Silence reigned as Pope Francis visited the Nazi concentration camp Auschwitz on Friday, an event seen by many as the emotional highlight of his trip to Poland.

The pope bowed his head as he entered the camp through its infamous gate, emblazoned with the words Arbeit Macht Frei (Work Sets You Free), before finding a bench between the camp's surviving buildings and sitting in silent prayer for about 15 minutes.

The Vatican had said in advance that Francis would visit the camp in silence, with no public prayers or services. The decision was met with wide approval from Jewish organizations, which called it appropriate.

Michael Schudrich, Poland's chief rabbi, said ahead of the visit that it is not unusual for people to discover "a new level of pain" when visiting Auschwitz. He noted that many visitors find themselves speechless when they first see the site.

More than 1.1 million people - most of them Jews - died in the complex of camps Nazi Germany set up near the Polish town of Oswiecim during World War II.

After his silent contemplation, the pope then met with several Holocaust survivors, exchanging a few words with them before heading to Auschwitz's Death Wall, the site where people were executed with rifles. There, he lit a candle.

He then headed to the site's Block 11, which contains the cell where Franciscan monk Maximilian Kolbe died during his internment at the camp. The pope sat in the dimly lit room before leaving Auschwitz, walking back out through the gate.

During his visit, he signed the guest book, writing: "Lord, have pity on your people. Lord, forgive so much cruelty," according to an image posted on Twitter by the Auschwitz museum.

He then headed to the nearby Birkenau camp. Auschwitz and Birkenau were both part of the same complex during Nazi Germany's rule of Poland: Auschwitz was primarily a labour camp, while Birkenau was for mass killings. More than 1.1 million died there.

Both were part of the Nazi's scheme to purge Europe of people it deemed inferior, including homosexuals, Roma and socialists, though the vast majority were Jews.

At Birkenau, Francis met with people who had tried to rescue Jews from the Holocaust, along with more survivors.

Survivors who met with the pope said they were happy with the visit.

"I found the visiting touching and moving. His gaze was very deep, he took time for each and every one of us," Eva Umlauf told dpa after meeting with Francis.

Others were less overwhelmed.

"Whether he says something or not, I'm not a religious person, so it doesn't matter one way or another to me," said Roza Krzywoblocka-Laurow. However, she quickly added: "But, of course, it is, naturally, important when someone like the pope commemorates what happened here with his presence."

Maria Augustyn, whose parents hid a Jewish couple from the Nazis, thus risking their own lives, said it was obvious the pope was moved.

"He didn't have to say anything. You could tell that he was touched. I think that he's a very sensitive person."

Roman Kent said it was important for such meetings to happen as many more times as possible, so that the world would never forget the horrors of the Nazi regime.

"We have to bear witness, but 90 per cent of us disappeared up the chimney as white-grey smoke along with their testimonies," said Kent, who is also president of the International Auschwitz Committee. He said the pope's silence was a "nice gesture."

Francis is the third pope to visit Auschwitz. His two immediate predecessors - John Paul II and Benedict XVI - also visited.

The pope is in Poland as part of the World Youth Day celebrations, a week-long event that is expected to draw hundreds of thousands of young Catholics from across the world before it ends on Sunday.

The pope is expected to rejoin the festivities in nearby Krakow after his visit to Auschwitz.

Latest news

Syrian opposition rules out future role for President al-Assad

The Syrian opposition said Friday it would not accept any role for President Bashar al-Assad in the future of the war-torn country, reacting to a recent US shift saying that removing al-Assad is no longer a priority for Washington.

Russian Army integrates breakaway forces of Georgian province

Parts of the small fighting forces of the Georgian breakaway province of South Ossetia have been placed under Russian military control, Russian Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu said on Friday.

Czech Republic's Pilsner Urquell beer is now Japanese

Japanese brewing company Asahi completed its takeover of the Czech brewery Pilsner Urquell on Friday, Asahi said in a statement.

Judge approves 25-million-dollar settlement of Trump University case

A US district judge on Friday approved a 25-million-dollar settlement of lawsuits and state fraud allegations against Trump University, the US president's now-defunct business venture.

Former Thai premier Thaksin to junta on reconciliation: 'Cut me out'

Former Thai prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra on Friday announced that he is not interested in the junta-led reconciliation process, three days after the junta handed him a half-a-billion-dollar tax bill for his past business deal.

Dalic: We welcome possible deal between Agrokor and banks

The government welcomes the possibility of an agreement being concluded between the Agrokor food company and creditor banks, and the bill on vitally important companies is not a fallback plan but the result of the government's care for the overall economic and financial stability of Croatia, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Economy Martina Dalic told a press conference in Zagreb on Friday.

Croatia, China sign action plan for cooperation in agriculture

The Croatian and Chinese ministries of agriculture on Friday signed an action plan for cooperation in the field of agriculture for the period 2017-2018, the Croatian ministry said in a statement.

ZSE indices up, Agrokor shares in focus of investor interest

The Zagreb Stock Exchange (ZSE) indices on Friday rose by more than 1.8%, with stocks of the Agrokor food and retail concern being in the focus of investor interest again.

Berlin police defend handling of Berlin market attacker

Berlin police defended themselves on Friday against accusations that they stopped surveillance on Berlin Christmas market attacker despite knowing in June 2016 he was dangerous.

Croatia, creditors tailor emergency measures to save tottering giant

Croatia's tottering retail and food giant Agrokor reached an agreement with its creditors, putting its debts standby and allowing it to continue working during emergency restructuring, the Croatian branch of Austria's Erste Bank said Friday.

Agrokor's creditors say standstill agreement to go into force today

A standstill agreement regarding the Agrokor concern's existing financial obligations to banks will take effect on Friday, additional capital will be injected into the concern in the coming days and the concern will be actively restructured, which includes a change of its management, it was said on Friday after a meeting between Agrokor's suppliers and creditor banks.

Palestinians, UN slam Israel's new settlement plan

Palestinians, Israeli activists and the UN lambasted the government of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Friday, a day after it gave the go-ahead for the first new West Bank settlement in a quarter of a century.

South Sudan rebels release three abducted foreign oil workers

South Sudanese rebels have released three foreign engineers they abducted in early March in the oil-rich Upper Nile region, Foreign Affairs Ministry official Mawein Makol Arik said on Friday.

Turkish opposition: Imprisoned party chief has gone on hunger strike

The head of Turkey's pro-Kurdish opposition party has launched a hunger strike from prison.

European leagues threaten Champions League schedule clashes

The European Professional Football Leagues (EPFL) on Friday threatened schedule clashes on Champions League matchdays in an ongoing dispute with the governing body UEFA.

Danish court revokes citizenship of IS volunteer

A Danish appellate court on Friday stripped a man of his Danish citizenship for volunteering to fight for the extremist Islamic State in Syria.

Banks and Agrokor agree on key elements of standstill agreement

Member banks of the coordinating committee of financial creditors and representatives of the Agrokor food company have in principle agreed on key elements of a standstill agreement, which is expected to be signed later today, announcing changes in the company's management team, Erste Bank said in a statement on Friday afternoon.

Syrian man on trial in Sweden; mosque attack labelled terrorism

A Syrian man went on trial Friday in the southern Swedish city of Malmo, charged with terrorism and arson after an attack last year on a building used as an assembly hall by Shiite Muslims.