Pope to visit Auschwitz during trip to Poland in July

Thu Jun 9, 2016 7:36am EDT
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VATICAN CITY (Reuters) - Pope Francis will visit the Nazi death camp at Auschwitz-Birkenau during a visit to Poland on July 29, the Vatican said on Thursday.

Both of Francis's immediate predecessors, Pope Benedict, a German, and Pope John Paul, a Pole, also visited the site during their pontificates.

Nazi German occupying forces established the Auschwitz-Birkenau Nazi camp during World War Two in the southern Polish town of Oswiecim, around 70 km (43 miles) from Poland's second city, Krakow.

The visit will take place during Francis's pre-planned trip to Krakow for an international gathering of Catholic youth. Poland remains a staunchly Roman Catholic country.

Between 1940 and 1945 Auschwitz developed into a vast complex of barracks, workshops, gas chambers and crematoria, where about 1.5 million people, most of them Jews, died.

Soviet Red Army troops liberated the camp on January 27 1945.

During a visit to Rome's synagogue in January, Francis appealed to Catholics to reject anti-Semitism and said the Holocaust, in which some six million Jews were killed, should remind everyone that human rights should be defended with "maximum vigilance".

A month earlier, the Vatican issued a major document saying Catholics should not try to convert Jews.

(Reporting by Isla Binnie and Wiktor Szary; Editing by Gareth Jones)

Pope Francis leaves at the end of his weekly audience in Saint Peter's Square at the Vatican May 11, 2016. REUTERS/Stefano Rellandini/File Photo