Such a spectacle is not seen in the Catholic Church: on the one hand, a line of priests and Catholic clergy. On the other hand, a group of religious Jews, wearing kippahs and tassels, dangling from the edges of their clothes. And in the middle – the body of a person who lives in the middle: who was born a Jew from an ultra-Orthodox family, lived as a Catholic priest and died as a Jew.
The story of the pastor Gregor Pavlovsky, who passed away last weekend, begins 90 years ago in the Polish town of Zamosc, as Jakow Zvi (Hersh) Griner, the youngest of Mendel and Miriam’s four children. When the Nazis invaded Poland, Yaakov Zvi was 8 years old, a student in a “room.” Then also ended his happy childhood, and into his life entered the ghetto and the constant hunger, humiliation and terror that burned in his soul.
The Nazis first murdered his father, then liquidated the ghetto and led the Jews to the nearby town of Izbica, where most of the area’s Jews were massacred in the killing pits, including Yaakov Zvi’s mother and two sisters. “The Germans ordered to dig two large pits, and ordered the victims to undress, then shot them in the head from behind,” he later testified. “The dead fell to the center of the tomb.”
The young boy, only 9 years old, escapes from house to house, from town to town, trying to find refuge. Everywhere he stayed for a short time, but was deported. The turning point in his life, in the midst of the persecution of the Jews, came after a local boy issued him a fake baptismal certificate and a Polish-Catholic name, Gregor Pavlovsky. Gradually, Yaakov Zvi ceased to exist, and the boy adopted his new identity alongside his Jewish identity.
After the war he came to a Catholic orphanage where he was raised by the nuns, was educated in church institutions and became a devout clergyman, but later told his superiors that he was Jewish, and these allowed him to continue on the Catholic priesthood until he was ordained a priest in Poland, in 1958.
The Catholic Church says that his personal story gained Polish and international resonance when he published an article in a local newspaper, on the occasion of a thousand years of Christianity in Poland. It was in 1966, the article reached every corner of Poland, and by no means did the newspaper find its way to Israel. Relatives in Bat Yam who read it, sent the article to his older brother – the only one from the entire family who survived the Holocaust, except Yaakov Zvi-Gregor, and even immigrated to Israel and lived in Haifa. Until that day, the two did not know about each other’s rescue.
The “Jewish priest” decided to immigrate to Israel, not before doing two things: First, he erected a monument with his brother – a religious Jew – on the large mass grave, which is located not far from the Jewish cemetery in Izbica. On the tombstone, the brothers wrote, among other things: “In memory of our dear parents, Mendel Ben Zeev and Miriam, daughter of the late Yitzhak Griner, and our sisters Schindel and Sarah, as well as all the Jews who were murdered and buried in this cemetery in Kislev, by the Nazi murderers. Violators of the commandment of God “.
In no way did the newspaper find its way to Israel. Relatives in Bat Yam who read it, sent the article to his older brother – the only one from the whole family who survived the Holocaust, and even immigrated to Israel and lived in Haifa. Until that day, the two did not know about each other’s rescue
Afterwards, he purchased a plot of land in the nearby Jewish cemetery, and erected a monument to him during his lifetime, with the chilling inscription on it: “Father Gregor Pavlovsky, Yaakov Zvi Griner, Ben Mendel and the late Miriam. I left my family to save my life during the Holocaust. They came to take us to extermination. I dedicated my life to the service of God and man. I returned to them to the place where they were murdered for the sanctification of Gd. Commander.
In 1970 he immigrated to Israel and established his place of residence in the city of Jaffa, next to the church where he served as a priest until the day of his death, last weekend. In recent years, however, an exciting connection has developed between him and the head of the Amit Ashdod Yeshiva, Rabbi Shalom Malul, who came to the Jewish cemetery with his students.
30 years that Rabbi Malul accompanies student trips to Poland, but only 7 years ago he came to town. He encountered her tombstone and the empty tomb, and decided to contact the pastor. 4 years ago he brought his students to the place, and every year when he came with the delegations to the place, Rabbi Malul called the priest, turned on the speaker and Pavlovsky told them his wonderful story from a distance. “These conversations strengthened and moved him,” says the rabbi.
Rabbi Shalom Malul himself is on a kind of independent mission – and he maintains close contact with the witnesses, Holocaust survivors, who still live with us. This was also the case with Griner, who at the end of his life agreed – and happily – to the rabbi’s proposal to place a mezuzah in front of his house. “Yaakov Zvi,” he affectionately called him, by his Hebrew name. “All his life he was divided between the heart that was connected to the Jewish people on whose knees he grew up, and the way he was educated in the church, which, as mentioned, saved his life.”
On the tombstone he erected for himself in his life, he wrote: “Father Gregor Pavlovsky, Yaakov Zvi Griner, Ben Mendel and the late Miriam. I left my family to save my life during the Holocaust. They came to take us to extermination. I have dedicated my life to the service of God and man “
“You are now standing on my grave,” Gregor used to tell the students. “The grave I purchased so that I could be buried after my death, next to my family members.” In February 2020, a few days before the decision of the Ministries of Education and Health to stop the trips to Poland following the Corona plague, the last telephone meeting took place between the pastor, and the students who came on the trip in Poland.
Rabbi Malul says that Pavlovsky was grateful for his rescue to the church, but made sure to fast on Yom Kippur and not eat chametz on Passover. “We discover that the Holocaust still has circles that to this day also affect the private sphere,” he says. “A person dies, and feels Jewish in the heart. The Jewish heart is connected to the Jewish people, even if on the way it went through upheavals.
“However, he never regretted the Christian way he chose. For years he would tell anyone who tried to talk to him about it, that he was a devout Christian. I have come to him in the last four years, in his old age, and he has already spoken in a different tone. We had conversations about Gd and Judaism, and I said to him: I am petty, but if in your death you become a Jew again, why not start the rehearsal right now? And he said to me: The church has saved me. “But he did not express any remorse at any moment. I saw in him a lot of respect for the church and total gratitude.”
“I have a homeland that is Poland and I belong to the people who are the Poles. But I have the first people – the Jewish people. They circumcised me on the eighth day and I belong. I belong to both Poland and Israel. I can not speak against the Poles, because they saved me – and I Can not speak against the Jews, because I am one of them “
In that regard, Pavlovsky himself told the website of the Catholic Church in Israel: “I did not want to live in a lie. I did not want to deny my roots, my mother, my father, my people. I wanted to be real. Well, I have a homeland that is Poland and I belong to the Polish people. “The Jewish people. They circumcised me on the eighth day and I belong. I belong to both Poland and Israel. I cannot speak against the Poles, because they saved me – and I cannot speak against the Jews, because I am one of them.”
On Tuesday (Tuesday), church members in Jaffa held a Christian funeral for the priest, at the end of which his coffin was taken to the churchyard to allow his nephews, his brother’s children, to recite the Kaddish for his soul, as he commanded later in his life: “Say Kaddish at a funeral with the minyan.” Students of the “Amit” yeshiva in Ashdod also plan to keep part of the will, and will hold a memorial service for the pastor of the Catholic Church in Jaffa, Gregory Pavlovsky, in the synagogue at the yeshiva.
In the coming days, his body will be flown to Poland, so that he can be buried in the plot of land he purchased for himself near the killing pits, where his family members who were slaughtered by the Nazis are buried. Rabbi Malul, with ten guides and a travel guide to Poland, is now preparing to raise funding that will allow them to accompany his coffin on his final journey, and say Kaddish in his memory.