Polish nun who rescued Jews during Holocaust laid to rest
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Polish nun who rescued Jews during Holocaust laid to rest

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

A nun prays beside the casket and photo of 110-year-old Roman Catholic Sister Cecylia Roszak, believed to be the world's oldest nun, and a rescuer of Jews during the Holocaust, during her funeral ceremonies at Church of Our Lady of the Snows the Dominican in Krakow, Poland, November 22, 2018. (AP Photo/Beata Zawrzel)
A nun prays beside the casket and photo of 110-year-old Roman Catholic Sister Cecylia Roszak, believed to be the world's oldest nun, and a rescuer of Jews during the Holocaust, during her funeral ceremonies at Church of Our Lady of the Snows the Dominican in Krakow, Poland, November 22, 2018. (AP Photo/Beata Zawrzel)

WARSAW, Poland — A Polish nun who was believed to be the oldest nun in the world and was recognized as a rescuer of Jews during the Holocaust was laid to rest on Thursday after dying last week at the age of 110.

Sister Cecylia Roszak was remembered as modest and merciful as nuns and other members of the church gathered in Krakow to bid her farewell.

The mother superior of her convent, Stanislawa Chruscicka, recalled in a phone interview with The Associated Press that Sister Cecylia would often comment that “life is very beautiful but too short.”

Born March 25, 1908, Roszak joined the convent at age 21. During the German occupation of Poland during World War II, when she was in her 30s, she was one of several nuns who set up a new convent near Vilnius, today in Lithuania, sheltering Jews who had escaped the ghetto there.

Among those who hid in the small convent 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.

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)

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.

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.

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.

Chruscicka said a huge bouquet at Thursday’s funeral was sent by a woman, Wanda Jerzyniec, who, along with her brother, was sheltered by Sister Cecylia after the Germans shot both of their parents in Vilnius in 1944.

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)

Chruscicka said the nuns learned about Jerzyniec earlier this year after Polish media wrote about Sister Cecylia on her 110th birthday. She said that Jerzyniec was too frail to attend the funeral.

The funeral Mass was held at the Dominican nuns’ church in Krakow and Roszak was then buried at the city’s historic Rakowicki cemetery.

Father Pawel Rytel-Andrianik, spokesman for Poland’s Roman Catholic Church, described her as “probably the oldest nun in the world,” though Chruscicka said she was certain that Roszak was the oldest.

Stuart Winer contributed to this report.

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