Tag Archives: Auschwitz

Pope at Auschwitz, Says Same Horrors Happening Today

Pope Francis pays respect in front of graves during his visit to Birkenau's former Nazi death camp in Oswiecim, Poland, July 29, 2016.  REUTERS/Stefano Rellandini

Pope Francis pays respect in front of graves during his visit to Birkenau’s former Nazi death camp in Oswiecim, Poland, July 29, 2016. REUTERS/Stefano Rellandini

By Philip Pullella 
July 30, 2016

OSWIECIM, Poland (Reuters) – Pope Francis made an emotional and silent visit to the former Nazi death camp at Auschwitz on Friday and later said many of the horrors committed are happening in places at war today.

Seated on a bench near the gate to the camp site in Poland, Pope Francis prayed in silence in tribute to the 1.5 million people, most of them Jews, killed there by Nazi occupiers during World War Two.

The third pope to visit Auschwitz and the first not to have lived through the war in Europe, he entered the camp by foot, passing through iron gates under the infamous sign reading “Arbeit Macht Frei”, German for “Work Sets You Free”.

Visibly moved by the sight of the wooden guard towers, barbed wire fences and inmate barracks, he sat in silent prayer for about 15 minutes. Francis said before the trip that he had decided to make no statement as silence was the best way to honour the dead.

Reflecting on his visit several hours later, Francis asked young people: “Is it possible that man, created in God’s image and likeness, is capable of doing these things?”

“Cruelty did not end at Auschwitz and Birkenau,” he said. “It is still around today … in many places in the world where there is war, the same things are happening.”

He cited torture, over-crowded prisons and starving children.

The pope spent a few minutes quietly greeting about a dozen Auschwitz survivors, kissing each of them on both cheeks. One man gave the pope a picture of himself surrounded by other emaciated inmates in a bunk, and asked Francis to sign it.

The 79-year-old Argentine-born pontiff then proceeded to walk through the barely lit corridors of the drab, brick building of Auschwitz Block 11, which had housed prisoners selected for special punishment.

With aides using small flashlights to light his way, Francis visited the underground cell where Franciscan monk Maksymilian Kolbe was killed after offering his life to save a Polish man whom had been picked to die of starvation.

Just outside the cell, in Auschwitz’s commemorative book, Francis wrote in Spanish: “Lord, have mercy on your people. Lord, forgiveness for so much cruelty”.

German occupation forces set up the Auschwitz-Birkenau camp during World War Two in Oswiecim, a town about 70 km (43 miles) from Poland’s second city, Krakow.

Between 1940 and 1945, Auschwitz developed into a vast complex of barracks, workshops, gas chambers and crematoriums.


On July 29, 1941, the camp director, in reprisal for the escape of a prisoner, chose 10 others and sentenced them to death by starvation.

When the selection was completed, Kolbe stepped forward and volunteered to die in place of a man with a family, Franciszek Gajowniczek. Kolbe was later killed by lethal injection but the man he saved survived the war. Kolbe was made a saint in 1982 by Pope John Paul II, a Pole.

Later, the pope, who has made many strong condemnations of anti-Semitism, also visited Birkenau, a part of the camp where most of the killings were in gas chambers, and was driven past ruins of crematoriums that the Nazis blew up before the camp was liberated by the Soviet Red Army on Jan. 27, 1945.

He listened silently as Poland’s chief rabbi, Michael Schudrich, sang from Psalm 130 and a priest read the psalm in Polish, just metres (yards) away from the end of the single rail track where cattle cars brought hundreds of thousands of prisoners to the camp.

After greeting some 25 people who have been honoured as “Righteous Among the Nations” for helping save Jews, Francis left as quietly as he had arrived.

Copyright Reuters 2016

(Additional reporting by Wojciech Zurawski, Pawel Florkiewicz and Wiktor Szary; Writing by Justyna Pawlak and Philip Pullella; Editing by Louise Ireland)


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Auschwitz: 70 years after a death factory is liberated

The shoes of prisoners murdered in Auschwitz, liberated January 27, 1945. Public domain

The shoes of prisoners murdered in Auschwitz, liberated January 27, 1945. Public domain

Today marks the 70th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz-Birkenau, when Soviet troops freed the survivors of the Nazi death factory. More than one million people were murdered at Auschwitz, most of them Jews. 

Read Auschwitz: ‛It took from three to 15 minutes to kill the people. The “Verbatim” feature is Facts and Opinions copy editor Michael Sasges’ report: extracts of the reasons for judgment prepared by members of the International Military Tribunal for Germany, which tried German leaders accused of war crimes. The document is one of the earliest summaries of the causes and consequences of the horrors perpetrated in the camp. 

Recommended elsewhere:

The commemoration of the liberation is live-streamed today from Miejsce Pamięci i Muzeum Auschwitz-Birkenau:


Soviet Soldier Describes What It Was Like To Liberate Auschwitz, by THIBAULT MARCHAND, AFP (On Business Insider)

It was the silence, the smell of ashes and the boundless surrounding expanse that struck Soviet soldier Ivan Martynushkin when his unit arrived in January 1945 to liberate the Nazi death camp at Auschwitz.

As they entered the camp for the first time, the full horror of the Nazis’ crimes there were yet to emerge.

250px-Maus“Only the highest-ranking officers of the General Staff had perhaps heard of the camp,” recalled Martynushkin of his arrival to the site where at least 1.1 million people were killed between 1940 and 1945 — nearly 90 percent of them Jews. “We knew nothing.”

But Martynushkin and his comrades soon learned.  continue reading  (you will leave Facts and Opinions)

Auschwitz message still resonates today. By Caroline Wyatt, Religious affairs correspondent, BBC News

…. And as societies across Europe grapple with immigration, and seek to define themselves and their values anew, asking their religious minorities to prove their loyalty to their country, the words embossed on the monument at Birkenau, “let this place be a cry of despair and a warning to humanity” have a chilling resonance once again. … continue reading (you will leave Facts and Opinions)

Maus, a graphic novel, by American cartoonist Art Spiegelman.

Maus, first serialized in the Raw anthology, was published by Pantheon Books in 1991. It won a 1992 Pulitzer Prize, the first graphic novel to win a Pulitzer. In the novel, Spiegelman interviews his father about his experiences as a survivor of Nazi concentration camps.

Interview with an Auschwitz Guard: ‘I Do Not Feel Like a Criminal,’ der Spiegel. Interview Conducted by Felix Bohr, Cordula Meyer and Klaus Wiegrefe

Jakob W. was 19-years-old and in his third semester studying architecture at college when he received the letter that would, seven decades later, turn him into a suspect for complicity in murder. 

In the summer of 1942, the young man from a village near Belgrade received his draft notice. Just a few months later, he was standing on a tower hundreds of kilometers away from his home in Yugoslavia. Jakob W. was now an SS guard in the Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp — and thus a party in the most horrific of the crimes committed by the Third Reich. For two and a half years, he looked down at the factory of human annihilation, day in and day out. … continue reading (you will leave Facts and Opinions).


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