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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Pope Ends Poland Visit at Auschwitz

OSWIECIM, Poland -- Pope Benedict XVI visited the Auschwitz death camp as "a son of Germany" on Sunday to meet former inmates and view an execution wall and starvation cells where some of the 1.5 million victims died.

The pontiff, 79, walked under the entry gate's infamous motto "Arbeit macht frei," or work makes you free, to tour the main Auschwitz camp, the nerve center for a huge complex serving Adolf Hitler's "Final Solution" of wiping out European Jewry.

Benedict began the last of his four days in Poland with a huge mass in Krakow, but it was marred by news of an attack on Poland's chief rabbi, Michael Schudrich, in Warsaw on Saturday by a young man shouting "Poland for the Poles!"

Schudrich was due to pray with Benedict later on Sunday. "This incident is very nasty but let's not let it undermine the great importance of today's event," he said.

Recalling that Benedict's Polish predecessor had visited the camp in 1979, Vatican spokesman Joaquin Navarro-Valls told reporters on Saturday: "John Paul went to Auschwitz as a son of the Polish people, and Benedict is going as the son of the German people."

After the main camp, he was due to visit a nearby center for dialogue among Poles, Germans and Jews and then pray at the Birkenau section of the camp, where Jews were led from trains straight to their deaths in gas chambers.

Benedict's visit evoked complex issues of Catholic-Jewish and Polish-German relations, the mystery of evil and German guilt for the deaths of 1.5 million people, mostly Jews.

The symbolism was heightened by the fact that Benedict was involuntarily enrolled in the Hitler Youth organization and then drafted into an anti-aircraft unit at the end of World War II.

Benedict, who visited Auschwitz with John Paul in 1979 and with other German bishops in 1980, has said he saw slave laborers during his short army service. The brutality of the Nazi regime helped him decide to be a priest.

The Polish Interior Ministry said it was looking for a 25-year-old man who may have attacked the New York-born Schudrich, 50, and added that Saturday's incident might be a "provocation aimed at creating an image of Poland as an anti-Semitic country."

Earlier on Sunday, Benedict said mass for more than 900,000 people in a field in Krakow where John Paul traditionally held huge gatherings with his countrymen before returning to Rome.

In his sermon, Benedict urged Poland, which has one of the world's most active Christian communities, to "share with the other people of the world the treasure of your faith" as a fitting and lasting tribute to John Paul.

Benedict has avoided speaking his native tongue during his tour to avoid hurting Polish and Jewish sensitivities.