Pope kisses the tattooed number on arm of concentration camp survivor
Lidia Maksymowicz spent three years of her life in the “children’s block” of Auschwitz, one of Mengele’s victims.
Lidia Maksymowicz, a Polish woman of Belarusian origin who survived the Nazi concentration camps, showed her arm to Pope Francis as he greeted pilgrims after the May 26 general audience.
That is what she was showing the Pope – the number tattooed there, which after 76 years is still visible, and a reminder of the horror she suffered as a prisoner of Auschwitz.
Pope Francis gazed at her for a few moments, then bent down and kissed the number.
When he visited the camp in 2016, the Pope had no words, only a spontaneous, instinctive, affectionate gesture – a gesture, she tells Vatican News in a slightly fading voice, fraught with fatigue and emotion, that “has strengthened me and reconciled me with the world.”
Sharing her witness
Now living in Krakow, Lidia is one of the last survivors of the Holocaust in Europe, and is currently visiting Italy as a guest of the Living Memory association of Castellamonte (Turin) to share her story with the young.
Lidia never stopped believing in God, despite the evil that was heaped on her when she was only three years old. In 1941, along with her mother and her maternal grandparents, she was torn from her home and her affections, deported because they were suspected of collaborating with the partisans.
“I was little, I was just a few years old, but already had a lot of experience after having lived through scenes of war in the former Soviet Union. I was ready for the pain, for the evil done by men against other men, but I did not expect to experience what I experienced in Auschwitz.”
She described the horrible events: “I was deported on a train fit only for beasts, maybe not even for that. When the doors opened, I saw terrible scenes. My grandparents were separated from us and from each other, then sent to a barracks with a chimney from which smoke came out with an atrocious stench. My mother and I — dirty, hungry, afraid — we obeyed the soldiers who shouted incomprehensible words while the dogs barked. We didn’t understand anything, we did everything they said, we were terrified.”
An appeal to young people: “Never let that atrocity return”
Today, Lidia Maksymowicz says she is tired. But she clings to life with all her strength because she has a mission to fulfil: To keep the memory of the horrors of Holocaust alive in the memory of new generations, who have grown up in an age when the spectres of racism and nationalism seem to be flourishing again. By way of Vatican News and Vatican Radio, Lidia made an appeal to today’s youth: “In your young hands is the future of the world. Listen to my words, go and visit Auschwitz and Birkenau, and see to it that this atrocity never returns. That history must never be repeated.