From 1942 to 1944, at least 1.1 million people were killed at the Nazi concentration camp known as Auschwitz.
Many of us learn about this in history class or see the horrifying grainy, black and white photographs of human beings lined up for execution.
Images like those are haunting and important to see, but no experience can come close to actually visiting the camp, which now operates as a memorial to those who were killed inside its gates.
On July 29, 2016, Pope Francis visited Auschwitz for the first time. He didn’t speak a single word on record, but the images of his visit speak for themselves.
Auschwitz was home to one of the darkest chapters in modern human history, and today it’s a reminder of the ugliness of hate.
More than 70 years after Auschwitz was liberated, there are still many who deny that the Holocaust ever happened. In 2016, we’re dealing with an ongoing refugee crisis and vocal anti-immigrant sentiment as the result of xenophobia rocketing through Europe and the United States stark reminders that the ugliness of hate is not something left in the past.
The striking visual of the Pope walking alone, his head hung low in somber prayer and reflection, through streets that were once filled with the dead and the dying, shows how very real it was.
His visit is a reminder that we shouldn’t ever let this happen again.
Pope Francis spent the first minutes of his visit to Auschwitz sitting on a bench praying, according to a report in The Guardian.
He also spent several minutes alone in the cell of Maximilian Kolbe, a priest who volunteered to take the place of a prisoner selected for death. Kolbe died on Aug. 14, 1941, and was later canonized by Pope John Paul II.
Pope Francis met and prayed with several Holocaust survivors, paid a visit to neighboring concentration camp Birkenau, and prayed with Poland’s chief Rabbi Michael Schudrich.
Before leaving, he signed the guestbook with a simple and powerful message that speaks to religion as something that should bring us together, not set us apart.
Lord, have pity on your people,” Pope Francis wrote. “Lord, forgive so much cruelty.