Auschwitz sets up tour dates just for World Youth Day pilgrims

IMAGE: CNS/Nancy Wiechec

By Nancy Wiechec

OSWIECIM, Poland (CNS) — The
Auschwitz memorial and museum is setting aside days exclusively for World Youth
Day pilgrims who want to tour the former Nazi death camp.

The museum has set aside July
20-28 and Aug. 1-3 for participants in World Youth Day, which runs July 26-31
in Krakow, about one-and-a-half hours away.

World Youth Day officials set
aside 300,000 spots and asked participants to register for the dates. In early
March, they said about 57,000 spots remained. Participants who wish to visit
the museum on the designated days must register at

A record 1.72 million people
visited the Auschwitz memorial and museum in 2015. It was the largest group
ever to tour the former Nazi death camp in any given year.

The largest number of visitors
came from Poland, 425,000; the United Kingdom, 220,000; and the United States, 141,000.
Young people made up the majority of visitors, according to the museum’s annual

Between 1940 and 1945, more than
1 million Jews and tens of thousands of Poles, Roma, Soviet POWs and others
were murdered by the SS at Auschwitz. The SS, which originated as the elite
guard of the Nazi Party, later became units of fanatical soldiers and
concentration camp guards.

Auschwitz was the largest camp
complex established by the Nazis. The main camp, known as Auschwitz I, was
expanded to include Auschwitz II (Auschwitz-Birkenau) in 1941 and Auschwitz III
(Auschwitz-Monowitz) in 1942.

Among those killed were St.
Maximilian Kolbe, a Polish Conventual Franciscan friar, and St. Edith Stein, a
Jewish philosopher who converted to Catholicism and became a Carmelite nun.

The starvation cell, where St. Maximilian
and others spent the last days of their lives, can be viewed in the basement of
Block 11. It is known as “the death block” because it was used by the SS to
inflict torture.

Auschwitz has stood as testament
to the Holocaust for 70 years. Education, preservation and research is a large
part of the museum’s ongoing mission.

Among the exhibits are heaps of
eyeglasses, shoes, suitcases, Jewish prayer shawls, clothing, kitchenware,
baskets and other personal items belonging to victims. A mound of worn hair and
shaving brushes is on display in one room. Along a wall in another, clumps of
human hair, shaven from those imprisoned and killed in the camp, are piled
behind glass.

Polish Catholic leaders have
expressed hope that Pope Francis might visit Auschwitz in July when he comes to
Poland for World Youth Day. St. John Paul II visited in 1979 and Pope Benedict
XVI in 2006.

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