In March 1944, Józef and Wiktoria Ulma were summarily executed by German policemen along with their children for the crime of having hidden Jews from the Nazi exterminators. This week, the Polish Church has completed its documentation process for their beatification and has forwarded their names to the Vatican for sainthood.
Józef and Wiktoria Ulma, a husband and wife in the village of Markowa in German-occupied Poland, sheltered the six members of the Szall family, and two girls from the Goldman family. In March 1944, German police arrived, having been tipped off by a local constable who had taken over the Szall family’s property, and wanted to make sure it stayed in his hands. The Germans found the hideaways and ordered them outside, where they gathered local villagers to witness the next events. The policemen shot the six Jewish children and two adults. They then shot Victoria, who was nine months pregnant, before her husband’s eyes, and went on to murder Józef himself, and lastly the couple’s six little children: Stanislawa, Barbara, Wladyslawa, Franciszka, Antoni, and Maria.
The summary executions had their effect in terrorizing the local population, and in the following days some 24 corpses of other Jews were found in the surrounding fields, having been murdered by the same Polish citizens that had hidden them for the past two years, but were now too terrified for their childrens’ lives to cope any longer. The Ulmas were hastily buried in a muddy grave at the site.
The story of the Ulma family was not spoken of during the Communist regime, but with its demise things changed. As Poland began dealing with its long-suppressed memory of the Holocaust, their story came out again. Today, their names are well known throughout Poland.
In 1995, Yad Vashem recognized their heroic actions and awarded them the title of Righteous Among the Nations, its highest award. Eight years ago, the church in Poland began their beatification process.
As martyrs to their faith, the church did not look for evidence of miracles in the case of the Ulma family, but instead at the facts of their actions and their deaths. Because the Germans had ordered local citizens to witness the awful events, there was no lack of eye witnesses ready to testify to the Ulma family’s martyrdom. In addition, scriptures found in their home testified to the deep beliefs that brought about their courageous act.
Beatification is a title that the Church wants to grant in honor of the heroes who died for the sake of their faith. "They serve as an inspiration for generations," said Bishop John Bernard Szlaga, Bishop of Pelplin, on the occasion of completion the beatification process in Poland. It is expected that the Roman phase will take about three years.
In the meantime, the graves of the Ulma family tell their own story. They are immaculate and always have fresh flowers on them, a testament to the appreciation and respect that their selfless actions instill in others today. The graves also reveal another horror - when the bodies of the family were moved here from the temporary graves dug after the execution, it was discovered that Victoria’s seventh child had been born in the grave, labor apparently having began at the time of her murder. This child, too, is included in the beautification request.
The annual Ulma family anniversary in Markowa is always a special day. Now, in addition to flowers at a monument commemorating them, local residents say they will also be praying for their swift beatification.
Interview with Stanislaw Niemczakiem, Victoria's nephew (in Polish): http://www.naszdziennik.pl/index.php?dat=20110524&typ=wi&id=wi05.txt
Photo of Victoria Ulma with her children from http://newsaints.faithweb.com/martyrs/Nazis3.htm