Collection: Martyr Józef Kowalski of Auschwitz

ARTIST: Dan Paulos


Martyr Józef Kowalski, prisoner number 17350, was ordered to stop praying. He would not. So the Nazis beat him to a pulp. Next day, the brutes reordered him to stop praying and again he refused. They took him outside and beat him to death - for no other reason than for being a Catholic priest.

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Blessed Joseph was born at Siedliska, Poland, on March 13, 1911, the seventh of nine children. After primary schooling, he entered the Salesian school at Oswiecim (Auschwitz). Joseph immediately distinguished himself for his commitment to study and service, and for his cheerfulness.

As a young student he began to keep a diary, from which we learn of his devotion to Mary Help of Christians and the Eucharist. He made his first profession in 1928 and was ordained a priest on May 29, 1938 at Krakow and was appointed provincial secretary. In the parish he looked after the youth choir and became interested in young people with problems. Poland had been occupied, but the Salesians continued with their educational activity with the young. This was why his dramatic arrest came about on May 23, 1941 along with eleven other Salesians working in Krakow.

They were taken to the prison in Montelupich and then on June 26 to the concentration camp in Auschwitz. He secretly took up an apostolate, strengthening his prison friends with the will to struggle for survival. He underwent suffering and humiliation.

When he was discovered with a rosary, he refused to trample on it, thus hastening his martyrdom, which occurred on July 4, 1942. His body was first thrown into a refuse dump, and then was burned in the camp's crematorium. His countrymen began to venerate his memory, maintaining that his sacrifice made vocations in Poland more fruitful. Pope John Paul II was of the same opinion and became interested in the cause of various Polish martyrs. Joseph was beatified in Warsaw on June 13, 1999.