JESUITICA: Auschwitz – “the best noviciate”

March 8, 2011 in General, News

Adam Kozłowiecki SJ, was born 100 years ago and died in 2007 after an extraordinary life. He came of tough and noble stock. His father, a Polish Count, was so opposed to Adam entering the Jesuits, that he gave fifteen thousand hectares of his land to an Educational Trust on the condition that it be administered “by a loyal, practicing Catholic, but not someone, like a Jesuit, bound by religious vows”. However Adam entered the noviciate and made a legal renunciation of his titles and inheritance. When the Germans invaded Poland they arrested and interrogated Fr Adam, and imprisoned him first in Auschwitz, then in Dachau. He could joke later: “It was the best noviciate training I ever received, much better than what the Jesuits had given me.” It prepared him for a long, remarkable ministry in Africa. Read more.

Cardinal Adam Kozłowiecki, S.J.,was born in Poland, on 1st April 1911. His parents, Polish nobility, Count Adam Kozłowiecki and Maria (Janocka) Kozłowiecki, had three sons: Czesław, Adam and Jerzy. The boys were educated at home and later in the Jesuit College in Chyrów in what is now Ukraine.

Because of young Adam’s interest in the Jesuit life, he was sent to complete his final two years in a private school in Poznań. There, on completing, Adam made a legal renunciation of his titles and inheritance; two months later he entered the Jesuit noviciate in Stara Wieś. His father was upset with his son’s decision and made his views known when a year later he gave fifteen thousand hectares of his land to an Educational Trust on the condition that it be administered by a loyal, practicing Catholic, but not someone, like a Jesuit, bound by religious vows.

After the young Adam took his first vows in 1931, he studied a course of philosophy in Kraków. On completion, he taught for a year in his former school in Chyrów. Afterwards, he studied theology in Lublin, and was ordained a priest in 1937. Then followed the final year of studies in Lwów (now Lviv in Ukraine). Having completed his studies in 1939, he went to Chyrów to await his first mission as a priest. He was told by his superiors to report to the Jesuit residence in Kraków for an assignment. However, this news came on the same day as the news that the Germans had invaded Poland. Transport to Kraków became impossible! Undaunted, Fr. Adam started off on foot, a journey which took him weeks to complete.

Once he arrived in Kraków, he assumed the administration of the Jesuit residence. But two weeks later the German Gestapo arrested him and 24 others and took them to their headquarters for interrogation. Long stays in Kraków and Wiśnicz prisons followed. In June 1940, he was transported, with many others, to the newly opened concentration camp in Auschwitz in Poland.

In his memoirs Oppression and Grief (Krakow: 1967 – an uncensored version appeared in 1995) he says this six-month period in the camp was the most difficult of all his years of imprisonment. In December he, along with most of the priests in the camp, was transported to Dachau in Bavaria (Germany) where he lived and worked until the camp was liberated by the Allied forces in April 1945. After his release from Dachau, he learned that he had lost two dearly beloved family members during the war years: his maternal grandmother, who had supported his entry into the Jesuits, had died and his elder brother had been executed by the German occupiers of Poland.

Father Adam did not leave the concentration camp a bitter man. In his later years he would make light of the very harsh treatment he and other prisoners received. He would tell his fellow Jesuits, “It was the best noviciate training I ever received, much better than what the Jesuits had given me.”

Although he had gained his freedom, Fr. Adam found himself in the midst of thousands of people displaced by the war. He decided to hitchhike to Rome to the Jesuit Headquarters for an assignment. He left Germany with no other documents except a certificate stating that he was inmate No 22187 of Dachau camp. Arriving in Rome, he was very well received by his fellow Jesuits. He expressed to his superiors his strong desire to return to Poland for work. Yet, directly contrary to what he hoped to do, he was asked if he would be willing to go to Africa, to work as a missionary in Northern Rhodesia where there was already a Polish Jesuit presence. He did not want to go to Africa, but since the request came from his superiors, he felt he had to be faithful to his vow of obedience and he answered, “Yes, I will go.”

