Pope meets Poles who saved Jews

Pon­tiff at Auschwitz where over a mil­lion died

Weekend Argus (Saturday Edition) - - NEWS -

POLAND: Pope Fran­cis has met Chris­tian Poles who risked their lives to help Jews dur­ing World War II.

One by one, the el­derly Poles shook the pope’s hand, some kiss­ing it.

He handed a gift in a small red box to each one.

The en­counter at Birke­nau was the first time a pope had met with a group of the so-called “Right­eous Among the Na­tions”.

Is­rael’s Yad Vashem has recog­nised 6 620 Poles, more than from any other coun­try, as “right­eous”.

That re­flects the fact that Poland was home to the largest Jewish com­mu­nity in Europe be­fore the Holo­caust. Very few of the “right­eous” are still liv­ing. The sur­vivors were typ­i­cally teenagers or young adults who worked with their par­ents to help Jews.

Poland’s chief rabbi prayed a pen­i­ten­tial psalm in the pres­ence of Pope Fran­cis at Birke­nau, a part of the in­fa­mous Auschwitz-Birke­nau com­plex where Nazis killed more than a mil­lion peo­ple, mostly Jews.

Rabbi Michael Schu­drich, orig­i­nally from the US, prayed Psalm 130 in He­brew, which starts: “From the depths I have cried out to you, O Lord.”

The prayer was then read in Pol­ish by a priest.

Dur­ing the pray­ers, Fran­cis clasped his hands and bent his head be­fore a memo­rial to the vic­tims.

The au­di­ence in­cluded Auschwitz sur­vivors wear­ing striped scarves evok­ing the garb pris­on­ers were forced to wear and Poles who had helped save Jews.

When the pope met a group of sur­vivors he shook their hands, kissed them on the cheek and stroked the heads of some of them.

The meet­ing took place by the Auschwitz Death Wall, where in­mates, chiefly Pol­ish re­sis­tance fight­ers, were ex­e­cuted.

Some of the sur­vivors made Fran­cis of­fer­ings that were linked to their suf­fer­ing.

One of­fered a copy of a black-and-white pic­ture, in­di­cat­ing he was in it.

Ear­lier, some of the in­mates told re­porters they were ex­cited about meet­ing the pope, a great au­thor­ity to them.

“This is a huge thing for me,” said 100-year-old Alo­jzy Fros.

Pope Fran­cis also prayed in the dark un­der­ground prison cell at Ausch- witz of a Catholic saint, Max­i­m­il­ian Kolbe, a Pol­ish Catholic friar who sac­ri­ficed his life dur­ing the war to save the life of another man.

A few shafts of light from a tiny win­dow were the only light cast on the white fig­ure of the pope, who knelt for many min­utes as he prayed be­fore he crossed him­self and rose to his feet.

At the start of his visit he was sombre as he walked be­neath the no­to­ri­ous Ar­beit macht frei (Work sets you free) gate at Auschwitz.

He is the third con­sec­u­tive pon­tiff to make the pil­grim­age to the place where Adolf Hit- ler’s forces killed more than a mil­lion peo­ple.

But Fran­cis is the first pope to visit who has no per­sonal con­nec­tion to the site.

John Paul II hailed from Poland, which was un­der Ger­man occupation, while Bene­dict XVI was a Ger­man. – ANA-AP

PIC­TURE: REUTERS

Pope Fran­cis walks through a gate bear­ing the words Ar­beit macht frei (Work sets you free) at the for­mer Nazi Ger­man con­cen­tra­tion and ex­ter­mi­na­tion camp Auschwitz-Birke­nau in Oswiecim, Poland, yes­ter­day.

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