2016-07-28 12:40:00

Director of Auschwitz Museum on papal visit to camp

(Vatican Radio) Pope Francis makes a somber visit on Friday to the site of the former Nazi death camp of Auschwitz-Birkenau where 1.1 million people were murdered, nearly all of them Jews. The Director of the Auschwitz Memorial and Museum, Piotr Cywinski, said the Pope’s visit to this “terrible” but very important place was highly significant, especially in our present world marked by so much conflict and crises. By looking and learning from the past, he said, we can better understand the dangers of “populism, anti-semitism and all kinds of zenophobia" that we see in our times. Cywinski was interviewed by our correspondent, Lydia O'Kane. 

Listen to the interview with Piotr Cywinski, Director of the Auschwitz Memorial and Museum: 

With his visit on Friday to the former Nazi death camp, Pope Francis becomes the third Pope to visit the site after his predecessors, Saint John Paul II, a Pole and Benedict XVI, a German. During his visit, the Pope will pray at an execution wall and in the cell of St. Maximilian Kolbe, a Franciscan friar who volunteered to die at Auschwitz in order to save the life of another prisoner, a man with a family.  He is also scheduled to meet a group of Auschwitz survivors as well as a group of Polish Christians who risked their lives during the war to help the Jews.   

Cywinski said a visit to the camp is “fundamental” for our understanding of the post-war era and the issue of human rights. He noted Pope Francis’ commitment to Catholic-Jewish dialogue and said his visit to Auschwitz-Birkenau is “a clear sign” of “the Church’s approach to the Shoah and to the tragedy of the concentration camps.”

Pointing to our present era with its new wars and conflicts, Cywinski said by looking and learning from the past we can better understand the “dangers of populism, anti-semitism and all kinds of zenophobia." He said an example of the latter, was “what is happening now in many countries in Europe” and their attitude towards the refugees and migrants who are fleeing to the continent to escape war and conflict in their home nations.

“When we see this fear of people who are just escaping a war area in order to survive” ….. “This is also a kind of zenophobia, this fear of the other,” Cywinski said.

Saying we have “a lot to do to change this situation," Cywinski called for “a more humanistic vision” when dealing with these issues in our present times.  

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