Anna Borkowska (Sister Bertranda)

Anna Borkowska a.k.a. Sister Bertranda (1906–1988), a graduate of the University of Kraków, was a Polish nun who served as Mother Superior of a convent for an order of Dominican Sisters at a cloister in Kolonia Wileńska, near Wilno, Poland (now Vilnius, Lithuania). During World War II, at her convent, she sheltered 17 young Jewish activists from Nazi persecution.

Hiding Jews

Vilnius was taken over by the Germans on June 24, 1941, in Operation Barbarossa, and the killing of the Jews began almost immediately. Sister Betranda first agitated to save Vilnius’ Jewish population following the start of the Ponary massacre in July 1941. She initially sought to gain the support of the Vilnius Catholic leadership, but they rebuffed her efforts out of fear that the Nazi German occupation forces would destroy church property and kill any clergy found aiding the Jewish population.David C. Gross, "The Jewish People's Almanac", Garden City, New York, Doubleday & Company, 1981, pp. 465-66.]

Taking her own initiative, Sister Betranda gathered 17 members of Hashomer Hatzair, a local Zionist group, and hid them within the grounds of her convent. The activists included Abe (Abba) Kovner, the movement's leader, Abraham Suckerwer, Arie Wilner and Edek Boraks. When several of her nuns objected, Mother Superior Borkowska reportedly threatened them with expulsion from the order and excommunication from the faith. Some of the Hashomer Hatzair members later decided to leave their convent hideout and return to the Jewish Ghetto in Vilnius, where they organized an underground resistance movement.

Ghetto uprising

As soon as the preparations for the Ghetto uprising began, the Dominican Sisters took upon themselves to help the Jewish resistance by smuggling in arms and ammunition. The nuns included Sister Bernadeta (Julia Michrowska), Sister Bertranda, Sister Cecylia (Maria Roszek), Sister Diana (Helena Frackiewicz), Sister Imelda (Maria Neugebauer), Sister Jordana (Maria Ostrejko), Sister Małgorzata (Irena Adamek) and Sister Stefania (Stanisława Bednarska).Anna Poray, [ Sister Anna Borkowska,] "Polish Righteous, Those Who Risked Their Lives."] Sister Bertranda was the first to supply hand grenades and other weapons to the Vilnius ghetto underground. [ Paul, Mark. “Wartime Rescue of Jews by the Polish Catholic Clergy: The Testimony of Survivors”] ]

The uprising, organized by "Fareinigte Partizaner Organizacje" (the United Partisan Organization), failed on September 1, 1943. There ensued the final destruction of whatever remained of the Ghetto. Between August and September 1943, the last 12,000 men, women and children were deported to camps in Estonia.

In September 1943, Sister Bertranda was arrested by the Nazi German occupation forces. Her convent was closed and her order was forced to disperse. She was sent to a labor camp at Perwejniszki near Kaunas. After the war, Sister Bertranda voluntarily resigned from the Dominican order.

In 1984, the 78–year–old former Sister Bertranda, now living alone in Warsaw, and six nuns from her convent were awarded the title of Righteous among the Nations by Yad Vashem. Abba Kovner, one of the young Jews who had been saved by Borkowska, personally presented a medal to her at a ceremony in Poland.

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Further reading

* [ The Righteous among the Nations: Anna Borkowska]

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