The Story of Blessed Anizet Koplin
Countless people have been inspired by the courageous example of St. Maximilian Kolbe, a Conventual Franciscan who volunteered to die in place of a stranger in the German death camp at Auschwitz. St. Maximilian's amazing story has been told and retold, but few have ever heard the story of Blessed Anizet Koplin.
Born on July 30, 1875, in the Polish town of Debrzno, Albert Anthony was the son of a Catholic, Polish father and German, Lutheran mother and had four siblings. In 1893, after completing his middle school education, 18-year-old Albert joined the Capuchin Franciscans at Sigolsheim and was ordained seven years later at age 25. When he professed his temporary vows in 1894, he was given the religious name Anizet. His first years as a Capuchin priest were spent serving various friaries in the Province of Westphalia where he gained a reputation as a fervent preacher. Although, his heart yearned for the foreign missions, Father Anizet was assigned to work among Polish immigrants in the Rhineland, where he also served in prison ministry and as a military chaplain.
In 1918, Father Anizet was reassigned to Warsaw where he would help reorganize church life in Poland after 100 years of Russian foreign rule. For over two decades, he tirelessly cared for the poor of the Polish capital and was so renowned as a confessor of souls that he was sought out by numerous bishops and apostolic nuncios. He was also a great comfort to the sick and those condemned to death, reconciling many souls with God in their last moments.
The majority of his time and energy, however, was spent serving the poor and homeless. He constructed a crude soup-kitchen which served up to 8,000 homeless on a daily basis. He also collected alms on behalf of the poor, personally hauling large sacks of acquired food through the streets of Warsaw. So great was their fondness for Anizet, that the poor nicknamed him “The Beggar of Warsaw” and “The St. Francis of Varsovia.”
When World War II erupted in 1939, Anizet remained in Warsaw. Under German occupation, Father Anizet and the other Capuchins soon became a thorn in the Nazi’s side, refusing to cease preaching and ministering to the people.
On the night of June 26, 1941, the Gestapo surrounded the Capuchin friary in Warsaw and 22 friars were placed under arrest, including Father Anizet. The Nazi’s took no mercy on the aged friar, stripping him of his habit, beating him and allowing SS dogs to bite him. During his interrogation, he stated: “I am a priest and where there are people, there I work, whether they are Jews or Poles, and more so if they suffer and are poor.”
There is no certain cause of his death, but the fact remains that he lasted a month and a half in the concentration camp at Auschwitz. On June 13, 1999, Pope John Paul II beatified Anizet and 107 others who died in the concentration camps of World War II as witnesses of the Christian faith. Blessed Anizet Koplin, pray for us!