In July, 1941, there was an escape from the cruel concentration camp at Auschwitz, in Poland. It was the custom at Auschwitz to kill ten prisoners for every one who escaped. All the prisoners would be gathered in the courtyard, and the commandant would randomly select ten names from the roll book. These victims would be immediately taken to a cell where they would received no food or water until they died.
One after another, as the commandant called the names, the doomed prisoners stepped forward. The tenth name he called was a man named Gajowniczek. He stepped forward, but was unable to stifle his sobs.“My wife and children,” he said softly, over and over.
Suddenly there was a movement among the prisoners. The guards raised their rifles. The dogs tensed, anticipating a command to attack. An eleventh prisoner left his row and pushed his way to the front. He was told to stop or be shot. He stopped a few paces from the commandant, removed his hat, and looked the German officer in the eye.
“Herr Commandant,” he said, “I wish to make a request, please, I want to die in the place of this prisoner.” He pointed at the sobbing Gajowniczek. “I have no wife or children. Besides, I am old and not good for anything. He is in better condition.”
“Who are you?” the officer asked.
The commandant hesitated for a moment then barked, “Request granted.”
Prisoners were not allowed to speak, but Gajowniczek said later, “I could only thank him with my eyes. I was stunned and could hardly grasp what was going on. The immensity of it: I the condemned, am to live because someone else willingly and voluntarily offered his life for me—a stranger.”
The priest’s name Maximilian Kolbe. He died a few weeks later in the punitive cell. But Gajowniczek survived the war and lived more than fifty-three years after Kolbe died for him.
Gajownikczek’s story is our story and the story of every soul living on this earth. We were prisoners, marked for death until Jesus stepped forward and took our place. Jesus saved us by willingly and decisively giving up His life so that we might live.
If you are a follower of Jesus, God has called you to share the good news of the gospel through your words, your love, and your life. Every follower of Jesus is called to follow His example by seeking out those who haven’t yet experienced new life in Christ. We are to “Go into all the world and preach the gospel to all creation” (Mark 16:15). Not all of of us are called to be preachers; but we are commanded to spread the good news of the gospel.