Pope John Paul II prayed today for the four million people, most of them Jews, who died at the Auschwitz and Birkenau concentration camps. The Pope, accompanied by nearly half a million people, celebrated a solemn mass at an open air altar between the railway lines which once brought Jews from all over Europe to the gas chambers of the twin death camps.
The Polish born Pontiff seemed deeply moved as he walked along the remaining camp huts, the barbed wire, the watch towers and the remnants of the gas chambers. He said “This is a place built on hatred in the name of a crazed ideology It is the site of a terrible slaughter that brought death to four million people of different nations.”
The Pope, who was accompanied by camp survivors wearing the former striped uniforms of in mates, said: ” It is my duty to recall the past in the name of people who suffer all over the world and to prevent similar horrors from taking place again. ” He spoke in moving tones about the Jews who were slaughtered in the camps. “They, they were the main-victims. Innocent people killed for no reason except their religion.” Then the Pope knelt in the middle of the railway tracks and with bowed head and hands crossed in prayer, said. “Here, I kneel in prayer before the inscriptions recalling the Auschwitz victims in such languages as Polish, English, Bulgarian, Romany (Gypsy), Czech, Danish, French, Greek, Hebrew, Yiddish, Spanish, Flemish, Serbo-Croat, German, Norwegian, Russian, Rumanian and Italian.
At Birkenau, about a mile away from Auschwitz, the Pope donned his vestments in the blockhouse where SS officers once watched their victims being chosen for the gas chambers. Here also he seemed deeply moved as he blessed the dead in the nightmarish atmosphere of watch towers, bunkers, barbed wire and gallows. A delegation of Polish Jews attended the ceremonies at Auschwitz.
The Archive of the Jewish Telegraphic Agency includes articles published from 1923 to 2008. Archive stories reflect the journalistic standards and practices of the time they were published.