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Maximilian Kolbe

On July 30, 1941, seventy two years ago, a rumour spread through cell block of 14 of the Nazi concentration camp in Auschwitz, Poland, that someone had escaped. The prisoners knew what that meant and were terrified with anxiety over what would happen to them as a result.

Maximilian Kolbe

At six o’clock that evening they were all lined up at attention while the commandant of the camp scrutinized them one by one without saying a word, but they all knew what he would likely do to retaliate and punish.

The next morning they were again assembled and told that the fugitive had not been discovered so ten of them would have to die in the starvation bunker. They were then dismissed except those in cell block 14.

After a brutal day standing in the blazing sun the selection of the 10 innocent men condemned to die began. The commandant again walked the lines and stopped suddenly before a trembling victim and pointed at him the finger of death with the order to step forward and march to the under ground bunker to die of hunger and thirst.

At one point in this gruesome process the victim of random choice cried out: “I have a wife and children whom I love dearly. I am leaving them orphans.” His name was Francis Gajowniczek. Then the unexpected happened . One of the other prisoners broke ranks,, came forward, dared to kiss commandant’s hand and said: “I want to die in the place of the condemned.” And who are you the commandant demanded: “I am Maximilian Kolbe. I am a Catholic priest, a Franciscan Friar.”

This whole sad story came to an end two weeks later when only four survivors remained in the cell now needed for others. They were injected with carbolic and died on August 14, 1941.One of them was Maximilian Kolbe. Now St. Maximilian Kolbe, a martyr of charity.

This is the testimony that Fancis Gajownicezk gave some thirty years later to the heroic virtue of his savior, Fr. Maximilian Kolbe: “At that moment it was hard for me to realize the immensity of what had happen-ed to me. I, the condemned, was to live on because someone else willing ly offered his life for me. Was it a dream or a reality? Among my companions in shared adversity in Auschwitz there was unanimous wonder and astonishment at the heroic sacrifice of his life for me on the part of this priest. His consistent love for those around him was extraordinary, but the most splendid confirmation of his heroic love came at the end, when he offered his life for me, almost a total stranger to him.”

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July 29, 2013 Posted by | Auschwitz, News, This Day In History | , , , | Leave a comment

Bradley Wiggins to race Tour of Poland

Sir Bradley Wiggins will make his comeback in the saddle in this months Tour De Pologne.

Krakow Tours  - Bradley Wiggins

Wiggins has endured a frustrating 2013 which has left question marks over whether he will race in the Tour De France again.

He targeted the Giro d’Italia only to withdraw early in the race suffering from a chest infection, and a subsequent knee injury then hampered his recovery and ended his hopes of being ready for the Tour.

Wiggins will return to action in the Tour of Poland later this month with one eye on the world championship time trial in Florence in September.

“He’s very, very motivated and in great shape now, going into Poland, and then on to the individual time trial at the worlds.”

The tour will be in Krakow on 30th July, and then to Katowice on the 31st, and finally Wieliczka to Krakow on 3rd of August.

 

All the details available HERE

July 23, 2013 Posted by | Events, Sport | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Auschwitz’s Great Escape

Jerzy Bielecki

The beautiful story of Jerzy Bielcki and Cyla Cybulska, whose love bested the Nazis, but couldn’t defeat time.

The day was July 21, 1944. Bielecki was walking in broad daylight down a pathway at Auschwitz, wearing a stolen SS uniform with his Jewish sweetheart Cyla Cybulska by his side.

His knees buckling with fear, he tried to keep a stern bearing on the long stretch of gravel to the sentry post.

The German guard frowned at his forged pass and eyed the two for a period that seemed like an eternity – then uttered the miraculous words: Ja, danke – yes, thank you – and let Jerzy and Cyla out of the death camp and into freedom.

It was a common saying among Auschwitz inmates that the only way out was through the crematorium chimneys. These were among the few ever to escape through the side door.

The 23-year-old Bielecki used his relatively privileged position as a German-speaking Catholic Pole to orchestrate the daring rescue of his Jewish girlfriend who was doomed to die.

It was great love, Bielecki, now 89, recalled in an interview at his home in this small southern town 55 miles (85 kilometers) from Auschwitz.

We were making plans that we would get married and would live together forever.

Bielecki was 19 when the Germans seized him on the false suspicion he was a resistance fighter, and brought to the camp in April 1940 in the first transport of inmates, all Poles.

He was given number 243 and was sent to work in warehouses, where occasional access to additional food offered some chance of survival.

It was two years before the first mass transports of Jews started arriving in
1942. Most of the Jews were taken straight to the gas chambers of neighboring Birkenau, while a few were designated to be forced laborers amid horrific conditions, allowing them to postpone death.

