
They knew that with his high profile, his freedom was temporary. Given that he
had had a taste of what it meant to be a prisoner of the Nazis, it is all the
more remarkable that Kolbe decided to do what he did next: defy the Nazis further.
Kolbe made his
headquarters, Niepokalanow, a shelter for refugees fleeing Nazi persecution,
including an estimated two thousand Jews. Among Kolbe's last published words,
and among the most inspirational words ever written, were the following, "No
one can alter the truth. What we can do and should do is to search for truth
and then serve it when we have found it." These were incendiary words in a
Poland occupied by Nazis. Kolbe was arrested again, and sent to Auschwitz.
There is no need to
repeat here what Kolbe endured in Auschwitz. The horrors of that manmade hell
are all too familiar. What is unforgettable is Kolbe's behavior. This fragile,
tubercular priest, by all accounts, went out of his way to be kind to all.
Receiving only starvation rations, he gave his food away to others. He
counseled fellow prisoners. He showed no hostility to Nazi guards. For all
this, he was singled out for beatings and cruel tortures. A man of peace,
deprived of all power, he still had the power of truth. Nazis were so
intimidated by him they ordered him not to look at them. They could not endure
the power of his eyes (228). After the war, Sigmund Gorson, a Jewish Holocaust
survivor, testified of Kolbe, "Now it is easy to be nice, to be
charitable, to be humble, when times are good and peace prevails. For someone
to be as Father Kolbe was in [Auschwitz] … is beyond words."
Kolbe offered to take
the place of a man condemned to death. He was stripped and held in a dark,
bare-floored, foul-smelling, featureless concrete cell, with ten other men, with
no food or water, until they starved to death. In the cell, Kolbe spent his
final days praying, singing, and encouraging his fellow prisoners. It took
weeks for him to die. Finally, the Nazis injected him with carbolic acid.
The bare facts of
Kolbe's story inspire awe. The bare facts are not enough. You need to read this
book, to get an intimate sense of Kolbe the human being. "A Man for
Others" was one of those rare, special books that gave me the sense that I
was acquiring a new friend. Kolbe comes alive in these pages. He is a man we
Sadly, this must be
mentioned. After Kolbe was canonized, professional atheist Christopher
Hitchens, celebrity attorney Alan Dershowitz, superstar scholar Daniel Jonah
Goldhagen, and Washington Post columnist Richard Cohen launched a tragically
misguided smear campaign against Kolbe. Prof. Daniel Schlafly and Warren Green,
director of the St. Louis Center for Holocaust Studies, debunked the smears,
and the concerned reader is advised to study their full report.
“No one in the world
can change Truth. What we can do and and should do is to seek truth and to
serve it when we have found it. The real conflict is the inner conflict. Beyond
armies of occupation and the hetacombs of extermination camps, there are two
irreconcilable enemies in the depth of every soul: good and evil, sin and love.
And what use are the victories on the battlefield if we are ourselves are
defeated in our innermost personal selves?”
"A Man for
Others" at Amazon here
Yes, Saint Maximilian Kolbe was a fascinating person. I had reviewed a book about him some years ago. The book helps dispel misconceptions about some of Kolbe's statements. To see the review, please click on my name in this specific posting.ReplyDelete
Jan you too are a tireless worker, chipping away at the PC Coalface to get our story told. Thanks to you both.Delete
Re the blog Danusha, you say: "Others insist there can be no God after Auschwitz". So - and I know I keep saying this, but doesn't the urgency grow every day - hence the urgency of the Christian preaching work.
1914 is a very significant date in Bible prophecy, and we are warned that we are in for a terrible time on the earth in the wake of it. The Book of Revelation explains why. But this is the darkest hour before the dawn.
And it will be a wonderful dawn when it comes. And I hope that then Maxmilian Kolbe will have a wonderful awakening from the sleep of death.
But if people don't know that, how easily they could lose faith - either in the idea of a Creator, or in his power and goodness.
If we are describing Dmowski in a negative light then Kolbe should probably not get a free ride either, no?ReplyDelete