Rabbi Philip Lazowski: An Inspiring Presence During Commencement

May 12, 2022
Submitted By: Office of Marketing and Communication
photo of Rabbi Philip Lazowski

"As a Holocaust survivor, I speak from my own experiences," Rabbi Philip Lazowski told graduates attending this past Sunday morning's University of Hartford Commencement ceremony at downtown Hartford's XL Center.

"We are living at a time when life has never been more incomprehensible. The whole world has become a huge arsenal of weapons and destruction."

Lazowski, recipient of an honorary doctoral degree from UHart in 2016, delivered the Invocation to 408 students receiving master's and doctoral degrees. He has never forgotten the Nazi atrocities of World War II, and by fulfilling his mother’s urgent request, he spent his life making sure the rest of us won’t, either.

Lazowski’s mother elicited that promise from him in 1942 as she helped him escape a certain death by squeezing him through a window of their home in a Polish ghetto. He has come far in the intervening years, not just in miles, but in his life’s work. Lazowski officiated as a rabbi at Hartford synagogues for decades, worked as a mental health advocate at Hartford Hospital, and to this day serves as chaplain of the Connecticut State Senate. He has also written nearly a dozen books.

One notable story from Lazowski’s past concerns the astonishing connection between his escape from the Nazis and his marriage. As an 11-year-old boy in a village called Bielica, he was targeted by a Nazi officer for extermination. He spotted a woman who was a nurse and would therefore be spared, along with her two daughters. Lazowski quietly asked if he could pretend to be her son. She agreed. Years later, in America, he heard someone tell a story about a friend of hers named Ruth, whose mother saved a young boy in Bielica in that exact same way. He went to see the mother in Hartford—and fell in love with Ruth. Philip and Ruth married in 1955.

Now, almost 70 years later, Lazowski stood at the XL Center podium employing graduates to be engaged citizens of the world. "You will encounter evil people, he said. "Stand upright and work hard to make this world a better place of freedom."

The Invocation was relatively brief, but graduates and guests on Sunday morning were in the glow of an extraordinary individual whose very existence is a testament to life, memory, meaning—and never forgetting.

"You as graduates must strive to be very concerned with the level of evil to which people can descend," Rabbi Lazowski said. "Injustice, hatred, ignorance, and prejudice are the ingredients that produce tyrants, tyranny, and war. On you is laid the obligation to make a difference in this world, no matter how hard it may be."