In an earlier post, I described my visit to the Jewish Museum’s holocaust section, and the poignancy of a tiny little doll which had travelled to safety with a child on the Kindertransport.
During WWII, the Nazis systematically murdered 11 million Jews, Romany gypsies, disabled people, political opponents and religious dissenters. One of them was a priest named Maximilian Kolbe. He was arrested for ‘helping Jews’ and the resistance and sent to Auschwitz concentration camp in 1941 (if you don’t know much about what went on at Auschwitz, do read more here). Another inmate escaped, and to ensure no one had the audacity to do such a thing again, the Nazi guards called all the men from the same hut to line up in rows outside (again, if you don’t know what a concentration camp hut looks like, click here, because every adult should have some idea).
A man from each row was selected, including a Polish POW named Gajowniczek (incidentally, POWs are not even included in the figure of 11 million). Gajowniczek begged the Nazis not to kill him. He cried out that he had a wife and family. At this, Kolbe stepped forward, saying he had no children, was not married, and wished to take Gajowniczek’s place. Kolbe, along with nine other men, was led away to an underground chamber where they would be starved to death.
On the 11th day of the 11th month, at the 11th hour, millions of people will pause, lest we forget. Ever since I can remember, we have always done this.
Yet wars and conflict have been with us for decades, with little hope of an ending in sight.
Many people have said a great many things about the soldiers who have fought in these wars. My grandfather was one of them. I don’t want to say what has already been said. Instead, I would like to remember 11th November with these words from Maximilian Kolbe which, when published in 1941, provided ‘evidence’ for his arrest:
“The real conflict is inner conflict. Beyond armies of occupation and the catacombs of concentration camps, there are two irreconcilable enemies in the depth of every soul: good and evil, sin and love. And what use are victories on the battle-field if we ourselves are defeated in our innermost personal selves?”
Lest we forget.