Rome — Pope Francis shared a tender moment with a survivor of theon Wednesday, bending down to kiss the number tattooed onto her arm by the Nazis when she was just a child.
The leader of the Catholic Church was greeting the faithful after his general audience on Wednesday at the Vatican when he came upon 81-year-old Lidia Maksymowicz. After a Polish priest accompanying Maksymowicz told Francis her story, the survivor rolled up her sleeve to show the pope the number tattooed onto her arm by the Nazis: 70072.
Francis bent down to kiss it, and then the two hugged.
Although the two didn’t exchange words, Maksymovicz told Vatican News that they had “understood each other with a glance.”
Pope Francisin 2016, where he begged God to forgive “so much cruelty.”
Maksymowicz now lives in Krakow, Poland. She was born Ludmila Boczarowa in Belarus, which at the time was part of the Soviet Union. When she was less than three years of age, she and her family were deported to Auschwitz.
She was put into the children’s barracks, where she and other children were subjected to the medical experiments of Doctor Josef Mengele — the Nazi regime’s so-called “Angel of Death.”
Maksymowicz said at a 2019 conference that she still remembered Mengele’s shiny boots and his “possessed” stare. Among her other memories from her three years at the Auschwitz children’s camp were hunger, lice, and the kids’ terror when the doctors entered their barracks and read out numbers corresponding to the tattoos on their arms, selecting the day’s unwilling victims for experimentation.
Maksymowicz has said that historical documents suggest she survived at Auschwitz longer than any other child. When the camp was liberated by the Russian army in 1945, she was adopted by a Catholic Polish family.
The experience took a heavy toll on Maksymowicz.
“I felt that I was worse than other people, I blamed myself for not having been a good girl and I thought the fact that I was there was a punishment,” she said previously in a television documentary.
She believed for years that she was an orphan, having been told that her mother was among those killed at Auschwitz. But her mother Anna had survived, too.
In the documentary Maksymowicz said her mother was taken on a death march from Auschwitz to Ravensbruck and then to Bergen-Belsen, two other concentration camps. After Bergen-Belsen was liberated by the allies, she immediately began searching for her daughter.
The two were finally reunited in Moscow in 1962, when Maksymowicz was 18. She said her mother fainted at the sight of her.
Maksymowicz said that being at Auschwitz, “allowed me to understand how to face extreme situations. Everyone says to me, ‘You are so strong!’ But for many years I did not even want to talk about it, and I covered that number with an adhesive bandage.”
“Today I am certain that I survived due to the intervention of a greater force,” she said. “My duty and my mission is to speak for those who were unable to survive.”
As CBS News correspondent Mark Phillipson the 75th anniversary of Auschwitz’s liberation, it was not only the largest of the Nazi regime’s death camps, where more than a million people — 90 percent of them Jews — were murdered; it’s become the center of Holocaust commemoration.