Auschwitz Inmate Saved by Saint Maximilian Kolbe Dies at 94
WARSAW, Poland (AP) _ Franciszek Gajowniczek, who spent years paying witness to a Franciscan monk who died in his stead at the Auschwitz concentration camp, died Monday at age 94.
Gajowniczek died peacefully at his home in the southwestern city of Brzeg, his widow Janina told The Associated Press. His health had been declining since January, she said.
In July 1941, the Nazis selected Gajowniczek and nine other men to die of starvation as punishment for another prisoner’s escape. After listening to Gajowniczek speak of his wife and two sons, the Rev. Maximilian Kolbe volunteered to die in his place.
Kolbe survived more than 14 days in a starvation bunker with no food or water. The Nazis ended Kolbe’s life in August 1941 with a lethal injection.
``Ever since, he had a deep sense of Kolbe’s presence and had a feeling Kolbe will know when to take him,″ Janina Gajowniczek said of her husband. ``Now, he has gone to Kolbe.″
Gajowniczek spent five years, five months and nine days in Auschwitz. Prisoner number 5659 was tattooed on his left forearm.
The Roman Catholic church declared Kolbe blessed in 1971 and canonized him in 1982. The man whose life Kolbe saved travelled through Europe and the United States giving talks about the saint and laying cornerstones for churches in his name.
Gajowniczek was too weak to participate in the Jan. 26 commemoration of the 50th anniversary of Auschwitz’s liberation.
Gajowniczek’s sons died in 1945 during a Soviet bombardment at the end of the war. His first wife, Helena, died 17 years ago, Janina Gajowniczek said.
A funeral service will be held Wednesday at the Franciscan center of Niepokalanow, near Warsaw, where Kolbe lived for some time.