In the past 100 years, 170 million men, women and children have been shot, beaten or tortured by their governments. This horrible fact and other similarly atrocities were brought to light by Father Czeslaw Krysa during the annual Polish Holocaust Remembrance service presented by the Western New York Chapter of the Polish American Congress.
The Eucharistic service, held Aug. 10 at St. Stanislaus Cemetery in Cheektowaga, commemorates the life and death of St. Maximilian Kolbe, the 47-year-old Polish Conventual Franciscan friar who gave up his life in exchange for that of another Polish prisoner at the Auschwitz concentration camp.
Father Krysa, rector of St. Casimir Parish in Buffalo, presided over the service, pointing out interesting facts he has recently learned about the Holocaust and other mass executions by governments. Poland lost more of its citizenship during World War II than any other country in Europe. Almost 15 percent of the Polish population - both civilian and military - died by the hands of Nazis or Russians.
St. Maximilian Kolbe was among them.
"He was one of 9,000 Polish priests who were in Nazi concentration camps. Most of us don't know that," Father Krysa said. "All together there were 16,000 clergy in prison, among them German bishops and priests, but the German bishops and priests had special quarters. They did not live with everybody else. And they had a chapel. The Polish priests had to smuggle in wine. It was illegal to say Mass for a Pole."
Father Krysa asked that everyone present, most of whom were the children or grandchildren of Holocaust survivors, to share the information he found, in hopes of preventing anything like it from happening again. He added that he tries to live up to that heritage as he was named after a priest who was killed in Auschwitz in 1940.
Following the service, Thomas Kibby, the grandson of survivors of slave labor, dressed as a prisoner and led the congregation to the monument of St. Maximilian Kolbe.
The Polish American Congress' Polish Legacy Group has organized this event for the past 22 years. The legacy group works to collect memories of World War II survivors, many who are in their 80s and 90s now.
"I had a lot of questions that I regret not asking my parents," said Regina Hanchak, a member of the PAC. "The more that I research and learn, I am just amazed by their courage and resilience. The more you talk to people who have been through these things, the more you are amazed at how remarkable these people are. We have so much to learn from them."