Yaffa Eliach, Holocaust survivor-author-historian, first learned of a Polish priest named Karol Wojtyla some 30 years ago while working on her book "Hasidic Tales of the Holocaust." Wojtyla after World War II had refused to baptize a Jewish infant who had been put in the care of a Catholic by his parents, Holocaust victims. Wojtyla told the Catholic woman: Don’t baptize him, but return the infant to his Jewish relatives.
Eliach told the story of the priest, who later became Pope John Paul II, in her book.
Next week the story continues. An exhibit titled "A Blessing to One Another: Pope John Paul II and the Jewish People" opens Wednesday, May 18, the late pope’s 85th birthday, at Xavier University, a Jesuit school in Cincinnati where Eliach served as a visiting professor in 2003.
The exhibit features rare photographs and other artifacts that document John Paul II’s ongoing relations with the Jewish community, including pictures of the synagogue in Widowice, his childhood home ("It was Jewish people who raised him" after his mother died, Eliach said); shots of him with his Jewish friends in Poland ("how they were playing, how they were dancing"); and information about Stanley Berger, the Jewish infant who was reunited with his family in the United States and was raised as an observant Jew (Berger didn’t know the priest’s name until Eliach did the research).
The exhibit is co-sponsored by the Hillel of Cincinnati and Eliach’s Shtetl Foundation, which is building near Rishon LeZion in Israel a replica of Eishyshok, her Lithuanian hometown. The exhibition will travel around the United States and Europe before finding a permanent home in Israel.
Eliach, an Upper East Side resident, calls the exhibition a form of thanks to John Paul II and to non-Jews who rescued Jews during the Holocaust.