Rabbi Philip Lazowski's Remarkable Story

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

For graduates and their families attending Sunday morning's graduate Commencement ceremony at the XL Center, the event will be one to remember. In addition to evoking all the hours and hard work spent in pursuit of their advanced degrees, graduates will also meet a special guest for whom the phrase "never forget" takes on extra meaning.

Rabbi Philip Lazowski, recipient of an honorary doctoral degree from UHart in 2016, will deliver the Invocation on Sunday morning. 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.

Rabbi 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. He 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 Rabbi 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.

All students learn of the Nazi atrocities during their academic paths. Not always does it come into play at college commencements, which take on many different identities and conceptions. The Invocation, as always, will be brief, but graduates and guests on Sunday morning will still be in the glow of an extraordinary individual whose very existence is a testament to life, memory, meaning—and never forgetting.

For more information on the University of Hartford's two Commencement ceremonies on Sunday, visit the Commencement website.