Published on 13 January 2023

27 January – Holocaust Memorial Day

The friars of the Basilica of Saint Anthony of Padua remember Venerable Placido Cortese and Saint Maximilian Kolbe, two fellow friars martyred by the Nazis

January 27 is the day when, in 1945, at the end of World War II, the Red Army tore down the gates of Auschwitz Concentration Camp. Sixty years later, in 2005, the United Nations General Assembly proclaimed the International Day of Commemoration in Memory of the Victims of the Holocaust, which has since been remembered every January 27, with the hope that those atrocities will never happen again.

On this January 27, the friars of the Basilica of St. Anthony remember two of their fellow friars who opposed the horrors of the Nazi concentration camps: the Venerable Father Placido Cortese, director of the "Messenger of St. Anthony", and St. Maximilian Kolbe.

During the Second World War, Father Cortese, from his confessional in the Basilica, secretly coordinated the rescue operations, in concert with the Italian resistance movement, of hundreds of Jews, Allied soldiers and civilians persecuted by the Nazis and the Fascists. In January 2021 a ‘Stolperstein’ (stumbling stone) was placed on the exact spot where, on October 8, 1944, he was kidnapped by the Nazis and transferred to the Gestapo bunker in Trieste, where he was brutally tortured, in vain, for information. He was eventually killed and his body cremated in the Risiera of San Sabba lager in Trieste.

Father Kolbe, canonized by Pope John Paul II, was a prisoner at Auschwitz. In 1941, during a ghastly selection of inmates to be marked for death, he offered to take the place of a family man. Near the square facing the Basilica, close to Father Cortese’s ‘Stolperstein’, a plaque commemorates St. Kolbe’s martyrdom.