VATICAN CITY (REUTERS) – Pope Francis kissed the number tattooed on the arm of a survivor of medical experiments at the Auschwitz Nazi concentration camp when she was introduced to him on Wednesday (May 26).
The pope listened intently as a Polish priest who accompanied Lidia Maksymowicz, 80, told him of her story during a general audience in the Vatican’s San Damaso Courtyard.
She then rolled up her left sleeve to show him the number – 70072. He kissed it and she hugged him.
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 Doctor Josef Mengele, according to a documentary about her life.
“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.
“After the war, books were found with references to tattooed numbers, among them mine.”
After the liberation of the camp in 1945, Soviet 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 six 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.
Francis visited Auschwitz in 2016.