Oswald Rufeisen

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Shmuel Oswald Rufeisen

Shmuel Oswald Rufeisen (1922–1998), better known as Brother (or Father) Daniel, O.C.D., was a Polish-born Jew who survived the Nazi invasion of his homeland, in the course of which he converted to Christianity, becoming a Catholic and a friar of the Discalced Carmelite Order. He sought Israeli citizenship under the Israeli Law of Return, but was refused. However, he moved to Israel as a Carmelite friar, where he spent the rest of his life, and acquired citizenship through naturalization.


Rufeisen was born to a Jewish family in Zadziele[1] near the Polish town of Oświęcim, known in German as Auschwitz. During his youth, he belonged to Bnei Akiva, a religious Zionist youth movement.

In 1941, during the war, he helped to save hundreds of fellow Jews in the Mir Ghetto (in the city of Mir, Belarus) from mass execution by infiltrating the local police station as a translator under the assumed identity as an ethnically German Pole.[2] Around the same time, he led a resistance group within the Mir Ghetto.[2] While in hiding in a convent of the Sisters of the Resurrection, he converted to Christianity and took the baptism from the nuns. After the war, he joined the Carmelite Order, became a Discalced Carmelite friar and eventually a Catholic priest. [3]

1944 Partisan document issued to Oswald Rufeisen

Throughout the 1950s, Rufeisen made numerous requests to the Carmelite authorities to transfer him to the order's monastery in Haifa, Jerusalem, and to the Polish government to allow him to move to Israel for permanent residence. These were regularly denied until the late 1950s, when the Polish government finally granted his request on the condition that he give up his Polish citizenship. Rufeisen arrived in Israel in July 1959 and reunited with his brother Aryeh, who had come to then Palestine in 1941. Rufeisen, who was initially given only a one-year residence permit in Israel, rendering him virtually stateless, applied for Israeli citizenship under the Law of Return, which entitles Jews to immigrate to Israel.[4] He maintained that although his religion was Catholicism he was still a Jew:

"My ethnic origin is and always will be Jewish. I have no other nationality. If I am not a Jew, what am I? I did not accept Christianity to leave my people. I added it to my Judaism. I feel as a Jew."[5]

Different branches of Judaism treat Jews who convert to other religions differently. In Orthodox and Conservative Judaism converts are still regarded as Jews, but not in Reform Judaism. On religion-related issues, Israel follows the Orthodox interpretation of Jewish law.[citation needed]

The Israeli government denied Rufeisen's request on the grounds that he had converted to Christianity. Rufeisen appealed the case to the Supreme Court of Israel. His lawyer argued that by denying Rufeisen the right to immigrate Israel would cast itself as a theocracy in which national affiliation is equated with religion.[6] In 1962, the Supreme Court upheld the government's decision: any Jew converting to another religion would forfeit their preferential access to Israeli citizenship (Rufeisen v. Minister of the Interior, (1962) 16 PD 2428).[7]. The trial ignited public debate about Jewish identity and the court's decision, according to historian Michael Stanislawski, was a defining moment in the history of the Jewish State, whose influence on Israeli law and public opinion can be felt to this day.[6]

Nevertheless, Rufeisen went on to serve as a Carmelite friar at Stella Maris Carmelite Monastery in Haifa, Israel, where he spent the rest of his life, and acquired Israeli citizenship through naturalization.

In literature[edit]

The novel Daniel Stein, Interpreter by renowned Russian writer Lyudmila Ulitskaya was inspired by the life of Oswald Rufeisen.[8]


  • Cholawski, Shalom, Oswald Rufajzen in Encyclopaedia of the Holocaust vol. 3, p. 1311.
  • Tec, Nechama (2008). In the Lion's Den: The Life of Oswald Rufeisen. Oxford University Press. ISBN 978-0-19-538347-8.


  1. ^ Ghetto Fighters' House Archives
  2. ^ a b https://www.yadvashem.org/yv/en/exhibitions/communities/mir/rufeisen.asp Their Legacies Remain… We Remember Oswald], Rufeisen page on Yad Vashem website. Accessed 20 October 2020.
  3. ^ Savir, Yabuda (1963). "The Definition of a Jew under Israel's Southwestern Law of Return". Law Journal (Sw L.J.). Dallas, Texas: SMU School of Law. 17 (1): 123-133 (in particular 126-129: II. The case of Father Daniel). Retrieved 20 October 2020.
  4. ^ Goldman, Shalom (August 18, 2011). "Meet Brother Daniel: A Jew-converted-Christian-turned-monk". Haaretz.com. Retrieved 2021-07-31.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: url-status (link)
  5. ^ Time Magazine, Dec. 7, 1962, p. 54.
  6. ^ a b Rosen-Zvi, Ishay; Ophir, Adi (July 30, 2021). "In Israel, the dangerous concept of the goy lives on". Haaretz.com. Retrieved 2021-07-31.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: url-status (link)
  7. ^ Landau, Asher Felix (1971-01-01). Selected Judgments of the Supreme Court of Israel. Transaction Publishers. ISBN 978-1-4128-3386-8.
  8. ^ Interview at 'MAN Booker International Prize', NDR Kultur, 26 May 2009[permanent dead link]: "The Russian author Ulitzkaja speaking about her newest book described 'Daniel Stein' as a literature character but at the same time as an historical one: <<The real Brother Daniel, whose civil name was Oswald Rufeisen, and my character Daniel Stein are not identical. The biography of my character is however almost identical to the real person. For me it was more important to follow the truthfulness of the literature narration rather than the historical truth.>>"

External links[edit]