Pope Francis silently walked Friday beneath the notorious sign at the Polish death camp Auschwitz-Birkenau.
With his head bowed and dressed in white, the pontiff walked under the sign that bears the words «Arbeit Macht Frei» or «Work Sets You Free.» More than a million people, most of them Jews, were killed at the camp by Nazis during World War II.
In the camp’s barracks, he sat on a bench in silent contemplation.
Later, Francis – the leader of the world’s Roman Catholics – met individually with elderly survivors of the camp.
Afterwards, he placed a large white candle at the Death Wall where prisoners were executed.
He also prayed in the dark Auschwitz prison cell of a Catholic saint, Maximilian Kolba; a Polish friar who sacrificed his life during the war to save the life of another man.
This is the third day of the pope’s five-day visit to Poland.
He stumbled Thursday on a visit to the Shrine of the Black Madonna in Czestochowa.
He met with Poland’s political and religious leaders and journalists, and greeted pilgrims from the window of Krakow’s Bishop’s Palace on Wednesday.
His itinerary includes taking part in World Youth Day, a global gathering of young Catholics.
Francis is the third consecutive pope to visit Auschwitz in southern Poland.
John Paul II visited in 1979. Benedict XVI visited the site in 2006.
This is Francis’ first visit to eastern Europe.