Anna Borkowska

Poland

Anna Borkowska (second from left) with Abba Kovner (second from right) at the presentation of the medal in Warsaw Anna Borkowska (second from left) with Abba Kovner (second from right) at the presentation of the medal in Warsaw
Abba KovnerAbba Kovner

Anna Borkowska was the mother superior of a small convent of nine Dominican nuns located near Kolonia Wilenska, on the road leading from Vilna to Vileika. When the killing of the Jews in Vilna began, Borkowska opened the convent's gates to a group of 17 members of the illegal Jewish Zionist pioneer underground movements. Despite the enormous difference between the two groups, very close relations were formed between the religious Christian nuns and the left-wing secular Jews. The pioneers found a safe haven behind the convent's walls; they worked with the nuns in the fields and continued their political activity. They called the mother superior of the convent Ima (Mother in Hebrew).

It was in the convent cells that Abba Kovner, a leader of the Hashomer Hazair Zionist movement in Vilna, wrote the famous clarion call of rebellion. With what can only be explained as an astounding intuition, Kovner grasped the full meaning of the murder in Ponary and realized that the killings were a part of a systematic and comprehensive plan to murder all the Jews of Europe. Years later Abba Kovner stated that the ideas for the ghetto rebellion were formed at the convent. “Hitler is scheming to annihilate all of European Jewry…. Let us not go like sheep to the slaughter! It is true that we are weak and defenseless, but resistance is the only response to the enemy!… Resist! To the last breath!”, he wrote. The manifesto that Kovner read out to his friends on 31 December 1941 was printed in the convent and distributed in the ghetto.

By the end of December 1941 the pioneers decided to leave the safety of the convent and to return to the ghetto in order to establish the resistance movement. Borkowska tried to dissuade them from leaving, but in vain. A few weeks after his return to the ghetto, Abba Kovner was called to the ghetto's gate. Borkowska had come and said that she wanted to join the Jews in the ghetto: "God is in the ghetto", she said. Kovner dissuaded her from taking that step. When she asked what they needed, Kovner told her that they needed weapons. It was Borkowska – the nun who was committed to spirituality and non-violence – who smuggled the first grenades into the ghetto.

In September 1943, as Nazi suspicions of her mounted, the Germans had Anna Borkowska arrested. The convent was closed and the sisters dispersed. Evenutally Borkowska asked to be dispersed of her monastic vows, but remained a deeply religious woman.

Borkowska's helping hand was never forgotten by the Zionist pioneers who had immigrated to Israel after the war, but only in 1984 was contact with her reestablished. By that time she was 84 years old and living in a small apartment in Warsaw.

The same year Yad Vashem awarded the title of Righteous Among the Nations to Anna Borkowska and six nuns of her convent, and Abba Kovner planted a tree in her honor in the Avenue of the Righteous on the Mount of Remembrance.

Abba Kovner traveled to Warsaw to present Anna Borkowska with the medal. "Why do I deserve this honor?" asked Borkowska, to which Kovner answered: "You are Anna of the angels". He went on to explain: "During the days when angels hid their faces from us, this woman was for us Anna of the Angels. Not of angles that we invent in our hearts, but of angels that create our lives forever."

 

This online story was made possible with the support of:

Conference on Jewish Material Claims Against Germany

The Conference on Jewish Material Claims Against Germany works to secure compensation and restitution for survivors of the Holocaust.

Since 1951, the Claims Conference - working in partnership with the State of Israel - has negotiated for and distributed payments from Germany, Austria, other governments, and certain industry; recovered unclaimed German Jewish property; and funded programs to assist the neediest Jewish victims of Nazism.