Saint Maximillian Kolbe (1894 – 1941), was born in Poland, one of 5 children. His father was a weaver and his mother, a midwife. In 1907, he joined the Conventual Franciscans, was ordained a priest in 1914, and later obtained two doctorate degrees, one in Philosophy and the other in Theology. Saint Maximillian promoted the veneration of the Immaculate Virgin Mary, founded and supervised the monastery of Niepokalanów, near Warsaw, operated an amateur radio station, and founded several other organizations and publications, including in Japan. During the outset of World War II, together with the friars of his convent, he hid hundreds of Jews from German persecution.
In 1941, Saint Maximillian was sent by the Nazis to the concentration camp of Auschwitz. After a prisoner escaped, the commander of the camp randomly picked ten men to suffer death by starvation as both punishment and deterrent. When one of the men chosen let out a groan of despair, Saint Maximilian offered to die in his place. His offer was accepted by the commander. The ten men were then placed in a cell in an underground bunker, where they were left to starve, being given neither food nor water. According to an eyewitness, Bruno Borgowiec, an assistant to the janitor and an interpreter in the underground bunkers, there were daily prayers, the rosary and singing in the prison cell, led by Saint Maximillian. After two weeks, only Father Kolbe was still alive. He was then killed with an injection of carbolic acid.
Saint Maximillian was canonized by Pope Saint John Paul II, in 1982, and is one of ten 20th-century martyrs who are depicted in statues above the Great West Door of Westminster Abbey.