Early life of Pope John Paul II

The early life of Pope John Paul II covers the period in his life from his birth in 1920 to his ordination to the priesthood in 1946.

Karol Józef Wojtyła was born on 18 May, 1920 in Wadowice near the city of Kraków in southern Poland, son of a former officer in the Austrian Habsburg army whose name was also Karol Wojtyła (senior), and Emilia Kaczorowska. Yaakov Wise, Jewish historian, chazzan and scientist from Manchester, holds that Karol's mother was of Jewish ancestry and originally named Emilia Katz, but later polonized her last name. [ [http://www.metronews.co.uk/news/s/600346_the_pope_was_jewish_says_historian Metro News (AFP, Reuters)] "The Pope was Jewish, says historian" (Dr. Yaakov Wise, Jewish historian).] ] According to a now very popular Wadowice legend, Emilia used to tell fellow townsfolk that her Karol would be "a great man one day." As a child Karol was called Lolek by friends and family.

His mother died during childbirth in 1929. On hearing about her death, he composed himself and said, "It was God's will." After Emilia's death, his father, an intensely religious man who did most of the housework, brought up Karol so that he could study. His youth was marked by intensive contacts with the then-thriving Jewish community of Wadowice.

His brother Edmund, also known as Mundek, died of scarlet fever contracted from a patient at the age of 26 in 1932. His only other sibling, a sister, died in infancy before Karol was born.

He practiced sports during his youth, being particularly athletic. He often played football (soccer), as a goalkeeper, and was a supporter of Polish club Cracovia Kraków. [cite web |url=http://www.legionariesofchrist.org/eng/articulos/articulo.phtml?lc=id-15265_se-91_ca-264_te-193 | author=Pentin, Edward - National Catholic Register | publisher=Legion of Christ | title="Faith and Football" | accessdate=2007-01-06]

Papal biographer George Weigel recalls that when Karol was around fifteen a young person playfully pointed a gun at him not realising that it was loaded. On pressing the trigger the gun fired and narrowly missed the target. He would escape from other near death incidents as a young seminarian and later as Pope. "Witness to Hope", George Weigel, HarperCollins (1999, 2001) ISBN 0-06-018793-X. ]


In the summer of 1938, Karol Wojtyła and his father left Wadowice and moved to Kraków, the former capital of Poland, where he enrolled at the Jagiellonian University in the autumn semester. In his freshman year, Wojtyła studied Philology, Polish language and literature, introductory Russian, and Old Church Slavonic. He also took private lessons in French. He worked as a volunteer librarian and did compulsory military training in the Academic Legion. At the end of the 1938-39 academic year, he played Sagittarius in a fantasy-fable, "The Moonlight Cavalier", produced by an experimental theatre troupe.

In his youth he was an active person, and learned as many as twelve languages. By the time he was Pope he spoke ten languages fluently: Polish, Slovak, Russian, Italian, French, Spanish, Portuguese, German, Ukrainian and English, beside his good knowledge of Ecclesiastical Latin.

The Second World War

In September 1939, Germany invaded Poland, and the country was subsequently occupied by German and Soviet forces. At the outbreak of War, Karol and his father fled eastwards from Kraków with thousands of other Poles. They sometimes found themselves in ditches, taking cover from strafing Luftwaffe aircraft. After walking 120 miles, they learned of the Russian invasion of Poland and were obliged to return to Kraków. In November, 184 academics of the Jagiellonian University were arrested and the university suppressed. All able-bodied males had to have a job.

In the first year of the war Karol worked as a messenger for a restaurant. This light work enabled him to continue his education and theatrical career and in acts of cultural resistance. He also intensified his study of French. From the autumn of 1940 Karol worked for almost four years as a manual labourer in a limestone quarry, and was well paid. His father died in 1941 because of a heart attack. In 1942, he entered the underground seminary run by Cardinal Sapieha, the archbishop of Kraków. B'nai B'rith and other authorities have testified that he helped Jews find refuge from the Nazis.

On 29 February 1944, Karol was walking home from work at the quarry when he was knocked down by a German truck. The German officers tending the injured Wojtyła, and the decision to commandeer a passing truck for use as an ambulance for the unconscious patient, is in sharp contrast to the harshness normally expected from the occupying forces during this period. He spent two weeks in hospital and suffered severe concussion, numerous cuts and a shoulder injury. This accident and his survival seemed to Wojtyła a confirmation of his priestly vocation. In August 1944, the Warsaw uprising began, and the Gestapo swept the city of Kraków on 6 August, "Black Sunday", rounding up young men to avoid a similar uprising there. Wojtyła escaped by hiding behind a door as the Gestapo searched the house he lived in, and escaped to the Archbishop's residence, where he stayed until after the war.

On the night of 17 January 1945, the Germans quit the city. The seminarians reclaimed the old seminary, which was in ruins. Wojtyła and another seminarian volunteered for the odious task of chopping up and carting away piles of frozen excrement from the lavatories. In the same month of that year, Wojtyła personally helped a 14 year old Jewish refugee girl named Edith Zierer [ [http://voices.iit.edu/Profiles/ziere_p.html Profile of Edith Zierier (1946)] , " [http://voices.iit.edu/index.html Voices of the Holocaust] ", Retrieved on 2007-06-17.] who had run away from a Nazi labor camp in Częstochowa. Zierer was attempting to reach her family in Kraków but had collapsed from cold and exhaustion on a train platform in Jędrzejów. No one helped but Wojtyła who approached her. Wojtyła gave Zierer some hot tea caca and food, personally carried her to a train and accompanied her to Kraków. Zierer credits Wojtyła for saving her life that day. In the chaos of post-war Poland they became separated and Zierer would not hear of her benefactor again until she read that he was elected as the Pope in 1978. [ [http://transcripts.cnn.com/TRANSCRIPTS/0504/08/se.01.html CNN Live event transcript] , "CNN.com", Aired 2005-04-08, Retrieved on 2007-06-17.] [Roberts, Genevieve., [http://findarticles.com/p/articles/mi_qn4159/is_20050403/ai_n13509294 "THE DEATH OF POPE JOHN PAUL II: `He saved my life - with tea, bread'"] , "The Independent", 2005-04-03, Retrieved on 2007-06-17.] [Cohen, Roger., [http://www.dialog.org/hist/JohnPaulII-EdithZierer.htm " The Polish Seminary Student and the Jewish Girl He Saved"] , "International Herald Tribune", 2005-04-06, Retrieved on 2007-06-17.]


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