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Jewish Holocaust survivor who became a priest will be buried with victims of Nazi massacre

Gregorcz Pawlowski

Tomasz Czajkowski | CC BY-SA 4.0

Zelda Caldwell - published on 11/03/21

Fr. Gregor Pawlowski had immigrated to Israel, where he served a Catholic Polish community.

A Jewish Holocaust survivor who became a Catholic priest, then moved to Israel to serve a Catholic community there, has died. He will be buried in Poland at the Jewish cemetery where his mother and sisters were murdered.

Survived the Holocaust

Fr. Gregor Pawlowski, born Jacob Zvi Griner, was raised in an observant Jewish family in  Zamosc, Poland. In 1942, when he was 11 years old, the German army arrived in his town and ordered all of the Jews to leave, reported the National Catholic Reporter in a 2009 article on the priest.

Griner, his mother and two sisters hid in the basement. When German troops discovered them, Griner managed to escape, but his mother and sisters were taken to Izbica’s Jewish cemetery, where they were slaughtered in a mass grave. Griner’s father presumably was also killed, and his brother Chaim escaped to the Soviet Union.

Saved by a forged Catholic baptismal certificate

Using a forged Catholic baptismal certificate given to him by a Jewish teenager, Griner was eventually placed in a Catholic orphanage run by the Polish Red Cross.

It was here that Griner embraced the Catholic faith, reported the National Catholic Reporter.

“I came from a deeply religious family and I desperately wanted religion in my life again,” he said. 

He was ordained a Catholic priest in 1958, taking the name “Pawlowski” from his forged baptismal certificate.

In 1966 he decided to tell the story of his Jewish background for the first time.

“I began to become aware that I had not admitted who I am and who my people are,” he told the National Catholic Reporter. 

In an article for a Polish Catholic weekly, he wrote, “Some Jews may see a betrayer in me, but I feel as Jewish as they are.”

In reconciling his Catholic faith with his Jewish identity he later said, “Jesus was the messiah and he was also Jewish and so were his apostles,” according to the report.

Immigrated to Israel

In 1970, Fr. Pawlowski immigrated to Israel, where he was greeted by members of the Catholic clergy, and his brother Chaim, who had read about his brother’s story in newspaper article four years earlier, reported the Jerusalem Post.

Pawlowski was a member of the Hebrew-speaking Catholic Vicariate, and for 38 years ministered to a Polish-Catholic community in Jaffa. In doing so, he always maintained his dual identity. The plaque on the door of his apartment had two names on it: Gregorcz Pawlowski, and beneath it in Hebrew, Zvi Griner, his birth name. 

In 1974, Pawlowski returned to the Jewish cemetery in Izbica where his mother and sister were murdered, and along with his brother, erected a memorial stone to his mother and sisters.

“I abandoned my family
In order to save my life at the time of the Shoah.
They came to take us for extermination.
My life I saved and have consecrated it
To the service of God and humanity,” read the inscription.

At this time, the priest also established a burial site for himself next to that of his family members.

“I was born a Jew, I lived as a Christian, and I will die as a Jew”

Years later, the Jerusalem Post reports, Rabbi Shalom Malul, dean of the Amit Ashdod Yeshiva in Israel was on a trip to Poland with his students when he noticed the memorial to Pawlowski’s mother and sister. Malul contacted the priest upon his return to Israel and the two struck up a friendship.

According to the report in the Jerusalem Post, “Malul said that Pawlowski told him he had dedicated his life to the Catholic Church because his life had been saved by them and he felt an intense appreciation for this, so dedicated his life to the Catholic Church and community.”

On October 25, a funeral Mass was celebrated for Fr. Pawloski at St. Peter’s Church in Jaffa. And later this week, according to Pawlowski’s wishes, he will be buried in Poland, beside his family, in a Jewish ceremony.

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

His gravestone is inscribed with an image of loaves and fishes, symbolizing the miracles performed by Jesus.

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