Pope Francis kissed the tattoo of an Auschwitz survivor — the number inked onto her forearm when she arrived at the concentration camp as a young girl — as he met the 81-year-old in an emotional meeting Wednesday at the Vatican.
Lidia Maksymowicz, who was deported to the camp when she was not yet three years old, rolled up her sleeve as she met the pope following his open-air audience inside the Apostolic Palace.
Francis bent down to kiss the number that was inked onto her forearm when she arrived at the camp in 1943 — earning him a spontaneous hug from Maksymowicz.
The pope placed his hand on her head, and spent a few minutes speaking with her as he was leaving the palace courtyard.
Francis visited Auschwitz in 2016, where he walked alone through the “Arbeit Macht Frei” (Work Sets You Free) gate under which more than one million people, most of them Jews, passed before being killed by the Nazis.
Maksymowicz has spoken during past International Holocaust Remembrance Days about her experiences at the death camp after her family in Belarus was arrested and accused of supporting partisans.
She was one of the children forced to undergo medical experiments by Josef Mengele, the camp’s doctor known as the “Angel of Death”.
“All the children knew who Mengele was and felt terror towards him. I consider that I have a mission to tell this story, I owe it to those who died,” she said in January during an online talk with young Italians.
“I am one of the few survivors.”
After leaving the camp, she was adopted by a Polish family.
Maksymowicz was reunited with her mother at the age of 18, thanks to their tattoos having consecutive numbers.