When people ask me about music during the Holocaust, they are often surprised to learn about the orchestras in Auschwitz. It seems impossible to imagine emaciated prisoners making music in the most notorious of the Nazi concentration camps.
There were actually several ensembles in the Auschwitz complex, including a large orchestra in the main camp, orchestras in the men’s and women’s camps of Birkenau, and several other ensembles in various satellite camps. These orchestras were comprised of amateur and professional musicians who were recruited from the prisoner population and required to perform as part of their forced labor. The Nazis commanded the prisoners to play German marches at the camp gates, to provide a cheerful façade and rhythmic orderliness as the work details marched out of camp every morning and returned every evening. Day in and day out, their schmaltzy tunes formed a macabre counterpoint to the brutal realities of life in Auschwitz.
As a reward for their contributions to camp life, the orchestral musicians sometimes received preferential treatment. This included lighter work details such as copying music and repairing musical instruments. Some of the performers were assigned to work in the kitchen, giving them access to extra food while also allowing them to work inside.
Not surprisingly, some prisoners grew to resent the orchestras. Holocaust memoirist Primo Levi wrote of the disdain he felt for the musicians while convalescing in the Auschwitz III infirmary. The patients could barely hear the camp orchestra — just the monotonous beating of the bass drum and the crashing of cymbals accompanied by the faintest hints of melody. “We all look at each other from our beds, because we all feel that this music is infernal,” he wrote in Survival in Auschwitz. “The tunes are few, a dozen, the same ones every day, morning and evening: marches and popular songs dear to every German. They lie engraven on our minds and will be the last thing in camp that we shall forget.”
But other survivors have credited the orchestras with helping them stay alive. Kazimierz Gwizdka recalled dragging his fatigued body back to Birkenau after long days of tortuous labor. As he and his fellow prisoners stumbled along, they would begin to hear the Birkenau Men’s Camp Orchestra playing from afar. The peppy music would renew their strength and their will to survive. To Gwizdka, the performers seemed to be reassuring their fellow prisoners through the music, “Don’t give up, brothers! Not all of us will perish!”
Membership in an orchestra did not by any means guarantee that a musician’s life would be spared. But it did offer opportunities to live a little longer, if only for one more day. In some cases, the small perks of being assigned to an orchestra offered just enough advantages to allow musicians to outlive the Nazi regime. “Music has kept me alive,” confirmed Henry Meyer, who played violin and cymbals in the Birkenau Men’s Camp Orchestra. “There is no doubt about it.”
Auschwitz was certainly not the only place where music saved lives during the Holocaust. In “Violins of Hope,” I also write about Bronisław Huberman, who in 1936 recruited seventy-five Jewish musicians to form a new orchestra in Palestine (now the world famous Israel Philharmonic Orchestra), providing the performers and their families with the financial and legal means to leave Europe before it was too late. I write about Ernst Glaser, the Jewish concertmaster of the Oslo Philharmonic Orchestra who used his musical influence to escape a riot during a concert in Nazi-occupied Bergen in 1941 and then to flee to safety in Sweden. And then there’s the story of Feivel Wininger, an amateur violinist who performed at weddings and parties in the ghettoized Romanian territory of Transnistria in exchange for leftovers that he could bring back to his family. By playing music, Wininger was able to spare himself and sixteen family members and friends from starvation.
The stories of Jewish musicians who were able to leave Nazified Europe and those who were interned in concentration camps and ghettos are very different from each other, but they all have one thing in common: music gave them hope and, in some cases, saved their lives.
Also attending the opening ceremony on Wednesday were Father Dariusz Raś, the director of the museum, culture minister Bogdan Zdrojewski and Archbishop of Krakow Stanislaw Dziwisz, a long-time aid to John Paul II until he died on 2 April 2005.
The museum, now with multimedia exhibits, was closed almost four years ago for an extensive refit at a cost of over 6 million euros.
“Pope John Paul II continues to speak to millions of Christians around the world,” Stanislaw Dziwisz said at a special mass at the Basilica of St Mary in Wadowice before the official opening ceremony, adding that the Polish Pope’s “holiness will be confirmed by Pope Francis in 17 days time”.
John Paul II will be made a saint with John XXIII in a double canonization ceremony in the Vatican.
Earlier, President Bronislaw Komowoski and First Lady Anna were taken on a tour of the new permanent exhibition in the building where John Paul II, then Karol Wojtyła was born on 18 May 1920 and where he lived till he went to the Jagiellonian University in Krakow in 1938.
