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Hunched on a bench near the gate to the Auschwitz death camp site in Poland, Pope Francis prayed silently on Friday in tribute to 1.5 million people, most of them Jews, gassed there by Nazi occupiers during World War II.
Marking the third day of his trip to Poland for an international gathering of Catholic youth, Francis spent a few minutes speaking quietly and exchanging gifts with about 12 Auschwitz survivors, including a 101-year-old woman.
One of the male survivors gave the pope a picture of himself surrounded by other inmates in a bunk, and asked Francis to sign it. The somber-looking pope kissed each survivor.
The Argentine-born pontiff, 79, made no statement as he 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 camp handlers had picked to die of starvation.
German occupation forces set up the Auschwitz-Birkenau camp during World War Two in Oswiecim, a town around 43 miles from Poland's second city, Krakow, in the country's south.
Between 1940 and 1945 Auschwitz developed into a vast complex of barracks, workshops, gas chambers and crematoria.
In Auschwitz's commemorative book, Francis wrote in Spanish: "Lord, have mercy on your people. Lord, forgiveness for so much cruelty."
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