POPE FRANCIS has approved the first ever beatification of an entire family, including an unborn child, eight decades after they were shot by the Gestapo in punishment for sheltering Jews in their Polish home.
Józef and Wiktoria Ulma and their seven children will be beatifiefd in their home town, Markowa, by the Prefect of the Dicastery for Saints’ Causes, Cardinal Marcello Semeraro, on 10 September.
“It will be an event without precedent — and I’m glad there has been so much media interest,” the Archbishop of Przemysl, Mgr Adam Szal, said: “This family can set an example and inspire our attitudes towards people needing help, towards everyday duties and towards our own children. They took in Jews, whereas we’ve taken in refugees — everything moves in the same direction.”
He told the Polish Catholic Information Agency that the beatification would affect “many Christian lives”, and that work would be done in the mean time to make the family, known as the “Good Samaritans of Markowa”, better known, as well as to highlight the “heroic attitude” of other church members who risked death by sheltering Jews during the Nazi occupation.
The Institute of National Remembrance, in Warsaw, said that a Gestapo team had raided the isolated farmhouse after a police tip-off, shooting the Jews who were hiding, and then turning their guns on the Ulmas and throwing their bodies in a ditch near by. Several village families had continued to help their Jewish neighbours, even after the brutal killings, enabling 17 to survive the Holocaust.
The postulator of their cause, Fr Witold Burda, said that Roman Catholic theology taught that the grace of baptism could be conferred by martyrdom, and that the unborn child of Wiktoria Ulma, who went into labour at the time of her death, had equal title to humanity, according to the Church’s 1965 Pastoral Constitution Gaudium et Spes.
Six million Jews were killed by the Nazis between 1939 and 1945 — half of them in German-occupied Poland, the only country in which helping Jews carried a mandatory death penalty.
The Ulma family, who were later reburied in Markowa’s Roman Catholic cemetery, were awarded posthumous “Righteous Among Nations” medals, in 1995, by the Yad Vashem Institute of Jerusalem.
A museum in memory of more than 6600 Poles similarly honoured, at least 1000 of whom were executed, was opened at Markowa in 2016 by President Andrzej Duda. It includes the Ulma family Bible and amateur photos, some bloodstained, taken by Jozef Ulma.