Jerzy Kluger, childhood friend of Pope John Paul II, dies

ROME (JTA) – Jerzy Kluger, a Polish-born Jew who was a lifelong friend of the late Pope John Paul II, has died in Rome at 90.

Kluger, who had suffered from Alzheimer’s disease, died Saturday. He and his Irish-born wife had lived in Rome for decades.

The Rome Jewish community said his funeral took place Monday and that he was buried in the city’s Jewish cemetery.

Like John Paul, born Karol Wojtyla, Kluger was born in the southern Polish town of Wadowice. He was a year younger than the future pope, but the two were boyhood playmates and shared school benches together. Kluger was known by his nickname, Jurek, and Wojtyla by his nickname, Lolek.

Most of Kluger’s family was killed in the Holocaust. He and Wojtyla remained in touch over the years, and the two men’s friendship is believed to have influenced John Paul’s thinking on Jews. John Paul, who died in 2005, made improving Catholic-Jewish relations a hallmark of his papacy.

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