In recognition of their benevolent act of sheltering Jews in south-eastern Poland during the atrocities of World War II, an entire Catholic family, who were gruesomely executed by the Nazis, has recently been honoured in a cherished beatification ceremony led by Pope Francis’ envoy. The Ulma Family, comprising farmers Jozef and Wiktoria Ulma along with their six children, have been bestowed a venerated place in the annals of Poland’s history, their martyrdom marked by a mass service attended by the country’s president, thirty thousand pilgrims, and a slew of dignitaries.
Unwavering in their Christian values, the Ulmas opened their humble farmhouse doors to shelter eight Jews during the brutality of German occupation. This act of faith and humanity, however, was met with tragic consequences when the family fell victim to Nazi execution in 1944. The circumstances surrounding their betrayal leading to this horrifying act are believed to involve a local Polish police officer, who reportedly alerted the Nazis about the Ulmas’ secret sanctuary. The informer himself was brought to justice several months later by members of the Polish underground resistance.
This landmark beatification is a prestigious accolade and a significant stride towards canonisation or sainthood. The event featured a live broadcast of Pope Francis addressing the Vatican, wherein he depicted the Ulmas as a “righteous ray of light”, encouraging the crowd to salute the family’s sacrifice. President Andrzej Duda, grateful to the pontiff, expressed his profound appreciation for uncovering these historical truths about Polish struggle under the yoke of German occupation.
In the decades following the war, Jozef and Wiktoria were acknowledged as “Righteous Among the Nations” by Israel’s Yad Vashem. The beatification process commenced in 2003., marking the beginning of a journey towards canonisation in the Roman Catholic Church. This state of being “blessed”, not only allowed for public veneration but also spotlighted their act of courage during a dark chapter in history.
With over 7000 honours, more than any other nationality, Poland was the beacon of hope for the largest Jewish community in Europe in 1939, though some individuals opted to engage in crimes against Jews under the barbarity of Nazi occupation. Despite these grim realities, the stories of families like the Ulmas provide a witness to humanity’s capacity for selfless love and courage in the face of unspeakable terror. The beatification was also attended by the Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki amidst allegations of historical revisionism centring Polish suffering and aid to Jews during the war.