Maximilian Kolbe was born in Poland to a weaver, Julius Kolbe and midwife, Maria Dąbrowska. His father was an ethnic German while his mother was Polish.
Kolbe’s life was strongly influenced by a childhood vision of the Blessed Virgin Mary. As he was to later describe,
“That night I asked the Mother of God what was to become of me. Then she came to me holding two crowns, one white, the other red. She asked me if I was willing to accept either of these crowns. The white one meant that I should persevere in purity, and the red that I should become a martyr. I said that I would accept them both.”
Maximilian Kolbe would go on to join the Conventual Franciscans and be ordained a priest. He would also organize the Militia Immaculatae (Army of The Immaculate) to work for the conversion of sinners and enemies of The Church.
When World War II broke out and Poland was invaded by Germany, Kolbe remained with a few brothers at the monastery to organize a temporary hospital. He was briefly arrested by the Germans, but was released. During his arrest, he refused to sign the Deutsche Volksliste, which would have given him rights similar to those of German citizens in exchange for recognizing his German ancestry. He also issued a number of anti-Nazi German publications.
The monastery was shut down by the German authorities. That day, Kolbe and four others were arrested by the German Gestapo and imprisoned in the Pawiak prison. He was later transferred to Auschwitz.
He continued to act as a priest, while incarcerated. One day 3 inmates disappeared from camp. The deputy camp commander picked 10 men to be starved to death in an underground bunker to deter further escape attempts. When one of the selected men, cried out, “My wife! My children!”, Kolbe volunteered to take his place.
After two weeks of dehydration and starvation, only Kolbe remained alive. The guards wanted the bunker emptied, so they gave Kolbe a lethal injection of carbolic acid. Kolbe is said to have raised his left arm and calmly waited for the deadly injection. His remains were cremated on 15 August, the feast day of the Assumption of Mary.