German-born Pope Benedict XVI, walking solemnly with his hands clasped, visited the Auschwitz concentration camp Sunday, passing alone under the infamous gate — a solitary figure in white.

Benedict's black-clad entourage kept its distance as he walked under the notorious words on the gate, "Arbeit Macht Frei," or "Work Sets You Free."

Other than a brief greeting to the local bishop, Benedict kept silent as he entered, his lips moving in prayer and the wind tossing his white hair as he stopped before the execution wall where the Nazis killed thousands of prisoners. Then he was handed a lighted candle, which he placed before the wall.

A line of elderly camp survivors awaited him. He moved slowly down the line, stopping to talk with each, taking one woman's face in his hands.

The visit is fraught with significance for Catholic-Jewish relations, a favorite theme for Benedict and predecessor John Paul II.

It's the third time Benedict has visited Auschwitz and the neighboring camp at Birkenau; the first was in 1979, when he accompanied John Paul, and in 1980, when he came with a group of German bishops while he was archbishop of Munich.