Josefa would never forget the night when her friend, Helen Hiller, knocked on her door with little two-year-old Schachne in her arms. She begged her and Bronislav, her husband, to take him and keep him safe from the Nazis. They had no children of their own and could move safely around Krakow, so they quickly agreed.
Now, here it was four years later, and they had received the horrible news that Helen and Moses had been killed at Auschwitz. Who could imagine such a thing, that sweet young couple? Schachne was six now and their little boy in every way. He didn’t even remember his real father and mother, and Josefa wanted him baptized into their Catholic faith. She went to see the young priest, just newly-ordained, at their church.
Upon hearing her story, the young Father asked if Josefa knew the wishes of the biological parents. Well, she replied, she did have Helen’s letters: “If I or my husband do not return when this madness is over, please mail this letter to America to our relatives. They will surely respond and take the child. Regardless of the fates of my husband or myself, I want my son to grow up as a Jew.” It was simple the young Father said: the parents’ wishes must be honored. He could not, and would not, baptize Schachne.
Josefa wrote to the relatives as he urged and though it took three years, with the aid of the Canadian Jewish Congress, she was able to unite little Schachne with his relatives, the Bergers. Young Schachne Hiller became Stanley Berger, but he never forgot his beloved Polish mama and sent her letters and gifts for many years. And then in 1978 something extraordinary happened. He received a letter from Josefina saying that the newly-elected Pope was John Paul II. A Polish Pope! The first in the history of the church! She went on to say that she had met him many years ago, this new Polish Pope, when he had been just a young priest in Krakow, a priest who had refused to baptize a Jewish boy…
Pope John Paul II went on to work tirelessly for strong Catholic-Jewish ties.