In September 1943 Bielecki was assigned to a grain storage warehouse. Another inmate was showing him around when suddenly a door opened and a group of girls walked in.

It seemed to me that one of them, a pretty dark-haired one, winked at me, Bielecki said with a broad smile as he recalled the scene. It was Cyla – who had just been assigned to repair grain sacks.

Their friendship grew into love, as the warehouse offered brief chances for more face-to-face meetings.

In a report she wrote for the Auschwitz memorial in 1983, Cybulska recalled that during the meetings they told each other their life stories and every meeting was a truly important event for both of us.

Cybulska, her parents, two brothers and a younger sister were rounded up in January 1943 in the Lomza ghetto in northern Poland and taken to Auschwitz-Birkenau. Her parents and sister were immediately killed in the gas chambers, but she and her brothers were sent to work.

By September, 22-year-old Cybulska was the only one left alive, with inmate number 29558 tattooed on her left forearm.

As their love blossomed, Bielecki began working on the daring plan for escape.

From a fellow Polish inmate working at a uniform warehouse he secretly got a complete SS uniform and a pass. Using an eraser and a pencil, he changed the officer’s name in the pass from Rottenfuehrer Helmut Stehler to Steiner just in case the guard knew the real Stehler, and filled it in to say an inmate was being led out of the camp for police interrogation at a nearby station. He secured some food, a razor for himself and a sweater and boots for Cybulska.

He briefed her on his plan: “Tomorrow an SS-man will come to take you for an interrogation. The SS-man will be me.”

The next afternoon, Bielecki, dressed in the stolen uniform, came to the laundry barrack where Cybulska had been moved for work duty. Sweating with fear, he demanded the German supervisor release the woman.

Bielecki led her out of the barrack and onto a long path leading to a side gate guarded by the sleepy SS-man who let them go through.

The fear of being gunned down remained with him in his first steps of freedom: “I felt pain in my backbone, where I was expecting to be shot,” Bielecki said.

But when he eventually looked back, the guard was in his booth. They walked on to a road, then into fields where they hid in dense bushes until dark, when they started to march.

“Marching across fields and woods was very exhausting, especially for me, not used to such intensive walks,” Cybulska said in her report to Auschwitz as quoted in a Polish-language book Bielecki has written, He Who Saves One Life

“Far from any settlements, we had to cross rivers,” she wrote. “When water was high … Jurek carried me to the other side.”

At one point she was too tired to walk and asked him to leave her.

“Jurek did not want to hear that and kept repeating: ‘we fled together and will walk on together,'” she reported, referring to Jerzy by his Polish diminutive.

For nine nights they moved under the cover of darkness toward Bielecki’s uncle’s home in a village not far from Krakow.

His mother, who was living at the house, was overjoyed to see him alive, though wasted-away after four years at Auschwitz. A devout Catholic, however, she was dead-set against him marrying a Jewish girl.

“How will you live? How will you raise your children?” Bielecki recalls her asking.

To keep her away from possible Nazi patrols, Cybulska was hidden on a nearby farm. Bielecki decided to go into hiding in Krakow – a fateful choice they believed would improve their chances of avoiding capture by the Nazis. The couple spent their last night together under a pear tree in an orchard, saying their goodbyes and making plans to meet right after the war.

After the Soviet army rolled through Krakow in January 1945, Bielecki left the city where he had been hiding from Nazi pursuit and walked 25-miles (40-kilometers) along snow-covered roads to meet Cybulska at the farmhouse.

But he was four days too late.

Cybulska, not aware that the area where she had been hiding had been liberated three weeks before Krakow, gave up waiting for him, concluding her Juracek either was dead or had abandoned their plans.

She got on a train to Warsaw, planning to find an uncle in the United States. On the train she met a Jewish man, David Zacharowitz, and the two began a relationship and eventually married. They headed to Sweden, then to Cybulska’s uncle in New York, who helped them start a jewelry business. Zacharowitz died in 1975.

In Poland, Bielecki eventually started a family of his own and worked as the director of a school for car mechanics. He had no news of Cybulska and had no way of finding her.

In her report Cybulska said that she was haunted in the years after she left Poland by a wish to see her hometown and to find Jurek, if he was alive.

Sheer chance made her wish come true.

While talking to her Polish cleaning woman in 1982, Cybulska related her Auschwitz escape story.

The woman was stunned.

“I know the story, I saw a man on Polish TV saying he had led his Jewish girlfriend out of Auschwitz,” the cleaning lady told Cybulska, according to Bielecki.

She tracked down his phone number and one early morning in May 1983 the telephone rang in Bielecki’s apartment in Nowy Targ.

“I heard someone laughing – or crying – on the phone and then a female voice said ‘Juracku, this is me, your little Cyla,'” Bielecki recalls.

