Pope Francis paid a sombre visit to the Nazi death camp of Auschwitz on Friday, becoming the third consecutive pontiff to make the pilgrimage. Wearing white robe and skullcap, Francis walked slowly beneath the notorious gate at Auschwitz bearing the cynical words Arbeit Macht Frei. He was then transported on a small car past barracks and brought to a spot in front, where he sat on a bench, his head bent for many long moments in contemplation and prayer. Later, he prayed in the dark underground prison cell at Auschwitz of a Catholic saint, Maximilian Kolbe, a Polish Catholic friar who sacrificed his own life during the war to save the life of another man.
It’s so important to tell the truth about what happened. A man like Pope Francis, who has influence all over the world, needs to see and understand – especially at a time when there is so much hatred in the world
Zofia Radzikowska, whose father was killed at Auschwitz
Pope France, an Argentinian, is the first pontiff to visit who did not himself live himself through the brutality of World War II on Europe’s soil. Both of his predecessors had a personal historical connection to the site, with the first, John Paul II, coming from Poland. During his visit Pope Francis met several survivors of the death camp. One by one, he stopped, shook their hands and bent over to kiss the elderly survivors on both cheeks. One woman kissed his hand. He also took time to exchange a few words with them, though what they said was not audible. He then carried a large white candle and placed it at the Death Wall, where prisoners were executed.