While in Rome, he pronounced his final vows as a Jesuit. He arrived in Lusaka on 14th April 1946. His first assignment was at one of the oldest Jesuit missions, Kasisi. Later, he was given the management of the Catholic primary schools in the area. From his time in Kasisi, he developed a close attachment to simple,  rural people, an attachment which remained with him to his last working days. After four years in Kasisi, he was made the  Administrator of the Vicariate of Lusaka to replace the ageing Monsignor Bruno Wolnik, S.J. who had been the Administrator since 1927.

Then, in 1955, Monsignor Adam was ordained a bishop and named Vicar Apostolic of the Vicariate of Lusaka. Four years later the Pope established the different Dioceses in the country and appointed Bishop Adam as the first Archbishop of Lusaka. As Archbishop of Lusaka he took active part in the Second Vatican Council (1961- 1965). When AMACEA (Association of Member Episcopal Conferences of Eastern Africa) was established in 1961, Archbishop Adam was elected its first chairman.

After the independence of Zambia in 1964, Archbishop Adam was convinced that the archbishop of the capital city should be an African. Although he himself became a Zambian citizen at Independence, he did not believe this sufficient for the archbishop of Lusaka. Over several years he made requests that the Vatican accept his resignation and a Zambian bishop be appointed.Finally in 1969 his resignation was accepted and he handed over the administration of the Archdiocese to the newly ordained Archbishop Emmanuel Milingo.

Archbishop Adam was only 58 years old at the time of his resignation and still had much apostolic zeal and energy in him. After a year overseas he returned to Zambia and started to work as a “normal priest”, as he would say, in some of the more remote mission stations in the archdiocese. Then, for personal reasons, he moved to the Monze diocese for pastoral work in Chikuni and Chilalantambo. On his return to the Lusaka archdiocese in 1976, he  continued his work in rural parishes, primarily in Ching’ombe mission in the Lukasashi river valley (1976- 1988) and in Mpunde mission in Kabwe rural (1993-2007).

During much of this period, for twenty years, he served as the national director of the Pontifical Mission Aid Society in Zambia. He always kept contact with the other Bishops of Zambia, making it a point to attend their biannual Episcopal Conference meetings. He even took part in several Synods of Bishops held in Rome from 1967 to 1987. In 1998 Pope John Paul II honoured him by naming him a Cardinal of the Catholic Church.

The last time he traveled to Rome was for the funeral of the late Pope John Paul II in April 2005. He wanted to be present for the funeral of his beloved Pope John Paul and, although he was well over the age to be eligible to vote for the new Pope, he wanted to be there for the election and installation of new Pope.

Cardinal Adam received many prestigious awards in his lifetime. In 1985 President Kaunda awarded him with the Grand Commander of the Order of Freedom. A few years later the Polish government, under President Lech Walesa, honoured him as a  Commander of the Order of Merit. In 2006 the French government decorated him with the Order of Legion of Honour. Two Universities also gave him awards. The Catholic University of Eastern Africa in Nairobi, on its tenth anniversary in 2002, awarded him an honorary Doctor of Sacred Theology for his contribution in establishing the university. In July of this year he received another honorary doctorate, this time from Wyszynski University in Warsaw.

On  receiving the Order of the Legion of Honour, the French ambassador said: “Your life, Your Eminence, is an extraordinary resume of trials and hopes of Europeans in the twentieth century. You have been a political prisoner, a deportee, a refugee, a stateless person, a priest, an educationist, a developer, an administrator, a prince of the Roman Catholic Church, etc. Your exceptional apostolic and human commitment was recognised by Pope John Paul II, who elevated you to Cardinal in 1998. “Your out-of-the-ordinary destiny, your humanity, your moral authority, make you a good man, a man that the Republic of France, even if you did not render any service to it, wanted to honour. By so doing, my country, France, the land of Montesquieu, Voltaire and Rousseau, the land of human rights, recognises the brilliant merits of a Pole, a European and an African. By so doing, France is honouring the Holy See, Poland and Zambia. I am happy about it and proud of it.”

Adam was a jovial, talkative man with a keen sense of humour. When asked for the secret of his strong, healthy appearance, he replied: “I will tell you the reason. During World War II, a certain German leader called Adolf Hitler, invited some of us for holidays to Dachau, where we spent almost five years. The good time we had there shows now in me.” He died in Lusaka on 28 September 2007, aged 96.