After walking under the notorious gate that bears the cynical message, “Arbeit Macht Frei (Work sets you free)”, he briefly with 11 death camp survivors, shook their hands and kissed them on the cheeks. He then carried a large white candle to the Death Wall, where prisoners at Auschwitz were executed.
The Pope then traveled 2 miles (3 kilometers) to Birkenau where people were murdered in assembly-line fashion in gas chambers. There he greeted 25 Holocaust rescuers.
Most of the two hours he remained silent. Church officials explained that he wanted to express his sorrow in quiet prayer and meditation.
He wrote a vague message in the Auschwitz memorial’s guest book in Spanish: “Lord, have mercy on your people! Lord, forgiveness for so much cruelty!”
Poland’s chief rabbi, Michael Schudrich, then recited, in Hebrew, Psalm 130, which starts: “From the depths I have cried out to you, O Lord.”
Pope Francis’s two predecessors in the Vatican had a troubled historical connection to the Holocaust.
St. John Paul II, born in Poland, was Pope during the war and has been accused of closing his eyes to the Nazi’s slaughter despite possessing full information about the ongoing Holocaust. The Vatican was also connected to the Utasha regime in Yugoslavia, whose military ranks were filled with priests who slaughtered Jews and Serbs and plundered their wealth, which the Vatican and other banks helped laundered.
It is little known that the Ustashi pioneered the methods of genocidal terror and extermination only later perfected by the Nazi SS Einsatzgruppen in the Soviet Union. The Jasenovic camp in Yugoslavia was the third largest in terms of murders executed that operated during the Holocaust. The Vatican also ran a rat line that helped Nazi criminals escape to South America.
St. John Paul II’s successor, Pope Benedict XVI, who visited in 2006, was a German who served in the Hitler Youth for a time as a teenager.