It is the 14th of August 2020. Welcome to the Christian History Almanac brought to you by 1517 at 1517.org, I’m Dan van Voorhis.
The year was 1941.
It was the year that ended with, for Americans, the day that would live in infamy. The second World War was raging, and this year saw several monumentally historic events. Our remembrance for today will circle back to events adjacent to the war.
Before we get to the tragedy of war, we can see many significant events in the arts and culture that took place. The future stars born in 1941 might rival any other year in the 20th century. 1941 saw the births of Paul Simon, Otis Redding, Joan Baez, Neil Diamond, and Robert Allen Zimmerman. You know Rob Zimmerman by his alias, Bob Dylan. Glenn Miller scored the first-ever gold record in 41 with “The Chattanooga Choo Choo,” but the composition of the year was Duke Ellington’s “Take the A Train.” Billie Holiday also scored a hit in 1941 with her “God Bless the Child.”
1941 was the year in which Citizen Kane debuted. Considered by many to be the best film ever made, the film was the first from Orson Welles, who had earlier gained fame with his 1938 “War of the Worlds” radio broadcast. William Randolph Hearst, the news magnate upon whom Kane was partially based, refused to let his newspapers advertise or review the film. The press from Hearst’s tantrum helped stoke the film’s box office take. But it was far from the highest-grossing movie of the year. It was in 1941 that “Gone With the Wind,” first shown in 1939, was released with nationwide distribution. It would instantly become the most profitable film of all time. It is estimated that over 200 million tickets have been sold to see the film. The Guinness Book of World Records estimates that, when adjusted for inflation, has grossed over 3 billion dollars. All of this, however, doesn’t make up for the fact that it is an incredibly boring movie.
1941 is a year synonymous with baseball. It was the year that Ted Williams hit .406 for the year, the last player to hit above .400. And Joe DiMaggio, the Yankee Clipper, hit in 56 consecutive games, a record considered amongst the most unbreakable in sports.
1941 saw the debut of Wonder Woman, Captain America, Archie, and Plastic Man. All four comic characters, despite their different contexts, were meant to highlight the ingenuity and patriotism of Americans. Another animated character debuted in 1941. Margaret and H.A. Rey first published “Curious George.” The two had left Germany on account of the Nazis and ended up in America with their manuscript about the troublemaking monkey. When the book made its way to the UK, George’s name was changed to “Zozo,” as the reigning Monarch at the time was named George.
The story of 1941 is one told, however, with a melancholic background. Hitler began his large-scale executions this year. People of Jewish descent were primarily targeted, having to wear distinctive identifying marks in countries across Europe. In 1941, Auschwitz was a center of terror for dissidents of all types. One man, a former Polish soldier, named Franciszek Gajowniczek, was selected to die on behalf of an escapee from the concentration camp. Gajowniczek, a man married with two sons, pleaded for mercy. While the guards ignored him, a voice arose, “I am a Catholic priest from Poland, I would like to take his place.”
This priest, Maximillian Kolbe, was then sentenced to die of starvation, and he was placed in a cell with others awaiting the same fate. Kolbe ministered to them all, outliving them, and finally being poisoned by carbonic acid by the guards, dying on this the 14th of August, in 1941. Pope John Paul II would canonize Maximillian in 1982. The Pope named him the “Patron Saint of Our Difficult Century.” As the Pope consecrated Kolbe, one onlooker at the Vatican was especially choked up, the 81-year-old Franciszek Gajowniczek. He outlived his family and was twice invited to the Vatican.
Regarding Maximillian Kolbe, whose feast day today is, he was a complicated character. His devotion to Mary even turned off some Catholics, and anti-Semitic writings that have been uncovered have caused some to condemn him. We remember him not ultimately as a saint for what he did, despite his heroics, but we remember him for who he was in Christ. Kolbe, born in 1894, was 47 when he died in another man’s place on this, the 14th of August, in 1941.
The reading for today comes from George Herbert. It is from his poem “The Sacrifice” which we recommend you find and read in whole these are the last two stanzas
Nay, after death their spite shall further go;
For they will pierce my side, I full well know;
That as sin came, so Sacraments might flow:
Was ever grief like mine?
But now I die; now all is finished.
My woe, man’s weal: and now I bow my head.
Only let others say, when I am dead,
Never was grief like mine.
This has been the Christian History Almanac for the 14th of August 2020 brought to you by 1517 at 1517.org. The show is produced by the Archie to my Jughead, the Almanac’s own Man in the Yellow Hat, Christopher Gillespie. The show is written and read by Dan van Voorhis. You can catch us here every day. and remember that the rumors of grace, forgiveness, and the redemption of all things are true…. Everything is going to be ok.