Maximilian Kolbe was born on 8 January 1894 in
Zduńska Wola, in the
Kingdom of Poland, which was a part of the
Russian Empire, the second son of weaver Julius Kolbe and
midwife Maria Dąbrowska.
 His father was an
 and his mother was
Polish. He had four brothers. Shortly after his birth, his family moved to
Kolbe's life was strongly influenced in 1906 by a childhood vision of the
 He later described this incident:
That night I asked the Mother of God what was to become of me. Then she came to me holding two crowns, one white, the other red. She asked me if I was willing to accept either of these crowns. The white one meant that I should persevere in purity, and the red that I should become a martyr. I said that I would accept them both.
In 1907, Kolbe and his elder brother Francis joined the
 They enrolled at the Conventual Franciscan minor seminary in
Lwow later that year. In 1910, Kolbe was allowed to enter the
novitiate, where he was given the
religious name Maximilian. He professed his
first vows in 1911, and
final vows in 1914,
 adopting the additional name of Maria (Mary).
Kolbe was sent to
Rome in 1912, where he attended the
Pontifical Gregorian University. He earned a
doctorate in philosophy in 1915 there. From 1915 he continued his studies at the
Pontifical University of St. Bonaventure where he earned a
doctorate in theology in 1919
 or 1922
 (sources vary). He was active in the
consecration and entrustment to Mary. During his time as a student, he witnessed vehement demonstrations against
Popes St. Pius X and
Benedict XV in Rome during an anniversary celebration by the
Freemasons. According to Kolbe,
They placed the black standard of the "
Giordano Brunisti" under the windows of the
Vatican. On this standard the archangel,
St. Michael, was depicted lying under the feet of the triumphant Lucifer. At the same time, countless pamphlets were distributed to the people in which the Holy Father (i.e., the Pope) was attacked shamefully.
Soon afterward, Kolbe organized the
Militia Immaculatae (Army of the Immaculate One), to work for conversion of sinners and enemies of the Catholic Church, specifically the Freemasons, through the intercession of the Virgin Mary.
 So serious was Kolbe about this goal that he added to the Miraculous Medal prayer:
O Mary, conceived without sin, pray for us who have recourse to thee. And for all those who do not have recourse to thee; especially the Masons and all those recommended to thee.
Maximilian Kolbe, on a West German postage stamp, marked
In 1918, Kolbe was
ordained a priest.
 In July 1919 he returned to the
newly independent Poland, where he was active in promoting the veneration of the
 He was strongly opposed to leftist – in particular,
communist – movements.
 From 1919 to 1922 he taught at the
 Around that time, as well as earlier in Rome, he suffered from
tuberculosis, which forced him to take a lengthy leave of absence from his teaching duties.
 In January 1922 he founded the monthly periodical
Rycerz Niepokalanej (Knight of the Immaculate), a devotional publication based on French
Le Messager du Coeur de Jesus (Messenger of the Heart of Jesus).
 From 1922 to 1926 he operated a religious publishing press in
 As his activities grew in scope, in 1927 he founded a new Conventual Franciscan monastery at
Niepokalanów near Warsaw, which became a major religious publishing center.
 A junior seminary was opened there two years later.
Between 1930 and 1936, Kolbe undertook a series of
 At first, he arrived in
China, but failed to gather a following there.
 Next, he moved to
Japan, where by 1931 he founded
a monastery at the outskirts of
Nagasaki (it later gained a novitiate and a seminary) and started publishing a Japanese edition of the Knight of the Immaculate (Seibo no Kishi).
 The monastery he founded remains prominent in the Roman Catholic Church in Japan.
 Kolbe built the monastery on a mountainside that, according to
Shinto beliefs, was not the side best suited to be in harmony with nature. When the
atomic bomb was dropped on Nagasaki, Kolbe's monastery was saved because the other side of the mountain took the main force of the blast.
 In mid-1932 he left Japan for
Malabar, India, where he founded another monastery; this one however closed after a while.
 Meanwhile, the monastery at Niepokalanów began in his absence to publish the daily newspaper,
Mały Dziennik (The Little Daily), in alliance with the political group, the
National Radical Camp (Obóz Narodowo Radykalny).
 This publication reached a circulation of 137,000, and nearly double that, 225,000, on weekends.
Poor health forced Kolbe to return to Poland in 1936.
 Two years later, in 1938, he started a radio station at Niepokalanów, the
 He held an
amateur radio licence, with the call sign SP3RN.
Death at Auschwitz
After the outbreak of
World War II, which started with
the invasion of Poland by Germany, Kolbe was one of the few brothers who remained in the monastery, where he organized a temporary hospital.
 After the town was captured by the Germans, he was briefly arrested by them on 19 September 1939 but released on 8 December.
 He refused to sign the
Deutsche Volksliste, which would have given him rights similar to those of German citizens in exchange for recognizing his German ancestry.
 Upon his release he continued work at his monastery, where he and other monks provided shelter to refugees from
Greater Poland, including 2,000 Jews whom he hid from German persecution in their
friary in Niepokalanów.
 Kolbe also received permission to continue publishing religious works, though significantly reduced in scope.
 The monastery thus continued to act as a publishing house, issuing a number of anti-Nazi German publications.
 On 17 February 1941, the monastery was shut down by the German authorities.
 That day Kolbe and four others were arrested by the German
Gestapo and imprisoned in the
 On 28 May, he was transferred to
Auschwitz as prisoner #16670.
Stained glass window by
depicting Edith Stein and Maximilian Kolbe.
Continuing to act as a priest, Kolbe was subjected to violent harassment, including beating and lashings, and once had to be smuggled to a prison hospital by friendly inmates.
 At the end of July 1941, three prisoners disappeared from the camp, prompting
Karl Fritzsch, the deputy camp commander, to pick 10 men to be starved to death in an underground bunker to deter further escape attempts. When one of the selected men,
Franciszek Gajowniczek, cried out, "My wife! My children!", Kolbe volunteered to take his place.
According to an eye witness, an assistant janitor at that time, in his prison cell, Kolbe led the prisoners in prayer to Our Lady. Each time the guards checked on him, he was standing or kneeling in the middle of the cell and looking calmly at those who entered. After two weeks of dehydration and starvation, only Kolbe remained alive. “The guards wanted the bunker emptied, so they gave Kolbe a lethal injection of
carbolic acid. Kolbe is said to have raised his left arm and calmly waited for the deadly injection.
 His remains were cremated on 15 August, the
feast day of the
Assumption of Mary.