By Bp. Enrico dal Covolo and Fr. Giorgio Mocci*
On September 1, 1939, Hitler invaded Poland, touching off World War II. The German Army occupied the Salesian house of Poznan on Wroniecka Street and turned it into a storehouse. The youngsters continued to meet in gardens outside the city and the nearby woods. Many secret groups were created.
In September 1940 Francis Kesy and four companions from the youth center were arrested, accused of belonging to an illegal organization. They were brought to the frightful Fortress VII near Poznan, where they were tortured and interrogated. Subsequently they were transferred to several other prisons, sometimes together, sometimes not. Brought back to Poznan, they were accused of high treason, tried, and condemned to death. They were martyred at Dresden on August 24, 1942.
While in prison they lived their Salesian spirituality with a spirit of faith. They prayed continually: the Rosary, novenas to Don Bosco and Mary Help of Christians, morning and evening prayers. They tried to keep in touch with their families thru messages, which they often succeeded in sending out secretly. They maintained their courage, asking for and promising prayers. When they could, they celebrated liturgical feasts joyfully in their cells. Their faith never wavered. They were incredible witnesses until the end.
Francis Kesy was born in Berlin on November 13, 1920. His family moved to Poznan on account of his father’s job. Francis was a seminary aspirant with the Salesians at Lad. During the German occupation he couldn’t continue his studies, and he went to work in an industrial establishment. He spent his free time at the youth center, where he formed a close, idealistic friendship with the other four youths, and animated youth groups and activities. People remember that he was sensible but at the same time cheerful, calm, understanding, and ever ready to help others. He received Communion almost every day; in the evening he prayed the Rosary. “At Wronki, since I was alone in my cell,” he wrote to his family, “I had time to examine myself. I promised to live differently, as Don Bosco recommended to us, to live to please our Lord and his Mother, Mary most holy. I pray to the good God that all these tribulations and unpleasantries might touch me and not you.”
Chester Jozwiak, born at Lazynie on September 7, 1919, was of a rather irascible character, but spontaneous, full of energy, master of himself, ready to make sacrifices, consistent, and definitely influential. People saw that he aspired to Christian perfection, to progress in Christian life. A companion in prison wrote of him: “He was of good character and good heart; he had a soul of crystal…. He confided one preoccupation to me: that he never stain himself with any impurity.”
Edward Kazmierski was born in Poznan on October 1, 1919. He was marked by sobriety, prudence, and goodness. At the youth center he was able to develop his unusual musical talent. His family was imbued with religious spirit, and with he brought that the Salesians quickly to Christian maturity. During his imprisonment he showed a great love toward his fellow inmates, even the oldest. He was free of any sentiment of hatred toward his persecutors.
Edward Klinik was born at Bochum on June 21, 1919. Timid and calm, he became lively when he entered the youth center. He was a methodical and responsible student. He was noted because he was so dedicated in every field of activity, and he gave the impression of being most serious and deep.
Jarogniew Wojciechowski, born in Poznan on November 5, 1922, was thoughtful and tended toward grasping more deeply what he saw so as to understand events. He was an animator in the best sense of the term. He was distinguished by his good humor, his sense of duty, and the good example that he gave.
The Vatican decree of martyrdom of the five young men was published on March 26, 1999. They were beatified by St. John Paul II on June 13, 1999, as part of a large group of Polish victims of the Nazis.
*Santi nella Famiglia Salesiana, 2d ed. (Turin: LDC, 2009), pp. 38-39.