Unknown Niepokalanow on the former German land
Fr. Adrian Put
On 24 September, in Gębice village near Gubin, in Zielona Góra and Gorzów dioceses, there was a celebration which symbolically closed the celebrations of Kolbe’s Year in Poland. On the same day, in 1939 St Maksymilian Maria Kolbe was brought to Stalag III B Amtitz (Gębice), belonging to the Reich till 1945. Several thousands of people gathered at the celebrations in Gębice. The common prayer was led by Bishop Stefan Regmunt from Zielona Góra and Gorzów dioceses with bishops Adam Dyczkowski, Paweł Socha and Błażej Kruszyłowicz. Many priests also participated in the concelebrated Holy Mass. In his words of welcome Bishop Stefan Regmunt explained the sense of the meeting on the area of the former German concentration camp: ‘We have here, on the earth, special relics. It is a place where St. Maksymilian Kolbe was detained and suffered. Here, in this place, where Germany used to be, St. Maksymilian said words which turned out to be a prophecy: ‘Dear children, you will see that Poland will be here one day’.
The preacher on a field in Gębice was the chief editor of the Catholic weekly ‘Niedziela’, Fr. Inf. Ireneusz Skubiś who said: ‘Father Maksymilian was a saviour in those times. During World War II he taught how to trust God through Mary, Mother of God. Fr. Inf Skubiś was also trying to read the times we live in through the prism of St. Maksymilian’s person. He emphasized: ‘we must distinguish well who is who and who cares about what. We must look for what is good for Poland. We must defend what belongs to Poland. The preacher pointed to the Church as a guardian of these values for which St. Maksymilian devoted his life. – ‘The Church guards the basic values: it guards life and family’ – he said.
Normally, the field in Gębice does not resemble the past of the camp at all, but it commemorates Poles’ suffering. That place itself does not exist in the consciousness of residents on Lublin land. That special day of prayer will surely help us realize that besides Oświęcim, also Gębice were a place of the Polish Martyr and his apostle’s ministry.
On 19 September 1939, the Germans came to Niepokalanów and ordered evacuation of monks. Several dozens of Franciscans with St. Maksymilian set out on foot towards a highway Poznań – Warsaw. Here they were put into trucks and transported to Rawa Mazowiecka. Next day they arrived in Częstochowa where they were told to get into goods carriages. On 21 September they got to Lamsdorf camp (Lambinowice today) and stayed there for two days. Then they were told again to go towards a station. Nearly 600 prisoners singing ‘Serdeczna Matko’ (‘Our Cordial Mother’) went through Opole, Wroclaw and Legnica into the unknown. On Sunday of 24 September, the transport reached Amtitz (Gębice). The camp assigned for 12 thousand prisoners was surrounded by a barbed wire. The Germans greeted the monks with words: ‘Here come Franciscans, Polish robbers hiding behind their religious frocks ’. In the same evening, Father Kolbe went to the Germans to rectify this slander. Life in the camp was hard. Prisoners slept on hay in tents. Many of them did not have warm clothes. There were insects in the camp. Cruel beatings happened for minor offences. In October the Franciscans moulded a figure of Virgin Mary from clay and put it in the middle of a tent. Other prisoners came to the monks to pray and use the sacrament of confession. The Franciscans proclaimed the glory of Virgin Mary also here. In the camp tent in Gębice they created their own cloister and also a shrine of Virgin Mary. Later in other tents prayers and songs were heard. Although it was only for a month, the monks managed to create this small Niepokalanów. Even the Germans noticed amazing peace and harmony among the imprisoned.
On 9 November the monks were taken to a camp in Schildberg (Ostrzeszów), and on 8 December they were allowed to return to Niepokalanów. The first imprisonment of St. Maskymilian finished in this way.