Obituary: Francziszek Gajowniczek
Thursday 23 March 1995
Gajowniczek was one of 10 inmates of the Nazi camp selected for death in reprisal for the escape of another prisoner. Knowing Gajowniczek was married with a family, the priest stepped forward, asking to take his place in the underground starvation cell. The wish was granted and the priest died there the following month. Gajowniczek was spared. The priest was Maximilian Kolbe and Gajowniczek lived to see the day 40 years later when, in October 1982, Kolbe was canonised by a fellow-Pole, Pope John Paul II, at St Peter's in Rome.
Gajowniczek was born in the Polish town of Stradchomin in 1901. He joined the Polish army as a young man and was given a commendation for his role in the 1920 Battle of the Vistula, when the Poles defeated the Red Army which had moved in to crush Polish independence.
In 1940, as a sergeant, Gajowniczek was captured by the Germans and sent to Auschwitz, where he was branded with the number 5659. He spent more than five years in Auschwitz and in another Nazi camp, Sachenhausen.
After his release, he and his wife Janina settled in Brzeg, near Opole in southern Poland, remaining there until his death. In gratitude for the self-sacrifice of Maximilian Kolbe, Gajowniczek devoted much of the rest of his life to promoting knowledge of the Franciscan, giving talks about the saint in various countries. His mission to "repay a debt", as he put it, was rewarded in 1971, when Kolbe was beatified by Pope Paul VI, and reached its climax when he was declared a saint in 1982. Gajowniczek was present in Rome to witness official church recognition of the priest who had saved his life. He also kept in close contact with Fr Maximilian's Franciscan community at Niepokolanow, near Warsaw.
Gajowniczek was appointed by President Lech Walesa to the committee which organised last January's commemoration at Auschwitz of the 50th anniversary of the camp's liberation towards the end of the war. Last December, at Niepokolanow, he took part in commemorations marking the centenary of Kolbe's birth.
He always expressed the desire that he should be buried in the Franciscan cemetery at the monastery, a wish respected by his family.
Francziszek Gajowniczek: born Stradchomin, Poland 1901; died Brzeg, Poland 13 March 1995.
- 4 Women think Irish men are the sexiest, survey finds
- 5 Florida couple forced to register as sex offenders for having sex on public beach
Italian police 'reveal' what Jesus looked like as a young boy
Who should I vote for in the general election? Take The Independent's interactive quiz to find out which party is the right choice for you
Florida couple forced to register as sex offenders for having sex on public beach
Mysterious 'X-Files' sounds heard miles above the Earth
US gameshow gives woman in wheelchair incredibly awkward prize
In defence of liberal democracy
General Election 2015: Post-election 'shambles' looms as 70 per cent of voters say SNP 'should not be able to veto UK government policies'
The Rothschild Libel: Why has it taken 200 years for an anti-Semitic slur that emerged from the Battle of Waterloo to be dismissed?
General Election 2015: UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power, Labour warns
General election live: SNP suspends two members for disrupting Labour rally
Schools forced to act as 'miniature welfare states' with teachers buying underwear and even haircuts for poor pupils
£36000 - £45000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...
£50000 per annum: Ashdown Group: HR Manager Shared Services - Uxbridge, Stock...
Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity to join one of...
£18000 - £20000 per annum + Benefits: Ashdown Group: HR Assistant (Events busi...