“God resides in the ghetto“

Anna Borkowska was the Mother Superior of a small Dominican convent in the neighborhood of Kolonia Wileńska. When the mass murder of Jews started in Vilna, Anna opened the gates of the convent  to a group of 17 Jews who were members of a Zionist pioneer movement in the area. Despite the radically different worldview of the ardently religious Christian women and the group of secular Jewish activists, they bonded. The pioneers found a safe refuge and worked in the fields side by side with the nuns and called Anna „Ima” – mum in Hebrew.

Abba Kovner, the leader of Hashomer Hatzair and leaders of the movements „Escape” (Bricha) and „The Avengers” (Ha`nakam) – that advocated an uprising against the Nazis –  were also members of the group. In the convent Kovner coined his famous phrase (1942) – “Let us not go like lambs to the slaughter”. When Kovner understood that the murder of Jews was not accidental but systematic and formed part of the Nazi plan to annihilate European Jewry, the pioneers decided to leave the convent and return to the ghetto in order to set up a resistance movement there. Anna Borkowska tried to talk them out of it but in vain. Later on, she tried to get through to them in the ghetto because as she said:  “God resides in the ghetto as well”. They told her not to try to get into the ghetto but, nevertheless, she tried to help and smuggled grenades and weapons.

In September 1943, she was arrested by the Nazis who suspected her, but, fortunately, she survived. The group of pioneers immigrated to Israel right after the war and the contact between them and Anna was not reestablished until 1984 when she was already 84 years old. That very year Yad Vashem awarded Anna Borkowska and the 6 nuns from the convent the title of Righteous Among the Nations. Abba Kovner planted a tree in her honor in the Avenue of the Righteous on the Mount of Remembrance in Jerusalem and then went to Warsaw to personally award her the title and when she asked why the honor he said; “You are Anna of the Angels. In those days when angels turned their faces away from us, you were for us Anna of the Angels but not as we imagine them, but those who build our life forever” .