Among the new exhibits at the museum is the pistol used by Turk Mehmet Ali Ağca when he tried to assassinate the pontiff in May 1981.
A memorial to Ireland’s only Holocaust victim Ettie Steinberg has been unveiled at a secondary school in Malahide, Co Dublin.
Holocasut survivor Tomi Reichental, who was incarcerated in Bergen-Belsen at the age of nine-years, addressed the students of Malahide Community School following the ceremony this afternoon.
“We have people today that would deny the Holocaust,” he said. “After my lecture if somebody should tell you that the Holocaust was Jewish propaganda you can say: ‘No, we met someone who was there.’”
Mr Reichental then went on to speak about his childhood in Slovakia and his experience in Bergen-Belsen.
“This is a special day,” said Lynne Jackson, chair of Holocaust Education Trust Ireland, adding that it was Mr Reichental’s third visit to the school since he started speaking publicly nine years ago about his time in the concentration camp.
She said the stone memorial to Ettie Steinberg was a way for the school to create a permanent Holocaust memorial.
Steinberg’s family were from Czechoslovakia and came to Dublin from London in 1926. In 1937 she married a Belgian man and later moved to Belgium and then Paris, where she had a son. In 1942 she and her little boy were transported to Auschwitz and killed.
VISITING the site of Auschwitz is a powerful experience for anyone who goes there.
But the trip had special significance for one 16-year-old girl from Yorkshire whose grandmother was born in the concentration camp and lived there for the first two years of her life.
Celine Bickerdike took part in a visit as part of a Lessons from Auschwitz Trip organised by the Holocaust Educational Trust.
The project is now in its sixteenth year based on the premise that “hearing is not like seeing”.
Thousands of pupils have been taken to where the camps were to get a sense of the horrors of the Holocaust but few have been on the journey which Celine took.
David M. Crowe’s book Oskar Schindler: The Untold Account of His Life, Wartime Activities and the True Story Behind The List should be considered a classic in investigative and historical research. Based on interviews with dozens of Holocaust survivors saved by Oskar Schindler and with access to documents unavailable to Schindler’s List author Thomas Keneally, Crowe sheds light on one of the most dramatic and important stories to come out of World War II.
Care to spare a dime to save Auschwitz?
That was the question posed to us last week when the government-appointed leader of the Auschwitz-Birkenau State Museum in Poland visited our offices. For the last six years, museum director Piotr M.A. Cywinski and his team have been on a mission to raise $165 million to preserve the cursed concentration camp, where nearly 1.1 million Jews were exterminated.
Turns out, the Nazi penchant for fine art did not extend to architecture. Auschwitz was actually shabbily built, bricks-and-mortar style, designed to be a temporary slaughterhouse and then disappear. It wasn’t built to last — or matter.
It should surprise no one that the Nazis were better at destroying than building, but in fact, it is alarming that in the decades since World War II, the site that proves Hitler’s horrors existed has been slowly crumbling away.
German police on Thursday raided the homes of nine elderly men suspected of serving as SS guards at the Auschwitz death camp and arrested three of them on allegations of accessory to murder.
The arrests came five months after federal authorities announced they would investigate former guards at Auschwitz and other Nazi-era death camps.
Their effort was inspired by the precedent-setting trial of former Ohio autoworker John Demjanjuk, who died in 2012 in a Bavarian nursing home while appealing his conviction on charges he served at the Sobibor camp.
“This is a major step,” said Efraim Zuroff, the head Nazi hunter at the Simon Wiesenthal Center in Jerusalem, when told of the arrests. “Given the advanced age of the defendants, every effort should be made to expedite their prosecution.
“Ukrainian-born Demjanjuk was the first person convicted in Germany solely on the basis of serving as a camp guard, with no evidence of involvement in any specific killing.Munich prosecutors successfully argued that anyone who was involved in operating a death camp was an accessory to murder. Demjanjuk maintained he had been mistaken for someone else and never served as a guard.
Following the Munich precedent, Germany’s special federal prosecutors’ office responsible for investigating Nazi war crimes announced in September it was recommending charges against about 30 suspected former Auschwitz guards. State prosecutors since have worked to build cases.
The three men arrested, aged 88, 92 and 94, all live in state of Baden Wuerttemberg in southwest Germany. They were taken to a prison hospital, Stuttgart prosecutors’ spokeswoman Claudia Krauth said.
Krauth said officials had yet to uncover enough evidence to merit the arrests of three other suspects aged 94, 91 and 90.
