Pope Benedict XVI Wednesday recalled the 65th anniversary of the liberation of the Nazi death camp of Auschwitz, an event which revealed ‘the unprecedented cruelty’ of the Nazi Holocaust.

The 82-year-old pontiff made the remarks in his native German during his weekly general audience.

‘Jan 27, 1945, the gates of the Nazi concentration camp near the Polish city of Oswiecim, better known by its German name of Auschwitz, were opened and the few survivors freed,’ Benedict said.

‘That event, and the testimony of those who survived, revealed to the world the horror of the crimes of unprecedented cruelty committed in the extermination camps created by Nazi Germany,’ added the pope, who as a teenager – like most others at the time – had been a member of the Hitler Youth in the waning days of the war.

Holocaust Remembrance Day which is being marked in several European nations, serves, according to Benedict, to recall ‘the planned annihilation of the Jews, and to honour those who, at the risk of their own lives, protected the persecuted and sought to oppose the murderous insanity’.

Benedict earlier this month made his first visit as pontiff to Rome’s Jewish main synagogue, an event dogged by a row over his recent elevation towards sainthood of World War II-era pontiff, Pius XII.

Critics say Pius failed to speak out against the Nazi persecution and murder of Jews, but Benedict and other supporter say he acted behind the scenes to ensure that Catholic-run institutions including convents and monasteries sheltered those fleeing from the crimes.

Wednesday, Benedict said the Shoah, or Holocaust, should serve as a universal lesson and ‘arouse ever greater respect for the dignity of each person, so that all mankind may feel itself to be one large family.’

‘May omnipotent God illuminate hearts and minds, that such tragedies never happen again,’ he said.