I’d heard this story but never heard it told before by a member of Edith Zierer’s family. It is the very touching account of what happened when a young Jewish girl, released from Nazi prison and cold, hungry, too ill to walk, encountered a Polish Catholic named Karol Wojtyla, a year before his ordination.
In January 1945, at 13, she emerged from a Nazi labor camp in Czestochowa, Poland, a waif on the verge of death. Separated from her family, unaware that her mother had been killed by the Germans, she could scarcely walk.
Death was approaching, but a young man approached first, “very good looking,” as she recalled, and vigorous. He wore a long robe and appeared to the girl to be a priest. “Why are you here?” he asked. “What are you doing?” Edith said she was trying to get to Krakow to find her parents.
The man disappeared. He came back with a cup of tea. Edith drank. He said he could help her get to Krakow. Again, the mysterious benefactor went away, returning with bread and cheese.
“Try to stand,” the man said. Edith tried – and failed. The man carried her to another village, where he put her in the cattle car of a train bound for Krakow. Another family was there. The man got in beside Edith, covered her with his cloak, and set about making a small fire.
His name, he told Edith, was Karol Wojtyla.
You’ll want to read the whole thing. Read also The Jew’s Pope, by Micah Halpern.