A few weeks later they met at Krakow airport. He brought 39 red roses, one for each year they spent apart. She visited him in Poland many times, and they jointly visited the Auschwitz memorial, the farmer family that hid her and many other places, staying together in hotels.

“The love started to come back,” Bielecki said.

“Cyla was telling me: ‘leave your wife, come with me to America,'” he recalls. “She cried a lot when I told her: ‘Look, I have such fine children, I have a son, how could I do that?'”

She returned to New York and wrote to him: “Jurek I will not come again,” Bielecki recalled.

They never met again and she did not reply to his letters.

Cybulska died a few years later in New York in 2002.

In 1985, the Yad Vashem Institute in Jerusalem awarded Bielecki the Righteous Among the Nations title for saving Cybulska. The institute’s website account of the escape and its aftermath is consistent with Bielecki’s account to The Associated Press.

“I was very much in love with Cyla, very much,” Bielecki said. “Sometimes I cried after the war, that she was not with me. I dreamed of her at night and woke up crying.”

Fate decided for us, but I would do the same again.

July 21, 2013 Posted by | Auschwitz, This Day In History | Leave a comment

Pope John Paul II set for Sainthood

Pope John Paul II looks at a white dove freed at the end of the Angelus prayer in St Peter's Square, Vatican, 30 January 2005

John Paul II could be declared a saint this year after a Vatican committee approved a second miracle attributed to the Polish pope’s intercession.

The Congregation for the Causes of Saints ruled an “inexplicable recovery” on 1 May 2011 was due to the late Pope’s intercession, Ansa reported.

Earlier that same day he had been beatified after a first miracle was attributed to his intervention.

Pope Francis must now give his approval before a canonisation date is set.

Canonisation is the final step in the official process that declares a deceased person to be a saint.

At a plenary meeting of the Congregation on Tuesday, cardinals and bishops mooted a canonisation ceremony taking place in December, sources told Ansa.

Pope John Paul II at St Peter's Square, Vatican - 2 June 2000
The Polish pope reformed the sainthood process in 1983

One possible date would be 8 December, on which Catholics celebrate the feast of the Immaculate Conception, which this year falls on a Sunday.

John Paul II could be canonised at the same time as John XXIII, Vatican sources suggested. Venerated by Catholics as “the good pope”, John XXIII was elected in 1958 and convened the Second Vatican Council in 1962, but died the following year before it was finished.

Canonisation requires the attribution of one further miracle to the intercession of the candidate after they have been beatified.

The Vatican has not revealed details about the second miracle in John Paul II’s case.

It was reportedly deemed an “inexplicable recovery” by a panel of doctors before being approved last month by a board of the Congregation for the Causes of Saints’ theologians.

John Paul II died in 2005 aged 84 and was beatified by his successor Benedict XVI in May 2011.

Among a crowd hundreds of thousands strong on St Peter’s Square was French nun Marie Simon-Pierre, who says she was cured of Parkinson’s Disease after praying for the intervention of the late pope little more than a month after he died.

Some questioned the Church’s speed in beatifying John Paul II just six years after his death.

Although widely regarded as one of the great popes of modern times, his 26-year pontificate was tarnished by his handling of the clerical sex abuse scandal that has rocked the global Church.

Critics say other of the Church’s deep-seated problems – such as its dysfunctional management and financial scandals at the Vatican bank – stem from shortcomings of his pontificate.

John Paul II reformed the sainthood process in 1983, making it faster, simpler, and cheaper. The office of “Devil’s advocate” – an official whose job was to try to knock down the case for sainthood – was eliminated, and the required number of miracles was dropped.

The idea was to lift up contemporary role models of holiness in order to convince a jaded secular world that sanctity is alive in the here and now, says veteran Vatican analyst John Allen.

The result was that John Paul II beatified and canonised more people than all previous popes combined.

July 3, 2013 Posted by | News | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Sting headlines Life festival near Auschwitz

UK pop legend Sting headlined the 4th Life Festival Oswiecim over the weekend near the former Nazi German death camp of Auschwitz-Birkenau.

 

 

 

Sting with Krakow Tours at Auschwitz

The British star rocked the crowd with classics from his time with group The Police as well as later solo hits.

Fans sang along to radio favourites such as “Roxanne”, “Every little thing she does is magic” and of course “Every breath you take.”

The festival was first staged at Oswiecim’s MOSiR Stadium in 2010, thanks to Darek Maciborek, a journalist who had grown up in the town.

His aim was “to break the spell” over the area, by providing a positive event aimed at cultivating tolerance in a place synonymous with Nazi German racism.

Previous guests have included Peter Gabriel and James Blunt.

July 1, 2013 Posted by | News | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

   

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