Irene Kluger told The Associated Press that her husband died on Dec. 31 after suffering from Alzheimer’s disease for three years and was buried Monday. The couple lived in Rome for decades, but at John Paul’s urging, Kluger, a World War II veteran, occasionally returned to visit Wadowice, the southern Polish town where the two spent their boyhoods, his widow said.
Kluger, a year younger than John Paul, who died in 2005, was one of the last living childhood friends of the late pontiff. He was 5 when he met Karol Wojtyla, who would become a priest two decades later in his predominantly Catholic homeland, and eventually Krakow’s cardinal, before being elected as history’s only Polish-born pontiff in 1978.
The two — Kluger known by his nickname Jurek and the future pope known as Lolek — played soccer, shared school benches and lived in houses across a square in Wadowice. Kluger also recalled daring swims with the young Wojtyla in the Skawa River during the warmer months. In winter, the two also hiked hours to the top of the local mountain to ski.