The Jew who became a priest and will be buried as a Jew

Later this week, a Jewish Holocaust survivor who became a Catholic priest in Poland, moved to Israel and served the Christian community here for nearly four decades, will be buried in Poland as a Jew alongside his mother and sister who they were assassinated by the Nazis.

Growing up in a Jewish religious household, Father Gregor Pawlowski, whose birth name is Jacob Zvi Griner, was saved during the Holocaust thanks to documents he obtained indicating that he was Catholic, and was eventually baptized and ordained a priest.

Finally he moved to Israel declaring that he was part of the Polish people, but that he was first part of another nation, the Jewish people, with whom he felt a continuous bond and between whom he wanted to live.

Many years later, Rabbi Shalom Malul, an educator and dean of yeshiva in Israel on a trip to Poland, noticed a tombstone that Pawlowski had made for himself in the mass grave where his mother and sisters had been killed by the Nazis, and got in touch with the Nazis. priest in Israel and formed a friendship.

Malul will fly to Poland this week with several of his students, give Pawlowski a Jewish burial there and recite kaddish, the prayer of the mourners, in accordance with the priest’s wishes that he be buried as a Jew.

Photo of the Krakow ghetto (credit: YAD VASHEM PHOTO ARCHIVES)

Jacob Zvi Griner, as he was originally named, was born in 1931 into a religious Jewish family and lived with his parents, brother and two sisters in the city of Zamosc, in the Lublin region of eastern Poland.

In October 1939, the Nazis occupied Zamosc and eventually moved the Jewish population into a ghetto and forced them into forced labor, during which time Griner’s father was kidnapped and allegedly murdered.

Griner’s brother, Chaim, had moved to Russia while the Soviet Union temporarily controlled the area before turning it over to the Germans.

The Jews of Zamosc, including Griner and the rest of his family, were later transferred to Izbica in 1941 and housed in the homes of Jews who had already been deported from the city.

Griner himself escaped, but his mother and two sisters were eventually led out of the city along with around 1,000 Jews from Zamosc, lined up at the edge of wells that had been prepared and shot dead.

Griner fled Izbica and hid in different places for short periods of time with locals, Poles and Jews, until the end of the war, at one point, obtaining a Catholic baptism certificate in the name of Gregor Pawlowski which he adopted as his own. from that moment on. He helped save his life when he faced Nazi officials on at least one occasion.

After the end of the war, Griner, now Pawlowski, found himself in an orphanage run by two Catholic nuns, then was transferred to a new orphanage and was formally baptized there on June 27, 1945 at the age of 13.

After finishing high school, Pawlowski entered a Catholic seminary and was ordained a priest in 1958.

In 1966, Pawlowski told his story to a Catholic newspaper in Krakow and began his plan to move to Israel.

Before doing so, however, he erected a monument at the site where his mother and sister were murdered and also established a burial place for him at the site of the mass grave with an inscription that included the words “I abandoned my family, In order to save my life at the time of the Shoah, They came to take us to extermination, I saved my life and I have consecrated it, At the service of God and humanity ”.

In 1970, Pawlowski moved to Israel, where he was greeted by members of the Catholic clergy in Israel and his brother Chaim, who survived the war and contacted him after reading his brother’s story in the newspaper article published four years earlier.

For the next 38 years, Pawlowski served as a priest in Jaffa working with Catholic communities in the area until his death last week.

Inside the story: The New Jewish Cemetery in Krakow was established in 1800 and has more than 20 sections.  (credit: ILANIT CHERNICK)Inside the story: The New Jewish Cemetery in Krakow was established in 1800 and has more than 20 sections. (credit: ILANIT CHERNICK)

Seven years ago, Rabbi Shalom Malul was on a trip to Poland with his yeshiva students when he came across the headstone that Pawlowski had made for himself and began their friendship.

Every time Malul brought his students to the site, he called Pawlowski on the phone, who then told his story with those on the trip and added that they were at his grave.

During the course of their friendship, Malul says that Pawlowski told him that he had dedicated his life to the Catholic Church because his life had been saved by them and he felt a deep appreciation for this, which is why he dedicated his life to the Catholic Church and community. .

But Pawlowski explicitly told him that he wanted to be buried as a Jew next to the mass grave where his mother and sisters were killed, and he said so in his will as well.

“He said ‘I was born a Jew, I lived a Christian and I will die a Jew,’” and that “my heart feels Jewish,” says Malul.

At one point, Pawlowski placed a mezuzah on his front door, at Malul’s suggestion, and pronounced the blessing for the ceremony himself.

“He decided for many reasons not to return to the Jewish people during his lifetime, but he told everyone that ‘I am Jewish and I will return to my people the day I die,'” says the rabbi.

This Wednesday, Malul will fly with some of his students to bury him at the place where his family was murdered. “This week he will be buried in a grave that he bought for himself and we will say kaddish for him and he will return to his people, the Jewish people.”

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