Bishop Of Jaffa Dies, Buried In Izbica Mass Grave Where His Parents Were Murdered

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JERUSALEM (VINnews) — A tragic holocaust story reached its bitter end this week after 80 years. The Bishop of Jaffa, who was born to a Jewish family from Zamosc and miraculously survived the holocaust by hiding with gentiles, died and was flown to be buried in the mass grave where his parents perished.

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During the liquidation of the Izbice ghetto in November 1942, 4000 Jews were taken to a mass grave dug in the local cemetery, including the Jews of Zamosc.  Miriam Griner and her two daughters were among those who were murdered, although their son Haim had escaped to Russia at the beginning of the war and eventually survived and made his way to Israel.

8-year-old Yaakov Zvi also managed to slip away in the darkness. He wandered around the town, constantly in fear of discovery as a Jew, hiding in barns and woodpiles. Eventually he returned to Zamosc where family acquaintances helped him.

The Poles taught him the prayers of their Catholic religion. One day a Jewish boy asked him in the street whether he wanted to live. Hirsch answered: “Yes!” Then the boy explained that he need to acquire a Catholic baptism certificate. The boy told him to wait a moment and brought him a baptism certificate. From that time on, Hersch adopted the details that were written in the document. The name on the document was Gregor (Grzegorz) Pawlowski and from that time on he bore this Polish name.

Despite this, Yaakov Zvi was in constant danger. Interrogated by the Gestapo, Yaakov showed them his baptism certificate but he was constantly on the run.Eventually found a family who took care of him and in their home he began to learn how to read and write in Polish. Later he was placed in an orphanage run by two Catholic nuns. There were only seven children there in the beginning. One of the nuns registered him in school and he began grade 2 but after two weeks was already put up to grade 3. In the summer he completed grade 4.

Yaakov Zvi eventually converted to Christianity and became a priest serving in the Lublin region. In 1966, on the thousandth anniversary of Christianity in Poland, Gregor-Yaakov published and article that told his story in a Catholic newspaper in Cracow that had national distribution. The article made its way too Israel where relatives living in Bat Yam read the story. They contacted Gregor’s brother Hayim who was living in Haifa and that very day he came to Bat Yam. On reading the story, he said: “This is my brother!”

Gregor began to think about aliyah (immigration to Israel) but before he left Poland he wanted to arrange the place where his mother and sisters had been buried. There he established a monument, a short distance from the cemetery in Izbica, where they had been executed. He also put in order the mass graves in which the bodies of the murdered had been thrown.

Next to the mass graves, Gregor also established a burial plot for himself and on the head stone he had inscribed in Hebrew and in Polish:

Father Gregor Pawlowski
Jacob Zvi Griner
Son of Mendel and Miriam of blessed memory

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

I have returned to them this place
Where they were murdered for the sanctification of God’s name
May their souls be set in eternal life

Gregor decided to immigrate to Israel in 1970. He was received at the airport by Father Daniel Rufeisen, priest in Haifa, and Father Alfred Delmée, priest in Jaffa, and by his family including his brother Hayim. He spent some time with his family and then accepted the invitation of Father Delmée to comer and live in Jaffa and serve the Polish speaking community there. The priest of the community was elderly and sick. In that time Gregor learnt Hebrew at an ulpan (language school) in Bat Yam. He later served as bishop in Jaffa for many years.

When Gregor was asked why he wanted to come to Israel, he replied:

“My place is here, among the Jewish people. I sensed a call to come and serve Christians living in my country.”

When asked why it was important to tell his story, Gregor replied:

“I did not want to live a lie. I did not want to deny my roots, my mother, my father, my people. I want to be truthful. Thus, I have a homeland and that is Poland and I belong to the Polish people. However, I have a nation that is first – the Jewish people. I was circumcised on the eighth day and I belong. I belong both to Poland and to Israel. I cannot speak against Poles because they saved me and I cannot speak against Jews because I am one of them.”

Yaakov Zvi-Gregor died in Israel and will be buried at the mass grave in Izbice where his family were murdered and which he narrowly escaped from 80 years ago.

 

 


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