Beatification of the Ulma family of Poland

Ulma Family of Poland: Wiktoria Ulma and child
Wiktoria Ulma with one of her children. Credit: Father Witold Burda, postulator for the Ulma family.

Beatification of the martyred Ulma family of Poland will take place on September 10, 2023, in Markowa, Poland. The Ulma family harbored eight Jews for more than a year under German occupation. In 1944, German police murdered the entire family, and everyone in hiding, as punishment for aiding Jews. It is the first time an entire family will be beatified, and the first time children, including an unborn child, will be beatified.

The implications of both issues are far-reaching. So, who were the Ulmas?

Who were the Ulma Family?

The Ulma Family of Poland
Photo by Józef Ulma. Public domain.

Józef Ulma was a farmer in the small town of Markowa in eastern Poland, with a passion for photography. His wife Wiktoria stayed busy tending the house and raising their six young children. Both were active in their community and their church. They were known for being “willing to help anyone who knocked on their door.”

In the first half of 1942, the Ulmas, like other residents of Markowa, witnessed the execution of the Jews in their small town. Some were shot on the spot. The majority of them were deported and murdered in the German Bełżec extermination camp approximately 100 km to the East.

In the fall of 1942, Saul Goldman and his four sons came to Markowa to find shelter. When they knocked on the Ulmas’ door Józef and Wiktoria agreed to hide them.

In Poland, the penalty for helping Jews was death 

The Nazis imposed the most severe penalty on Poles for helping Jews than in any other occupied country. Anyone who aided a Jew in any way would be executed along with their entire family. Given the grave personal risk, it is especially commendable that more Poles than in any other country harbored and assisted Jews. At the same time, millions of Poles were deported to either Germany or Russia and left homeless. As of today, Yad Vashem in Israel has recognized 7,232 Poles as Righteous Among The Nations.

Per the National Institute for Remembrance in Poland, the exact number of those who gave aid may never be known. After the war, no research on this subject was carried out so they are unable to identify the majority of the names of those who rescued Jews. They have about 10,000 names in their database. Some estimate as many as 300,000 Polish people assisted or sheltered Jews in other ways.

“But a Samaritan, as he traveled, came where the man was; and when he saw him, he took pity on him…Then he put the man on his own donkey, brought him to an inn and took care of him.” Luke 10:33-34

Following the Good Samaritan

Ulma Family child
Marysia Ulma (Source: Center for Patriotic and Civic Thought (OMPiO), Kielce)
Ulma Family with Szall brothers
Ulma Family with the Szall brothers

Saul Goldman and his four sons became referred to as the Szall family. The Ulmas also took in two daughters and a granddaughter of Chaim Goldman from Markowa. The Jews slept in the attic of the Ulma home. Unlike other stories of hidden Jews, those at the Ulmas’ came out during the day to help with the farm work. The Ulma farm was on the outskirts of town, and, they hoped, far away from the German occupation. Józef even snapped a photo of three of the brothers working on the farm. It didn’t take long for neighbors to take notice.

A fellow Pole reported them to the German police.

On the morning of March 24, 1944, German police surrounded the home. Thanks to the informant they knew exactly who and what they were looking for. Even worse, along with the five Nazi soldiers, several members of the Polish police participated in what came next.

First, they shot all eight people in hiding. With the children screaming, the Germans then shot both Józef and Wiktoria in front of their children. Wiktoria was eight months pregnant. Then they murdered all the Ulma children: Stanisława, age 8, Barbara, age 7, Władysław, age 6, Franciszek, age 4, Antoni, age 3, and Maria (Marysia), age 2. It was later discovered that Wiktoria went into labor that morning and her baby was half-born when she was shot. Including their unborn baby, seventeen souls lost their lives that day.

The murders sent a chilling message to the surrounding community, especially other Polish families hiding Jews. It led to disastrous consequences for others in hiding. But that is a different story, that only underscores the sacrifice of the Ulma Family.

The Symbolism of the Ulma Family’s Sacrifice

Per Yad Vashem in Israel, “The murder of the Ulma family…an entire family that was killed together with the Jews they were hiding…has become a symbol of Polish sacrifice and martyrdom during the German occupation.”

Rabbi Michael Schudrich, Poland’s head rabbi, plans to attend the beatification Mass. Per the Rabbi, “We should care that the Jewish world knows about the Ulmas. It is our responsibility and our duty…the Ulmas are a model of humanity.”

“And so we must know these good people who helped Jews during the Holocaust. We must learn from them, and in gratitude and hope, we must remember them.” – Elie Wiesel

Honors and Recognition

On September 13, 1995, Yad Vashem recognized Józef Ulma and his wife, Wiktoria Ulma, as Righteous Among the Nations.

In 2016, a museum bearing the Ulmas’ name opened in Markowa. The Ulma Family Museum of Poles Saving Jews in World War II is devoted to all Poles who rescued Jews during the Holocaust.

In 2018, President Andrzej Duda of Poland designated March 24  as “Poles Who Rescued Jews Under German Occupation Remembrance Day.”

On December 17, 2022, Pope Francis approved the decree on the martyrdom of the Ulma family.

On September 10, 2023, the Ulma Family will be beatified at a ceremony in Markowa, Poland. In the Roman Catholic Church, beatification declares a deceased person “Blessed” and worthy of limited public veneration.  The word itself stems from the Latin word beatus, meaning “blessed” and facere, “to make.” For beatification, the Vatican requires proof of a miracle attributed to the candidate’s intercession, unless the candidate was martyred for his or her faith.

For more information:

The Ulma Family Museum of Poles Saving Jews in World War II

Yad Vashem: Józef and Wiktoria Ulma

In friendship,

Meme - Katrina sitting on a pile of books

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Tags: Holocaust, Jewish History, Notable Poles, Poland, Polish History, World War II - Europe

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