Vatican beatifies Polish family that sheltered Jews

After the massacre at the Ulmas' farmhouse, 24 Jews in the family's hometown of Markowa in southeast Poland were murdered by their Polish neighbors

Portraits of the Ulma family members at a museum in Markowa (photo: Darek Delmanowicz/PAP/dpa via DW)
Portraits of the Ulma family members at a museum in Markowa (photo: Darek Delmanowicz/PAP/dpa via DW)


The Vatican on Sunday, 10 September, for the first time beatified an entire family to honour it for giving shelter to Jews during World War II while Poland was under German occupation.

Jozef Ulma, 44, his pregnant wife Wiktoria, 31, and their children, all under 8 years of age, were killed by German police on 24 March 1944 after being betrayed to Nazi authorities for sheltering eight Jewish people in their attic. The eight Jews were also killed.

After the massacre at the Ulmas' farmhouse, 24 Jews in the family's hometown of Markowa in south-east Poland were murdered by their Polish neighbours.

The ceremony was held in Markowa, with more than 30,000 people in attendance, including a delegation from Israel. Poland's president Andrzej Duda along with the ruling party leader Jaroslaw Kaczynski and prime minister Mateusz Morawiecki attended.

Beatification, a term denoting that the Catholic Church considers that a deceased person has entered heaven and can intercede on behalf of people who pray in their name, is a key step on a possible path to sainthood in the Catholic Church.

For sainthood to be granted, a miracle would have to take place that can be attributed to the Ulmas' intercession.

Exceptional beatification

Sunday's move is also exceptional under Catholic dogma, as the couple's newborn seventh child — who partially came into the world during the murder of its mother — will be beatified though unbaptised, with baptism usually a prerequisite.

According to the Vatican's department for saints, the child underwent a "baptism of blood" through being born "at the time of the mother's martyrdom."

The usual criterium for beatification is for people to have performed a miracle, but martyrs are exempt.

'Righteous among the Nations'

Jozef and Wiktoria Ulma, both devout Catholics, have already been recognised by Israel as members of the 'Righteous among the Nations', an honour accorded to non-Jews who tried to save Jews from being killed during the Holocaust.

The family also has a museum dedicated to it in Markowa, while 24 March, the date of the killings, has been made a day of remembrance for Poles who saved or tried to save Jews while Poland was occupied by Germany.

Under Nazi rule, helping Jews was punishable by summary execution, which did not deter thousands of Poles from doing so at the risk of their lives. 

In addition to being a farmer, Jozef Ulma was a keen amateur photographer who documented family and village life.

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