Aleteia logoAleteia logo
Saturday 12 June |
Memorial of the Immaculate Heart of Mary
home iconArt & Culture
line break icon

Auschwitz’s cell 21 still bears this carving of the Sacred Heart

J-P Mauro - published on 06/05/21

These rough wall carvings are as touching and inspiring as any Caravaggio masterpiece.

Catholic art has served many functions throughout history, from faith education to spiritual inspiration.

The most famous and prized works of art, however, pale in comparison to a simple carving on the wall of a Nazi prison camp. Although there is no color and little definition, the piece was carved in the artist’s most desperate moment. The work expresses hope and a trust in Christ that flies in the face of the terror and despair concentration camps were built to instill. 

In the infamous WWII prison camp, Auschwitz, there is no shortage of inspirational tales of Catholic perseverance in the face of persecution. It was there that St. Maximilian Kolbe sacrificed himself to save a Jewish man, who survived captivity and went on to attend Kolbe’s beatification. St. Maximilian Kolbe’s example is one that has inspired and will inspire devotion for generations.

The carvings

Around the corner from the cell where St. Maximilian Kolbe met his fate, another example of the endurance of the Catholic faith persists. There, in prison cell 21, are two carvings: The Most Sacred Heart of Jesus, and the Crucifixion. 

Sr. Kathy DeVico, Abbess of Redwoods Monastery identifies the artist as Stephan Jasienski, 2nd Lt. of the Polish Armed Forces. Jasienski, a prisoner of war, carved these images using his own fingernails. He died at Auschwitz in 1944, but his proclamation of faith remains on the wall to this day.

Of the artist, Abbess DeVico wrote:

What prevented Stephan’s heart from becoming hardened with bitterness? What prevented him from ‘hating’ his enemies? Clearly, his prayer, his goal, as he sat in his prison cell sketching this image with his fingernail, was to have his heart become like Christ’s heart. ‘Jesus’ heart images our truest heart’ … perhaps Stephan found his heart through Christ’s heart.

Persecution of ChristiansWorld War II
Support Aleteia!

If you’re reading this article, it’s thanks to the generosity of people like you, who have made Aleteia possible.

Here are some numbers:

  • 20 million users around the world read every month
  • Aleteia is published every day in seven languages: English, French, Italian, Spanish, Portuguese, Polish, and Slovenian
  • Each month, readers view more than 50 million pages
  • Nearly 4 million people follow Aleteia on social media
  • Each month, we publish 2,450 articles and around 40 videos
  • We have 60 full time staff and approximately 400 collaborators (writers, translators, photographers, etc.)

As you can imagine, these numbers represent a lot of work. We need you.

Support Aleteia with as little as $1. It only takes a minute. Thank you!

Daily prayer
And today we celebrate...

Top 10
Lucandrea Massaro
This 3D “carbon copy” of Jesus was created using the ...
Philip Kosloski
Padre Pio’s favorite prayer of petition
Bret Thoman, OFS
What Padre Pio saw in the Spanish Flu of 1918
Daniel Esparza
Were Jesus and Joseph really carpenters?
Philip Kosloski
Offer your heart to Jesus with this prayer
Kathleen N. Hattrup
3 three-word prayers to turn your day around
Eric Clapton, Luciano Pavarotti, East London Gospel Choir
J-P Mauro
Hear Clapton and Pavarotti sing a prayer to the “Holy Mothe...
See More
Get Aleteia delivered to your inbox. Subscribe here.