Harper lays wreath at Auschwitz for Holocaust victims

Prime Minister Stephen Harper visited the former Auschwitz death camp on Saturday on the final of two days spent in Poland.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper toured the former death camp at Auschwitz on Saturday, a historic site in Poland that has come to symbolize the Nazi genocide against Jews during the Second World War.

Harper walked through the grounds accompanied by Piotr M.A. Cywinski, director of the Auschwitz-Birkenau State Museum, and laid a wreath at the foot of a wall where thousands of prisoners were gunned down.

The prime minister then toured the rest of the camp in southern Poland where an estimated 1.5 million people, most of them Jews, were killed.

Harper saw the barbed wire fences that kept prisoners penned in, gallows where they were hanged, gas chambers where they were slain in staggering numbers and ovens where bodies were burned.

The prime minister said nothing publicly during his visit. His message in a book of remembrance read, "We are witnesses here to the vestiges of unspeakable cruelty, horror and death."

Harper is the second Canadian prime minister to visit Auschwitz. Jean Chrétien paid a visit in 1999.

Earlier on Saturday, Harper met briefly with former Polish president Lech Walesa, the founder of Poland's solidarity movement.

Walesa, who organized strikes and protests in the 1970s and 1980s against Poland's then Communist government, has an office in the old town section of the port city of Gdansk.

After meeting with Walesa, Harper travelled to Wawel Castle, near Krakow, to view wall tapestries and other artifacts that Canada helped preserve during the Second World War.

He arrived in Poland on Friday, flying in from a NATO summit in Bucharest, Romania, where he secured a commitment from allies for increased troops for the war in Afghanistan.