Andrej Tumpej (1886-1973) was the first pastor of the Church of St. Cyril and Methodius in Čukarica in Belgrade. Father Tumpey bears a special honorary title: “Righteous Among the Nations”, an honorary title given by Israel to non-Jewish citizens of the world who saved the lives of Jews during World War II. Andrej Tumpej was born in Slovenia on November 29, 1886. in the parish of Sv. Lovrenc on the Drava plain near Ptuj. After primary school in his hometown, he attended high school in Maribor and Ljubljana. He became a member of the Lazarist monastic order in 1905, after which he began studying theology in Graz (Austria), where he received the priesthood in 1911. After a year, he went to Istanbul as a religious teacher in an Austrian college and a trade school. Before the beginning of the First World War, he returned to Slovenia, and from 1926 he was the parish priest in Bitola in the Skopje-Prizren diocese.
Andrej Tumpej Photo credit: Yad Vashem
At the end of August 1929, he came to Belgrade to the newly established Lazarist church community in the Church of St. Cyril and Methodius. He led a catechism for young people, taught religious studies in several primary schools and high schools, as well as church singing and playing, led a tamburitza orchestra, visited the faithful with current priestly duties. He was the manager of the Belgrade parish / church twice from January 1, 1930 to June 27. 1932. and 0d 22.05.1935-20.02.1948.
During World War II, Father Tumpey showed his humanity in a special way, helping many who were in trouble. His help to the Jews, including the Kalef family, was the reason for his posthumous recognition as the Righteous Among the Nations.
During the occupation of Belgrade, when the Nazis committed genocide against Jews, mother Antonija Ograjenšek, a Slovene, married to a Jew, Jakov Kalef, begged Father Tumpej to help and protect them. He took care of her daughters Matilda and Rachel, who were given new names (Lidija and Breda), and all together new documents.
“The girls were in the convent house with the nuns for three months. (…) Father Tumpej enrolled Lidija and Breda in the high school Matija Ban. Although no one knew them in the new area, the principal of the Orthaber school, a Volksdeutscher, knew of their Jewish origins. He met Tumpey’s request and did not reveal the secret to anyone until the end of the war. After the war, he could not, because he was killed during the fight for the liberation of Belgrade. (…) One day it was rumored that the parish priest Andrej Tumpej had been arrested. It was then revealed that he was helping other Jews as well. He issued false documents to two Jewish women who were preparing to go to work in Germany. Unfortunately, they did not get far. At the train station in Belgrade, they were recognized by the Volksdeutscher, who knew them from before. They were arrested and under heavy beatings they discovered who gave them false documents. The Germans insisted that Tumpey helped the Jews, and he replied that he would help them if they found themselves in a similar situation. He survived a similar torture in the Gestapo prison as the Jews he wanted to help, but in the end they released him. “(From the book: Righteous Among the Nations – Serbia).
After World War II, he continued his missionary work throughout the Balkans, and the story of the feat remained a mystery to many. In 1948, he moved to the Macedonian city of Bitola, then spent half a year in Letnica in Kosovo, six years (1950-1956) in Urosevac and at the same time the parish manager in Kosovska Mitrovica for three years. From 1957-1967 he worked as a priest in Smederevo. He left Smederevo for Skopje, and after a serious illness, he returned to Belgrade after three years, where he died on March 5. In 1973, he died. He called himself an old Balkan man, and considering the years spent in Bitola, Letnica, Ferizaj, Kosovska Mitrovica, Smederevo, Skopje (25 years in total) as well as in Belgrade (19 years), that name is completely justified. He also used the name “Momcilo” instead of “Andrej”, which in Greek means man, boy, boy.
He succeeded in surviving through the war. Immediately after the liberation of Belgrade at the end of 1944, Breda returned to using her real name. Rahela, however, continued to use her assumed name as a reminder of the man who had saved the three of them. Under this name, she became famous as the foremost opera singer in Belgrade. After the war, Andrej Tumpej served as a priest in Skopje for a period of time and then returned to Belgrade. He passed away there in 1973.
On January 18, 2001, Yad Vashem recognized Andrej Tumpej as Righteous Among the Nations.
Photo credit: https://www.centropa.org/