She said authorities seized “diverse papers and documents from the Nazi era” from the suspects’ homes. She declined to provide details.
Five men made no statements, while the 88-year-old admitted being a guard at Auschwitz but denied committing any crimes, Krauth said.
Prosecutors in Frankfurt said more documents and photographs were seized during raids on the homes of two men aged 89 and 92 in the neighboring state of Hesse. A spokeswoman, Doris Mueller-Scheu, said neither suspect was arrested nor made statements.
In North Rhine-Westphalia, state police said they raided the apartment of a 92-year-old man who admitted being an Auschwitz guard but denied participating in any crimes. They found no incriminating material during the search.
The Nazis built six main death camps, all in occupied Poland: Auschwitz, Belzec, Chelmno, Majdanek, Sobibor and Treblinka.
About 1.5 million people, primarily Jews, were killed at Auschwitz from 1940 to 1945. Overall, about 6 million Jews died in the Holocaust.
Since handing off the Auschwitz cases to state prosecutors, federal authorities say they are focusing on identifying guards from other camps, starting with Majdanek. Results of that investigation are expected in a few months.
Legendary British guitarist Eric Clapton will headline the fifth edition of a festival promoting peace and tolerance near the former Nazi German death camp of Auschwitz.
This June, Clapton will follow in the footsteps of artists such as Sting and Peter Gabriel, who have both performed at the event in previous years.
Launched in 2010 by radio journalist Darek Maciborek, the festival was designed to “break the spell” that surrounded the founders home town of Oswiecim, which was renamed Auschwitz during the Nazi occupation.
The network of death camps created in the vicinity of Oswiecim witnessed the deaths of over 1 million inmates, 90 percent of whom were Jewish. Other victims included Poles, Russians and members of Europes Roma community.
The 5th Oswiecim Life Festival runs from 25-28 June, and Cream and Yardbirds veteran Eric Clapton will play the MOSiR sports stadium in Oswiecim on 28 June.Other acts due to play include US outfit Soundgarden and eclectic New York combo Balkan Beat Box.
Lonely Planet travel guides have rated Krakows Main Market Square as the most beautiful in the world.
Krakows historic Rynek Glowny managed to beat off competition from Venices celebrated Piazza San Marco 2nd place and the Jamaa el Fna in Marrakesh 3rd in the top ten ranking.
The French wing of Lonely Planet noted that the Krakow site had “miraculously” survived the ravages of the Second World War, and that street performers and flower-sellers all do their bit in creating the magic of the square.
Lonely Planet enthused that among the most captivating times to visit the square is during the annual Nativity Scene Contest, which takes place on the first Thursday of every December. On that day, contestants line up their distinctive Christmas Cribs on the ledges of the Adam Mickiewicz monument.
Krakows Old Town was rebuilt from scratch after being burnt to the ground by Mongol invaders in the mid 13th Century, hence the citys grid layout. During the Nazi German occupation of the Second World War, the square was renamed Adolf Hitler Platz. However, on the architectural level, the city managed to escape the destruction experienced by many other Polish towns and cities.
Other squares picked in Lonely Planets top ten include the Old Town Square in Prague, Isfahans Imam Square and Moscows Red Square.
This Month in Photo of the Day: City Pictures
Kazimierz, the historical Jewish quarter of Krakow, provides a colorful backdrop for an impromptu wedding shoot. “This wonderful place is the Jewish district,” Your Shot contributor G. Dzhevelieva says. “It keeps so much paint and history between the streets. Nowadays it’s the most interesting art place in Poland.”
Bradley Wiggins wins time trial at Tour of Poland
Sir Bradley Wiggins signalled a return to form with a hugely impressive win in the 37km time trial at the Tour of Poland.
The Brit, who won the Tour de France and Olympic time trial in 2012, recorded a time of 46 minutes and 36 seconds.
He smashed his nearest rival Fabian Cancellara, a four-time world time trial champion, by 56 seconds.
It was the final stage of the week-long race.
The Tour of Poland, now in its 70th year, had been the Team Sky rider’s first competitive action since he withdrew part way through the Giro d’Italia in May.
He was unable to defend his Tour de France title, won by Team Sky’s Chris Froome, because of a knee injury but his performance in his specialist discipline showed he was back to his best on an undulating course as he recorded his first win of the 2013 season.
“It was a fantastic performance,” said Team Sky sports director Dan Hunt. “It was a real lesson in how to time trial. We went out this morning and researched the course and it was obvious that it suited Brad.
