Benedict XVI to walk through Auschwitz gate to honor victims

Benedict plans to pray at former Auschwitz-Birkenau death camp in southern Poland on Sunday, a visit heavy with symbolism on the last day of a four-day trip to the homeland of his predecessor John Paul II.

Benedict, 79, initially planned to ride through the Auschwitz gate, which is topped with the infamous words "Arbeit macht Frei" - Work Sets You Free - in his popemobile.

But he decided to walk once Polish organizers pointed out that Nazi commanders and troops drove through the gate in cars, while the inmates were forced to walk, said the Rev. Stanislaw Lubaszka, a Polish priest involved in organizing the visit.

Once inside, the pope will be greeted by some 30 camp survivors and will walk to the Death Wall, where the Nazis shot inmates, chiefly Polish resistance members. He will also pray at the adjacent camp of Birkenau, the larger part of the extermination camp complex, the AP reports.

Between 1940 and 1945, up to 1.5 million people, mostly Jews, were killed in the gas chambers or died from disease, hunger and forced labor at Auschwitz-Birkenau.