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The Pope and I
How the Lifelong Friendship Between a Polish Jew and Pope John Paul II Advanced The Cause of Jewish-Christian Relations
by Jerzy Kluger
Publisher:Orbis Books from Alban Books
Published:01 April 2012
Read this remarkable autobiography as testimony to a very special friendship across ancient religious boundaries. Read it also for its account of the turmoil in Middle Eastern affairs in recent years.
Jerzy Kluger (who died in 2011), a Polish Jew, tells of his childhood friendship in Wadowice with near contemporary Karol Wojtyla, later to be Pope John Paul II (whom he would always call ‘Lolek’). Jerzy and his father survived the war, though many of his family died at Auschwitz. He describes the emotions aroused by his return to Wadowice in 1989, and his visit to Auschwitz. During the war, after a period in a Russian prison camp, he served with the Allied forces. It was in the 1960s that he met up again with Wojtyla, who was then Archbishop of Krakow. In 1978, newspaper headlines read something like, ‘The Polish Pope grants his first audience to a Jew’. Their friendship flourished. They would often eat and talk together, and the Pope also got to know Jerzy’s wife and family. Jerzy would play an important role in Jewish affairs throughout John Paul II’s papacy and in relations between the Vatican and Israel.
We read, along with many other significant matters, about the Pope’s visits to Poland and Auschwitz in 1979, to Poland again more than once before 1999, and to the Great Synagogue of Rome in 1986. We read of the attempt on his life in 1981, and the long-lasting furore concerning the establishment of a convent in an abandoned warehouse for the Zyklon-B gas at Auschwitz in 1985, and the planting of many crosses at the camp. Then came the controversies surrounding Edith Stein, Maximilian Kolbe and Kurt Waldheim.
Finally came the papal visit to Israel in 2000, where Jerzy watched his friend, his ‘beloved Lolek’ placing between the stones of the Wailing Wall a piece of paper bearing the words, ‘God of our fathers, you chose Abraham and his descendants to bring Your name to the nations. We are deeply saddened by the behaviour of those who in the course of history have caused these children of Yours to suffer and, asking Your forgiveness, we wish to commit ourselves to genuine brotherhood with the people of the Covenant. Jerusalem, 26 March 2000. Joannes Paulus II.’
I strongly recommend this book.
Reviewer: Barry Vendy (26/09/12)