“The climbs suited him, the descents suited him and then it was a flying, rolling run-in into Krakow. He absolutely smashed it.”
Wiggins is next due to compete in the Eneco Tour in Holland, from 12-18 August. He will then race in the Tour of Britain (15-22 September) with his main focus being the individual time trial at the Road World Championships on 25 September, which are being held in Florence in Italy.
In Poland he was performing mainly domestique duties for Team Sky team-mate Sergio Henao, who was third last year, but finished fifth after the seven stages this time around.
The Netherlands’ Pieter Weening, of Orica Greenedge, was the overall winner after a superb time trial. He was 27 seconds behind leader Christophe Riblon before the start of the final stage but overhauled that deficit to win by 13 seconds.
Results of stage seven from Wieliczka to Krakow, 37 km
1. Bradley Wiggins (Britain / Team Sky) 46:36″
2. Fabian Cancellara (Switzerland / RadioShack) +56″
3. Taylor Phinney (U.S. / BMC Racing) +1:14″
On July 30, 1941, seventy two years ago, a rumour spread through cell block of 14 of the Nazi concentration camp in Auschwitz, Poland, that someone had escaped. The prisoners knew what that meant and were terrified with anxiety over what would happen to them as a result.
At six o’clock that evening they were all lined up at attention while the commandant of the camp scrutinized them one by one without saying a word, but they all knew what he would likely do to retaliate and punish.
The next morning they were again assembled and told that the fugitive had not been discovered so ten of them would have to die in the starvation bunker. They were then dismissed except those in cell block 14.
After a brutal day standing in the blazing sun the selection of the 10 innocent men condemned to die began. The commandant again walked the lines and stopped suddenly before a trembling victim and pointed at him the finger of death with the order to step forward and march to the under ground bunker to die of hunger and thirst.
At one point in this gruesome process the victim of random choice cried out: “I have a wife and children whom I love dearly. I am leaving them orphans.” His name was Francis Gajowniczek. Then the unexpected happened . One of the other prisoners broke ranks,, came forward, dared to kiss commandant’s hand and said: “I want to die in the place of the condemned.” And who are you the commandant demanded: “I am Maximilian Kolbe. I am a Catholic priest, a Franciscan Friar.”
This whole sad story came to an end two weeks later when only four survivors remained in the cell now needed for others. They were injected with carbolic and died on August 14, 1941.One of them was Maximilian Kolbe. Now St. Maximilian Kolbe, a martyr of charity.
This is the testimony that Fancis Gajownicezk gave some thirty years later to the heroic virtue of his savior, Fr. Maximilian Kolbe: “At that moment it was hard for me to realize the immensity of what had happen-ed to me. I, the condemned, was to live on because someone else willing ly offered his life for me. Was it a dream or a reality? Among my companions in shared adversity in Auschwitz there was unanimous wonder and astonishment at the heroic sacrifice of his life for me on the part of this priest. His consistent love for those around him was extraordinary, but the most splendid confirmation of his heroic love came at the end, when he offered his life for me, almost a total stranger to him.”
Sir Bradley Wiggins will make his comeback in the saddle in this months Tour De Pologne.
Wiggins has endured a frustrating 2013 which has left question marks over whether he will race in the Tour De France again.
He targeted the Giro d’Italia only to withdraw early in the race suffering from a chest infection, and a subsequent knee injury then hampered his recovery and ended his hopes of being ready for the Tour.
Wiggins will return to action in the Tour of Poland later this month with one eye on the world championship time trial in Florence in September.
“He’s very, very motivated and in great shape now, going into Poland, and then on to the individual time trial at the worlds.”
The tour will be in Krakow on 30th July, and then to Katowice on the 31st, and finally Wieliczka to Krakow on 3rd of August.
All the details available HERE
The beautiful story of Jerzy Bielcki and Cyla Cybulska, whose love bested the Nazis, but couldn’t defeat time.
The day was July 21, 1944. Bielecki was walking in broad daylight down a pathway at Auschwitz, wearing a stolen SS uniform with his Jewish sweetheart Cyla Cybulska by his side.
His knees buckling with fear, he tried to keep a stern bearing on the long stretch of gravel to the sentry post.
The German guard frowned at his forged pass and eyed the two for a period that seemed like an eternity – then uttered the miraculous words: Ja, danke – yes, thank you – and let Jerzy and Cyla out of the death camp and into freedom.
It was a common saying among Auschwitz inmates that the only way out was through the crematorium chimneys. These were among the few ever to escape through the side door.
