Polish nun who helped hide Vilna ghetto rebels during Holocaust dies at 110
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Polish nun who helped hide Vilna ghetto rebels during Holocaust dies at 110

Cecylia Roszak was thought to be the oldest nun in the world; poet Abba Kovner was one those she and her sisters saved at a local convent

Stuart Winer is a breaking news editor at The Times of Israel.

Cecylia Maria Roszak, right, who was awarded the 'Righteous Among Nations' honor for helping to save Jews during the Holocaust, seen here in Krakow, Poland, May 2018. (Piotr Jantos/Archdiocese of Krakow)
Cecylia Maria Roszak, right, who was awarded the 'Righteous Among Nations' honor for helping to save Jews during the Holocaust, seen here in Krakow, Poland, May 2018. (Piotr Jantos/Archdiocese of Krakow)

A Polish Catholic nun who was honored by Israel for helping to hide Jewish would-be resistance fighters in her convent during World War II died last week aged 110.

Among those who hid in the small convent of nine Dominican nuns during the war was poet and activist Abba Kovner, who in 1942 circulated among the Vilna Ghetto residents a manifesto, titled “Let us not go like lambs to the slaughter,” that warned of Nazi Germany’s plans to wipe out the Jews of Europe. It marked the first time a victim of the Holocaust had sounded the alarm over what was happening to the Jewish population and called for rebellion against the Nazis.

Cecylia Roszak was believed to be the oldest nun in the world when she passed away in the Dominican convent in the city of Krakow, the archdiocese of Krakow in Poland said last Friday in announcing her death.

Along with photos of Roszak posted to its Twitter feed, the archdiocese wrote: “In Krakow the oldest sister in the world died – sister Cecilia Maria Roszak from the monastery of Dominican sisters.”

Roszak was born on March 25, 1908 in the village of Kiełczewo in west Poland and joined the Dominican monastery of Gródek in Krakow when she was 21, the Independent reported.

In 1938 Roszak traveled with a group of nine nuns to Vilnius in Lithuania to set up a new convent, but war interrupted the plans.

According the Yad Vashem Holocaust Memorial page dedicated to Anna Borkowska, the mother superior of the convent, the sisters took in 17 members of an illegal Jewish underground movement that formed to fight back against the extermination of the ghetto’s residents.

One of the underground members was Kovner, who, according to Yad Vashem, wrote his landmark manifesto within the walls of the convent. Kovner tried unsuccessfully to organize armed resistance inside the ghetto. Borkowska smuggled the first hand grenades into the community.

Abba Kovner (back row, center) with members of the Fareynikte Partizaner Organizatsye (The FPO – Eng: United Partisan Organization) in Vilna, 1940s (Courtesy Israel National Library)

Kovner escaped the ghetto and survived the war after fighting among Polish resistance partisans. He later testified at the trial in Israel of Nazi war criminal Adolf Eichmann.

Borkowska was arrested in 1943 and the convent closed down. She and Roszak both survived the war and the latter returned to the monastery in Krakow, where she worked as an organist and cantor.

In 1984 Yad Vashem gave the members of the convent, including Borkowska and Roszak, its Righteous Among Nations award, which honors non-Jews who risked their lives to save Jews during the Holocaust. Kovner participated in a tree-planting ceremony at Yad Vashem and then traveled to Warsaw, where he personally presented Borkowska with the award and a bottle containing soil from the planting ceremony.

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