Jerzy Kluger, the Polish Jewish boyhood friend of the late Pope John Paul who had a major influence on the pontiff’s revolutionary relations with Jews, has died. Kluger, who was 92, died in a Rome hospital on New Year’s Eve of complications from bronchitis and was buried on Monday in Rome’s Jewish cemetery. He had been suffering from Alzheimer’s disease and had been living in a home for the elderly east of the Italian capital.
Kluger and Karol Wojtyla, the future Pope John Paul II, were classmates in the southern Polish city of Wadowice and were friends from first grade through high school.
“The young Karol Wojtyla learned a lot about Judaism from Kluger,” said Italian author Gianfranco Svidercoschi, who was an aide to the late pope and wrote a book about the pontiff’s friendship with Kluger. “He had a great influence on the pope’s life,” Svidercoschi, who wrote about their friendship in the 1993 book “Letter to a Jewish Friend,” told Reuters.
“The young Wojtyla visited the Kluger home in Wadowice, helped Jerzy with his studies, particularly Latin, and started a friendship that would influence his relations with Jews for the rest of his life,” said Svidercoschi, who was editor of the Vatican newspaper during part of John Paul’s pontificate.