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Oswald Rufeisen (1922-1998), known popularly as Brother Daniel, was born to a Jewish family living in Poland, near Oświęcim. During his youth, Rufeisen belonged to Bnei Akiva, a religious Zionist youth movement. Hillel Zeidel, an Israel Liberal party Knesset member who broke ranks and joined Menachem Begin’s Likud in 1977, was a childhood friend from the movement.
To escape Nazi persecution, he hid in a monastery for over a year; during this time he decided to convert to Catholicism. He helped to save hundreds of Jews in the town of Mir, Belarus from deportation to concentration camps. In 1945, after the war, Rufeisen returned to Poland, converted, studied for the priesthood, and became a Carmelite monk.
In the 1950s, Rufeisen applied for Israeli citizenship under the Law of Return, which provides Jews with Israeli citizenship through a streamlined process (e.g. without the requirement of several years residency). He claimed that although he was not a religious Jew, his Jewish ancestry and cultural identity was a significant aspect of his overall personhood, and he was considered Jewish according to some Jewish sects (but not others).
The Israeli government denied his request, on the grounds that he had converted to Christianity. Rufeisen appealed the case to the Supreme Court of Israel, and in 1962 the Court upheld the government's decision: any Jew converting to another religion would lose their preferential access to Israeli citizenship. (Rufeisen v Minister of the Interior, (1962) 16 PD 2428)
Nevertheless, Rufeisen was able to immigrate to Israel, acquired Israeli citizenship through naturalization, and lived the rest of his life at the Stella Maris Carmelite Monastery in Haifa.
The novel Daniel Stein, Translator by renowned Russian writer Lyudmila Ulitskaya was inspired by the life of Oswald Rufeisen.
- Cholawski, Shalom, Oswald Rufajzen in Encyclopaedia of the Holocaust vol. 3, p. 1311.