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Silence in Auschwitz

2016-07-29 / Papież Franciszek


Silence and prayer. This is what Pope Francis brought during his visit at Auschwitz-Birkenau, a former Nazi German death camp, during WYD in Krakow.

Like his predecessors Benedict XVI and John Paul II, Pope Francis wanted to be in the place that is considered the symbol of evil against humanity, to pass through the camp's main gate, sadly known for the sign placed above it’s entrance: Arbeit macht frei – work sets you free.

With a serious expression on his face, the deeply-touched Pope Francis got in the popemobile headed for Block 11, the “death block.” On his way to the Block, the pope decided to stop and sit on a bench to pray, completely in silence, for several minutes.

In these 15 long minutes, Pope Francis communicated to the world with an extremely shattering strength a message of peace, hope, and forgiveness. A silence that speaks for itself, able to reconcile man with himself and with God, in a place where God was excluded and where humanity was tremendously oppressed and humiliated.

The meeting with 12 Auschwitz survivors, guided by Prime Minister of Poland, Beata Szydlo, was very moving and touching. Francis kissed and tenderly hugged each person, never hiding his feelings, bending over them like a father bends over his children. One of them, clearly excited, showed the Pope a black and white photograph of himself in the camp during World War II.

After the meeting, Pope Francis lit a candle in memory of the victims and prayed for several minuts at the Death Wall. Afterwards, he went to the cell where Father Maximilian Kolbe, a priest who volounteered to take the place of a man destined to die in the “block of hunger,” died. This year marks the 75th anniversary of  the death of Saint Maximilian, martyr.

The Holy Father wrote a message in the visitor's book and then left Auschwitz to reach the Birkenau death camp.

The long way that leads to the International Monument to the Victims of Fascism in Auschwitz-Birkenau follows the railways on which the train that transported the prisoners to the gas chambers traveled. Pope Francis slowly rode in the popemobile, passing throught the almost-destroyed wooden shacks. A journey full of meaning and importance, a journey of remembrance, as if the pope entered a past dimension and could feel all the pain that is still imprisoned in this place, in order to bring it redemption through silence, hope, and prayers.

About a thousand peolpe waited for the pope at the monument. It serves as a reminded that more than 1,5 million people, mainly Jews, were killed in this place. The Holy Father stopped in front of every gravestone in memory of the nations of the prisoners. The pope prayed with a very serious expression on his face, as if the entire history of suffering and humiliation of the 20th century was impressed on his face, while the names of all the victims were read off through the loudspeaker, commemorating every single life that was lost. In this very serious moment, the Chief Rabbi of Poland sang a prayer in Hebrew and a Polish priest read aloud Psalm 129 (130) in Hebrew.

Before leaving Birkenau, the Pope met 25 Righteous Among the Nations – people who risked their lives to save Jews during World War II.


Daniele Sebastianelli
Photo Jacek Bednarczyk
Translated by Michela Di Cosimo

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