A MIRACLE FROM GOD THROUGH ST. JÓZEF KALISKI
FR. SŁAWOMIR KĘSZKA
This year’s 70th anniversary of the end of the Second World War leads us to places of martyrdom of all people who were killed in those times. Death camps and other places of execution oblige us to pray for honesty, justice and ability of forgiveness which build peace
Among many Nazis death camps KL Dachau will remain connected with Kalisz and the Sanctuary of St. Joseph there forever, because on the last days of the war, priests imprisoned in this camp entrusted themselves and co-prisoners to the Patron of the Universal Church from the picture of the Holy Family of Kalisz. The Redeemer’s Guardian is an effective Patron on the way to God. He helps in solving situations which are impossible to solve in a human way. There are registered healings through his intercession. The death camp in Dachau was a place where a few dozen thousand people needed care and help of this Saint person.
After the outbreak of the war, the Nazis transported people from occupied European countries to Dachau. Among prisoners there were also 2794 priests coming from whole Europe – from Germany, France, the Czech Republic, Holland, Serbia, Belgium and Italy. Poles were the biggest number of imprisoned priests – there were 1773 of them, among whom 865 were killed there.
Camp literature is full of memories of those who had to learn to live according to the thought written on the gate leading to the camp – ‘Arbeit macht Frei’ (Work makes you free’). Its perverted understanding led to various forms of harassment of prisoners: senseless gymnastics, painful body punishments and work beyond human strength. All this ended with more and more physical and psychical destruction of prisoners.
However, faith often rescued them from death, and a prayer allowed them to survive. However, soon there were periods when it was possible to pray openly. Priests being in the camp, and taking care of spiritual life of all prisoners, were trying to tame fear of punishment which was for all kinds of religious cult and were trying to give confession to prisoners secretly, pray in bigger groups and even sometimes celebrate Holy Masses.
Priests imprisoned behind wires of the camp in Dachau remembered about apparitions of Our Lady in Fatima, who had announced the end of the First World War and warned that if the world did not get improved, there would be a new conflict. She also promised that when the world was entrusted to Her Immaculate Heart, she would intercede to God in prayers for the end of another war. On 8 December 1942 pope Pius XII entrusted the whole world to the Immaculate Heart of Mary. Looking for help in difficulties of the camp life, imprisoned priests, had entrusted themselves to the Immaculate Heart of Mary twice - in 1942 and 1943. Following the path ‘Through Mary to Jesus’, on 5 March 1944 they also entrusted themselves to the Blessed Heart of Jesus.
On the last days of the war, when they heard the message about the camp liquidation and an intention of murdering all prisoners of KL Dachau, priests entrusted their uncertainty and fear also to St. Joseph. It was an initiative of Fr. Jan Adamecki, and the text of the Act was prepared by a group with Fr. Can. Franciszek Jedwabski from Poznań and Fr. Can. Bolesław Kunka from Włocławek. After celebrating the nine-day novena, on 22 April 1945 priests entrusted their return to Poland to St. Joseph, and also committed themselves to spread the cult of St. Patron and make a pilgrimage to Kalisz, in order to thank for his intercession in front of his image. This Act included the following words: ‘Patron of the Holy Church, Guardian of our Homeland (…), we ask You, give us and the whole nation steadfast faith to principles of God’s Church (…), and in threatening dangers, defend us and our families, so that we could happily return to our beloved Homeland (…). We promise to express worship to you (…) and when we return, we promise to pay tribute of gratitude to You, in front of Your Miraculous Image in the Collegiate in Kalisz’.
After the camp liberation by American armies on 29 April 1945, not only those who believed in God were aware of a miracle through the intercession of St. Joseph. The camp was liberated nearly 4 hours before murdering of other prisoners, planned by the Nazis.
In 1948 there was the first big pilgrimage of priests of the Dachau camp to Kalisz. Later they also went to St. Jospeh. Pilgrimages took place every five years, and those who had such a need of heart, kneeled at the feet of St. Joseph of Kalisz at the end of April every year. The pilgrimage in 1970 had a particular character, when the Martyrdom and Gratitude Chapel, funded by priests and being their votive gift for liberation and their happy return home, was sanctified. In 1995, on the occasion of the 50th anniversary of the end of the Second World War, in the Sanctuary of St. Joseph in Kalisz, there was a meeting of the Polish Episcopate with few priests- the former prisoners.
Ten years later, when most of them passed away to Lord, bishop Ignacy Jeż finalized earlier efforts of ‘Dachau priests’, so that the diocese of Kalisz could become a place of annual celebrations of the Martyrdom Day of Polish Clergy. Because priests, the former prisoners of concentration camps during meetings in Kalisz were praying for the Church, young priests and new vocations, it seems that this place of prayer in these intentions is for all of us binding and can be fulfillment of their testament.