Pope Francis paid a surprise visit on Saturday to the home of Edith Bruck, a Hungarian-born Holocaust survivor and author, and paid homage to all those killed by Nazi “insanity”.
Bruck, 89, who lives in Rome, was born into a poor Jewish family and spent time in a series of concentration camps, losing her father, mother and brother in them.
A Vatican spokesman, who announced the visit after it ended, said the two spoke of her time in the camps and the importance that future generations be made aware of what happened.
“I came here to thank you for your witness and to pay homage to the people martyred by the insanity of Nazi populism,” the Vatican quoted the pope as telling Bruck.
Bruck, who has lived in Italy for decades and writes in Italian, was about 13 when she was taken to Auschwitz in German-occupied Poland with her family.
Her mother died there and her father died in Dachau, in Germany, where they were taken after that. While in Dachau, she dug trenches and laid railway sleepers (ties), she recently told the Vatican newspaper Osservatore Romano.
She later spent time in Christianstadt, a sub-camp of the larger Gross-Rosen camp. She finally wound up in Bergen-Belsen, where she was liberated by the Allies in 1945.
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 in southern Poland, which was liberated by Soviet troops on Jan. 27, 1945. The vast majority were gassed to death.
The pope, who rarely leaves the Vatican for private visits, spent about an hour with Bruck, who has written novels and plays and directed films.
Last month on Holocaust Remembrance Day, the pope, who visited Auschwitz in 2016, urged people to keep a close watch on ideological extremism, because “these things can happen again”.
Reporting by Philip Pullella; Editing by Frances Kerry / REUTERS