OŚWIĘCIM, Poland (ChurchMilitant.com) - Holy Mass was recently offered near the Auschwitz concentration camps, in the presence of Auschwitz survivors.
The liturgy took place at the Center for Dialogue and Prayer in Oświęcim, near Auschwitz-Birkenau State Museum (the ruins of the concentration camp). Poland's Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki was present at the Mass on Sunday, as was Deputy Prime Minister Beata Szydło.
The Holocaust survivors present on Sunday were survivors of Auschwitz II-Birkenau, the largest camp in the Auschwitz complex. Mass was offered for the souls of those who died in the Holocaust, as well as Holocaust survivors who have since passed away.
A variety of diplomats were present Sunday, including Abp. Salvatore Pennacchio, Apostolic Nuncio in Poland.
Father Paweł Rytel-Andrianik, official spokesman of the Polish Bishops' Conference, offered the Mass.
One of the heroes of Auschwitz was St. Maximilian Kolbe (feast day August 14). A Franciscan priest in Poland radically committed to the Immaculate Heart of Mary, he was arrested in 1941 and shipped off to Auschwitz.
One day, when a prisoner managed to escape Auschwitz, 10 prisoners were to be killed in retribution. (This was the policy in Auschwitz and was meant to deter escape attempts.) A Nazi officer began to pick 10 inmates at random until Kolbe interrupted him and offered himself up as the 10th one sentenced to death.
Kolbe and the nine others were ordered to strip naked. They were then forced into a small, dark room, where they were left to die of starvation. Kolbe and a few others survived for two weeks, such that the Nazi guards lost patience and killed the saint by lethal injection.
Around 1 million Jews were killed in Auschwitz. Of that number, 900,000 of them died in the gas chambers, while the other 100,000 died from malnutrition, illness or exhaustion during forced labor.
Along with Jews, Roma (Gypsies), Soviets and various other groups were present at Auschwitz. But generally, these other groups were not immediately sent to the gas chambers, as many Jews were.
At first, Poles who resisted Nazi occupation were the main occupants of the camp, but from 1942 onward, Jews became a majority. Upon arrival in Auschwitz, many Jews were sent immediately to the gas chambers, while a number were put to work in the labor camps.