Pope Francis kisses number tattooed on the arm of Auschwitz prisoner

Pope Francis kisses number tattooed on the arm of Auschwitz prisoner, 80, who survived horrifying medical experiments as a child at the hands of Nazi ‘Angel of Death’ Dr Josef Mengele

  • Pope met Lidia Maksymowicz with her priest at general audience at Vatican
  • After hearing her story he rolled up her sleeve and kissed her prisoner number 
  • Maksymowicz and her family were taken from Belarus to Auschwitz in 1943
  • She was taken to children’s barracks where Mengele carried out experiments

Pope Francis today kissed the number tattooed on the arm of an Auschwitz survivor who suffered medical experiments at the hands of Nazi doctor Josef Mengele. 

The pontiff listened intently as a Polish priest who accompanied Lidia Maksymowicz, 80, told him of her story at a general audience in the Vatican’s San Damaso courtyard.

She then rolled up her left sleeve to show him the number – 70072 – and he leaned in to kiss it before the pair shared an embrace.

Maksymowicz told Vatican News that she didn’t exchange words with the Pope.

‘We understood each other with a glance,’ she said.

Pope Francis leans in to kiss the prisoner number from Auschwitz tattooed on Lidia Maksymowicz’s arm in the Vatican’s San Damaso Courtyard

Maksymowicz told Vatican News that she didn’t exchange words with the pope. ‘We understood each other with a glance,’ she said.

Pope Francis greets a Holocaust survivor Lidia Maksymowicz after the weekly general audience at the San Damaso courtyard, at the Vatican

The pontiff embraces Maksymowicz in the Vatican’s San Damaso Courtyard on Wednesday

Maksymowicz and her family were taken from their home in Belarus to the Nazi death camp in German-occupied Poland in December 1943, shortly before her third birthday.

She was put in a children’s barracks, where she and others were the subjects of medical experimentation by the notorious ‘Angel of Death’, Mengele.

After the liberation of the camp in 1945, Russian soldiers assumed her mother Anna – tattooed with the number 70071 – was dead.

She was adopted and raised by a Catholic Polish family.

Born Ludmila Boczarowa, she did not know her birth mother had survived and they were briefly reunited shortly before her mother’s death in the early 1960s.

Maksymowicz, who lives in Krakow, Poland, is the subject of a documentary called ‘70072: The Girl Who Couldn’t Hate. The true story of Lidia Maksymowicz.’

She often meets young people in schools to discuss the dangers of extremism and populism.

The Nazis and their allies murdered around 6 million Jews, as well as others, in German-occupied Europe.

More than a million people, most of them Jews, were killed at Auschwitz. The vast majority were gassed to death.

Auschwitz survivor Maksymowicz hugs the Pope

The Pope blessing the woman today as her Polish priest recounted her story to the pontiff

Maksymowicz holds hands with the Pope after hearing about her life

The Pope has paid tribute to Holocaust survivors in the past, including a 2014 visit to Yad Vashem Holocaust Memorial in Israel and a visit in February to the Rome apartment of a survivor, 88-year-old Hungarian-born writer and poet Edith Bruck.

The Vatican said that during the hour-long visit, Francis told her: ‘I came to thank you for your witness and to pay homage to the people martyred by the craziness of Nazi populism.’

‘And with sincerity I repeat the words I pronounced from my heart at Yad Vashem, and that I repeat in front of every person who, like you, suffered so much because of this: `Forgive, Lord, in the name of humanity,” the pontiff told Bruck, according to the Vatican’s account of the private meeting.


Dr. Josef Mengele, an SS physician from 1943 to 1945, was known as the ‘Angel of Death’ for overseeing gruesome experiments at the Auschwitz death camp in Poland

Immaculately dressed, it was Josef Mengele who greeted doomed arrivals at the Nazi death camp, Auschwitz, in occupied Poland.

With a flick of his gloved hands, the supreme arbiter of life and death would consign terrified prisoners either to work or to death in the gas chambers.

But many were condemned to an altogether more diabolical fate; they became guinea pigs upon his operating table as he pursued his berserk quest to clone blue-eyed Aryan supermen. Most of his victims died in terrible pain without anaesthetic.

Captivated by oddities, victims of Mengele’s medical experiments were chosen based on different eye colors, growth anomalies such as a clubfoot or a hunchback, giantism or dwarfism, twins and gypsies. 

A choice ‘specimen’ he sent to his lab for study was the head of a 12-year-old boy he was going to dissect.

Twins held a particular fascination for him and it’s estimated that he examined around 3,000 – but only 100 pairs survived. 

Mengele once impregnated one twin with the sperm from a different twin to see if she would produce twins.

When there was only one baby, one survivor claimed he tore the baby out of the mother’s uterus and threw the child into an oven and walked away.

Mengele had a doctorate in medicine from Frankfurt University, but used his knowledge in a sickening manner at the Auschwitz concentration camp, where he performed experiments as an SS physician from 1943 to 1945.

The so-called Angel of Death was on the Allied commanders’ most-wanted list from 1944, but he escaped to South America and was never found

Although prisoners transferred to his wing to be studied escaped the gas chambers and were well fed, they often ultimately met an even more painful death.

Mengele regularly performed surgery without anaesthetic and would obtain bodies to work on simply by injecting chloroform into inmates’ hearts while they slept, which would kill them in seconds.

He was most interested in heredity and once tried to change the colour of children’s eyes by injecting chemicals directly into them.

Pregnant women were also singled out. He was known to have performed vivisections on them before consigning them to the death chambers.

Prisoners suffering from schizophrenia and depression were subjected to electroconvulsive therapy (ECT).

The goal was to treat incapacitated prisoners so that they could return to the work force.

Most of the experiments were unsuccessful and led to the death of the prisoners.

The so-called Angel of Death was on the Allied commanders’ most-wanted list from 1944, but he escaped to South America and was never found, despite the best efforts of private investigators and the Israeli secret service, Mossad.

He died in 1979 after suffering a stroke while swimming and thirteen years later, DNA tests proved his identity beyond doubt. 

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