The 23-year-old Bielecki used his relatively privileged position as a German-speaking Catholic Pole to orchestrate the daring rescue of his Jewish girlfriend who was doomed to die.
It was great love, Bielecki, now 89, recalled in an interview at his home in this small southern town 55 miles (85 kilometers) from Auschwitz.
We were making plans that we would get married and would live together forever.
Bielecki was 19 when the Germans seized him on the false suspicion he was a resistance fighter, and brought to the camp in April 1940 in the first transport of inmates, all Poles.
He was given number 243 and was sent to work in warehouses, where occasional access to additional food offered some chance of survival.
It was two years before the first mass transports of Jews started arriving in
1942. Most of the Jews were taken straight to the gas chambers of neighboring Birkenau, while a few were designated to be forced laborers amid horrific conditions, allowing them to postpone death.
In September 1943 Bielecki was assigned to a grain storage warehouse. Another inmate was showing him around when suddenly a door opened and a group of girls walked in.
It seemed to me that one of them, a pretty dark-haired one, winked at me, Bielecki said with a broad smile as he recalled the scene. It was Cyla – who had just been assigned to repair grain sacks.
Their friendship grew into love, as the warehouse offered brief chances for more face-to-face meetings.
In a report she wrote for the Auschwitz memorial in 1983, Cybulska recalled that during the meetings they told each other their life stories and every meeting was a truly important event for both of us.
Cybulska, her parents, two brothers and a younger sister were rounded up in January 1943 in the Lomza ghetto in northern Poland and taken to Auschwitz-Birkenau. Her parents and sister were immediately killed in the gas chambers, but she and her brothers were sent to work.
By September, 22-year-old Cybulska was the only one left alive, with inmate number 29558 tattooed on her left forearm.
As their love blossomed, Bielecki began working on the daring plan for escape.
From a fellow Polish inmate working at a uniform warehouse he secretly got a complete SS uniform and a pass. Using an eraser and a pencil, he changed the officer’s name in the pass from Rottenfuehrer Helmut Stehler to Steiner just in case the guard knew the real Stehler, and filled it in to say an inmate was being led out of the camp for police interrogation at a nearby station. He secured some food, a razor for himself and a sweater and boots for Cybulska.
He briefed her on his plan: “Tomorrow an SS-man will come to take you for an interrogation. The SS-man will be me.”
The next afternoon, Bielecki, dressed in the stolen uniform, came to the laundry barrack where Cybulska had been moved for work duty. Sweating with fear, he demanded the German supervisor release the woman.
Bielecki led her out of the barrack and onto a long path leading to a side gate guarded by the sleepy SS-man who let them go through.
The fear of being gunned down remained with him in his first steps of freedom: “I felt pain in my backbone, where I was expecting to be shot,” Bielecki said.
But when he eventually looked back, the guard was in his booth. They walked on to a road, then into fields where they hid in dense bushes until dark, when they started to march.
“Marching across fields and woods was very exhausting, especially for me, not used to such intensive walks,” Cybulska said in her report to Auschwitz as quoted in a Polish-language book Bielecki has written, He Who Saves One Life
“Far from any settlements, we had to cross rivers,” she wrote. “When water was high … Jurek carried me to the other side.”
At one point she was too tired to walk and asked him to leave her.
“Jurek did not want to hear that and kept repeating: ‘we fled together and will walk on together,'” she reported, referring to Jerzy by his Polish diminutive.
For nine nights they moved under the cover of darkness toward Bielecki’s uncle’s home in a village not far from Krakow.
His mother, who was living at the house, was overjoyed to see him alive, though wasted-away after four years at Auschwitz. A devout Catholic, however, she was dead-set against him marrying a Jewish girl.
“How will you live? How will you raise your children?” Bielecki recalls her asking.
To keep her away from possible Nazi patrols, Cybulska was hidden on a nearby farm. Bielecki decided to go into hiding in Krakow – a fateful choice they believed would improve their chances of avoiding capture by the Nazis. The couple spent their last night together under a pear tree in an orchard, saying their goodbyes and making plans to meet right after the war.
After the Soviet army rolled through Krakow in January 1945, Bielecki left the city where he had been hiding from Nazi pursuit and walked 25-miles (40-kilometers) along snow-covered roads to meet Cybulska at the farmhouse.
But he was four days too late.
Cybulska, not aware that the area where she had been hiding had been liberated three weeks before Krakow, gave up waiting for him, concluding her Juracek either was dead or had abandoned their plans.
