Pope Francis today kissed the number tattooed on the arm of an Auschwitz survivor who suffered medical experiments at the hands of Nazi doctor Josef Mengele.
The pontiff listened intently as a Polish priest who accompanied Lidia Maksymowicz, 80, told him of her story at a general audience in the Vatican's San Damaso courtyard.
She then rolled up her left sleeve to show him the number - 70072 - and he leaned in to kiss it before the pair shared an embrace.
Maksymowicz told Vatican News that she didn't exchange words with the Pope.
'We understood each other with a glance,' she said.
Pope Francis has kissed the tattoo of an Auschwitz survivor, Lidia Maksymowicz, during a general audience. She said she didn't exchange words with the pope, and that “we understood each other with a glance." https://t.co/mWcj7CqypV— AP Europe (@AP_Europe) May 26, 2021
'Mengele was an atrocious person, without limits and without scruples," she told the official Vatican News website after the audience, adding that she still remembers the pain he inflicted.
Maksymowicz and her family were taken from their home in Belarus to the Nazi death camp in German-occupied Poland in December 1943, shortly before her third birthday.
She was put in a children's barracks, where she and others were the subjects of medical experimentation by the notorious 'Angel of Death', Mengele.
After the liberation of the camp in 1945, Russian soldiers assumed her mother Anna - tattooed with the number 70071 - was dead.
She was adopted and raised by a Catholic Polish family.
Born Ludmila Boczarowa, she did not know her birth mother had survived and they were briefly reunited shortly before her mother's death in the early 1960s.
Maksymowicz, who lives in Krakow, Poland, is the subject of a documentary called '70072: The Girl Who Couldn't Hate. The true story of Lidia Maksymowicz.'
She often meets young people in schools to discuss the dangers of extremism and populism.
The Nazis and their allies murdered around 6 million Jews, as well as others, in German-occupied Europe.
More than a million people, most of them Jews, were killed at Auschwitz. The vast majority were gassed to death.
The Pope has paid tribute to Holocaust survivors in the past, including a 2014 visit to Yad Vashem Holocaust Memorial in Israel and a visit in February to the Rome apartment of a survivor, 88-year-old Hungarian-born writer and poet Edith Bruck.
Pope Francis kissed the number tattooed on the arm of an Auschwitz survivor when she was introduced to him on Wednesday. The pope listened intently as a Polish priest who accompanied Lidia Maksymowicz, 80, told him of her story. .https://t.co/riLno9DyGt— Auschwitz Memorial (@AuschwitzMuseum) May 26, 2021
The Vatican said that during the hour-long visit, Francis told her: 'I came to thank you for your witness and to pay homage to the people martyred by the craziness of Nazi populism.'
'And with sincerity I repeat the words I pronounced from my heart at Yad Vashem, and that I repeat in front of every person who, like you, suffered so much because of this: "Forgive, Lord, in the name of humanity,"' the pontiff told Bruck, according to the Vatican's account of the private meeting.
© Associated Newspapers Ltd.