Can you Die for someone else? —by Firsts Baba Isa

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6 December 2018

St Maximilian Kolbe was a Polish priest who died as prisoner 16770 on August 14 1941. He gave up his life for a fellow prisoner in Auschwitz, the death camp and killing centre during World War II where the largest number of European Jews were murdered by the Nazis. It was here that Maximilian Kolbe demonstrated what he preached; he demonstrated the greatest love for his neighbor.

When a prisoner escaped from the camp, the Nazis selected 10 prisoners to be killed in reprisal for the escape. One of the 10 selected to die, Franciszek Gajowniczek, began to cry: “My wife! My children! I will never see them again!” At this Maximilian Kolbe stepped forward and asked to die in his place, his request was granted. O what a love!

During the WWII a group of British prisoners were made to build a railway over a mighty river by their Japanese captors. One day the prisoners had returned from a long and heavy day's hard labour on the railway, and were lined up in the camp by a prison guard. He began to shout and shriek and scream at them, because when the tools were counted at the end of the day, a shovel was missing. The guard cocked his rifle and aimed it at the prisoners. He demanded to know who had stolen the shovel. The prisoners, half fainting from lack of food and the day's long hours in the blazing sun, stood silent.

The guard continued to rant and rave. Then he levelled his rifle, and threatened to execute all of them unless the guilty man owned up.

At that, one of the men calmly stepped forward and faced the guard. "I took the shovel," he said. "I hid it, hoping to use it later to aid my escape." The guard poured a torrent of abuse over the man, then began to beat him round the head with the rifle butt. When the man fell to the ground, the guard proceeded to kick him viciously. When the man was a bloody pulp and barely conscious, the guard shot him through the head. Then the rest of the men were allowed back to their quarters.

Later that night, when the tools were counted again, nothing was missing. The full complement of tools, including all the shovels, was there.  The guard miscounted it earlier. And that man stepped out to die so that others might live. O what manner of love, what manner of sacrifice!

Firsts Baba Isa is a social commentator