She got on a train to Warsaw, planning to find an uncle in the United States. On the train she met a Jewish man, David Zacharowitz, and the two began a relationship and eventually married. They headed to Sweden, then to Cybulska’s uncle in New York, who helped them start a jewelry business. Zacharowitz died in 1975.
In Poland, Bielecki eventually started a family of his own and worked as the director of a school for car mechanics. He had no news of Cybulska and had no way of finding her.
In her report Cybulska said that she was haunted in the years after she left Poland by a wish to see her hometown and to find Jurek, if he was alive.
Sheer chance made her wish come true.
While talking to her Polish cleaning woman in 1982, Cybulska related her Auschwitz escape story.
The woman was stunned.
“I know the story, I saw a man on Polish TV saying he had led his Jewish girlfriend out of Auschwitz,” the cleaning lady told Cybulska, according to Bielecki.
She tracked down his phone number and one early morning in May 1983 the telephone rang in Bielecki’s apartment in Nowy Targ.
“I heard someone laughing – or crying – on the phone and then a female voice said ‘Juracku, this is me, your little Cyla,'” Bielecki recalls.
A few weeks later they met at Krakow airport. He brought 39 red roses, one for each year they spent apart. She visited him in Poland many times, and they jointly visited the Auschwitz memorial, the farmer family that hid her and many other places, staying together in hotels.
“The love started to come back,” Bielecki said.
“Cyla was telling me: ‘leave your wife, come with me to America,'” he recalls. “She cried a lot when I told her: ‘Look, I have such fine children, I have a son, how could I do that?'”
She returned to New York and wrote to him: “Jurek I will not come again,” Bielecki recalled.
They never met again and she did not reply to his letters.
Cybulska died a few years later in New York in 2002.
In 1985, the Yad Vashem Institute in Jerusalem awarded Bielecki the Righteous Among the Nations title for saving Cybulska. The institute’s website account of the escape and its aftermath is consistent with Bielecki’s account to The Associated Press.
“I was very much in love with Cyla, very much,” Bielecki said. “Sometimes I cried after the war, that she was not with me. I dreamed of her at night and woke up crying.”
Fate decided for us, but I would do the same again.
John Paul II could be declared a saint this year after a Vatican committee approved a second miracle attributed to the Polish pope’s intercession.
The Congregation for the Causes of Saints ruled an “inexplicable recovery” on 1 May 2011 was due to the late Pope’s intercession, Ansa reported.
Earlier that same day he had been beatified after a first miracle was attributed to his intervention.
Pope Francis must now give his approval before a canonisation date is set.
Canonisation is the final step in the official process that declares a deceased person to be a saint.
At a plenary meeting of the Congregation on Tuesday, cardinals and bishops mooted a canonisation ceremony taking place in December, sources told Ansa.
One possible date would be 8 December, on which Catholics celebrate the feast of the Immaculate Conception, which this year falls on a Sunday.
John Paul II could be canonised at the same time as John XXIII, Vatican sources suggested. Venerated by Catholics as “the good pope”, John XXIII was elected in 1958 and convened the Second Vatican Council in 1962, but died the following year before it was finished.
Canonisation requires the attribution of one further miracle to the intercession of the candidate after they have been beatified.
The Vatican has not revealed details about the second miracle in John Paul II’s case.
It was reportedly deemed an “inexplicable recovery” by a panel of doctors before being approved last month by a board of the Congregation for the Causes of Saints’ theologians.
John Paul II died in 2005 aged 84 and was beatified by his successor Benedict XVI in May 2011.
Among a crowd hundreds of thousands strong on St Peter’s Square was French nun Marie Simon-Pierre, who says she was cured of Parkinson’s Disease after praying for the intervention of the late pope little more than a month after he died.
Some questioned the Church’s speed in beatifying John Paul II just six years after his death.
Although widely regarded as one of the great popes of modern times, his 26-year pontificate was tarnished by his handling of the clerical sex abuse scandal that has rocked the global Church.
Critics say other of the Church’s deep-seated problems – such as its dysfunctional management and financial scandals at the Vatican bank – stem from shortcomings of his pontificate.
John Paul II reformed the sainthood process in 1983, making it faster, simpler, and cheaper. The office of “Devil’s advocate” – an official whose job was to try to knock down the case for sainthood – was eliminated, and the required number of miracles was dropped.
The idea was to lift up contemporary role models of holiness in order to convince a jaded secular world that sanctity is alive in the here and now, says veteran Vatican analyst John Allen.
The result was that John Paul II beatified and canonised more people than all previous popes combined.