Pope John Paul II condemned Nazism Friday in a visit behind the granite walls and barbed wire of a World War II concentration camp where more than 100,000 prisoners were tortured, gassed or worked to death.
The pontiff, on the second day of a 41/2 day visit to Austria, flew by helicopter to the former concentration camp, which is now a museum and memorial on a green hilltop in Upper Austria province, 100 miles west of Vienna."Here in Mauthausen were people who, in the name of a lunatic ideology, set into motion the whole machinery of contempt and hatred of others," the pope said. "They tortured them, broke their bones, cruelly abused their bodies and souls."
Jewish leaders, who had described their 40-minute meeting with the pontiff as friendly, reacted with anger to his speech at Mauthausen, where they said they had hoped for a strong statement on both Nazi persecution of the Jews and the the failure of the Catholic Church in Austria to resist the takeover of the country in 1938 by German forces.
"The only Jew he mentions who suffers is Jesus Christ, and he didn't suffer at Mauthausen," Chief Rabbi Paul Eisenberg of Vienna said.
John Paul, who grew up in wartime Poland and studied for the priesthood at an underground seminary, appeared deeply moved as he dedicated a 7-foot cross of burnt wood on the wall of the camp laundry house, which has been converted to a chapel.
Although the number of deaths at Mauthausen was small compared to the millions slaughtered at other Nazi camps, it was notorious for the ferocity of the torture that took place inside its walls - which are filled with granite that prisoners were forced to carry from a quarry up a 189-step "stairway of death" as part of the camp's plan of "annihilation by labor."