The Jewish bishop of Yafo whose parents and siblings were murdered by the Nazis, passed away this week at the age of 91 and will be buried next to a mass kever in Poland, where his mother and sisters are buried.
The sad story began in the town of Zamość in eastern Poland, home to about 4,000 Jews, including the Griners. The Russians entered the town at the start of World War II, and 14-year-old Chaim Griner managed to escape to Russia prior to the Nazis taking over. He ended up surviving the war there and eventually made his way to Israel.
The rest of the Griner family and other Jews in Zamość suffered the fate of their brethren throughout Europe. They were first transferred to the ghetto, from where the father was taken for forced labor and never heard from again, and later they and the other Jews in the ghetto were transferred to the town of Izbica. There, eight-year-old Yaakov Tzvi (Hirsch) Griner managed to escape shortly before all the Jews were cruely murdered over open pits after being forced to wait in the freezing cold for ten days.
Hirsch eventually made his way back to his hometown of Zamość and managed to survive the war there, moving constantly from place to place and at one point took on the Polish name of Gregor (Grzegorz) Pawlowski. After the war, he was placed by the Red Cross in a Catholic orphanage. Later he was transferred to another orphanage, where he was baptized by a priest at the age of 13. He finished high school while in the orphanage and then enrolled in a seminary in Lublin.
In 1958, Hirsch was ordained as a priest and began working in various towns in Lublin. In 1966, Hirsch spoke about his story to a reporter from a Polish Catholic newspaper. News of the article somehow made its way to Israel, to relatives in Bat Yam. Those relatives contacted Hirsh’s brother Chaim, living in Haifa, who contacted Hirsch.
Hirsch began thinking about making aliyah but before he left Poland, he established a monument near the cemetery, where his mother and sisters had been murdered, and arranged the following inscription on the memorial:
For I know that my redeemer lives
And that at the last he will stand upon the earth
To the eternal memory of our dear parents
Mendel son of Zeev and Miriam daughter of Isaac Griner of blessed memory
And our sisters Shindel and Sarah of blessed memory
And also of all the Jews murdered and buried in this cemetery
In the month of Kislev 5703
By the Nazi murderers and profaners of G-d’s commandments
With gratitude to God for being saved
We establish this monument
Father Gregor Pawlowski
Jacob Zvi Griner – Poland
Hayim Griner – Israel
Hirsch also decided then that when he passes away, he wants to buried next to his mother and sisters. He established a burial plot for himself next to the mass grave with the following inscription:
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 G-d and humanity
I have returned to them this place
Where they were murdered for the sanctification of G-d’s name
May their souls be set in eternal life
In 1970, Hirsch made aliyah and settled in Yafo, where he served the Polish speaking Christian community for 38 years. He used to say: “My place is here, among the Jewish people. I sensed a call to come and serve Christians living in my country.”
Hirsch was open about his story, saying: “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.”
(YWN Israel Desk – Jerusalem)