The World Jewish Congress (WJC) on Sunday hailed Pope Francis' "tremendous compassion" after he visited a Holocaust survivor in Rome, praising his "moral integrity and sense of history".

Francis spoke with Hungarian-born poet Edith Bruck for around an hour, with the Vatican saying their conversation "highlighted the value of memory and the role of the very oldest in nurturing it and passing it on to the very youngest".

Pope Francis opened the Vatican archives to historians researching Pope Pius XII, long criticised for failing to speak out about the Holocaust that happened while he was pontiff Photo: VATICAN MEDIA / Handout

"At a time when neo-Nazism, antisemitism, and other bigotries are resurgent in many parts of the world, Pope Francis' moral integrity and sense of history set the standard for other faith, political and community leaders," WJC president Ronald S. Lauder said in a statement.

Bruck, now 88, has been settled in Rome for many years and is now an Italian citizen.

She has spent her life recounting the atrocities committed during the Holocaust, in which around six million Jews and hundreds of thousands belonging to other groups were systematically exterminated by Nazi Germany.

Pope Francis and Edith Bruck
88-year-old Edith Bruck has spent her life recounting the atrocities committed during the Holocaust Photo: VATICAN MEDIA / Handout

She recalled the last words of two inmates in the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp, where 52,000 people were killed or died in 1939-45.

"Tell the story," they urged her. "They won't believe you, but if you survive, tell the story, tell it for us too!"

The Vatican said the pope and Bruck also spoke of "moments of light that brightened the hellish experience of the camps and the fears and hopes that define our own era".

Vatican authorities last year opened to historians the archives of Pope Pius XII, pontiff from 1939 to 1958.

Pius has been the subject of decades of controversy and debate about why he never spoke out about the slaughter of six million Jews in Nazi concentration camps across Europe.

"The Church is not afraid of history," Pope Francis declared when he made the decision in 2019.

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