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Ulma family beatified on a ‘day of joy’ in Poland

A portrait of the Ulma family was unveiled at their beatification Mass on Sept. 10, 2023, in Markowa, Poland./ Credit: Polish Bishops Conference

On a “day of joy” in Poland, the Catholic Church on Sunday for the first time beatified an entire family at once: Jozef and Wiktoria Ulma and their seven children, who were martyred during World War II for sheltering two Jewish families from the Nazis.

“It would be misleading if the day of the beatification of the Ulma family served only to bring back to memory the terror of the atrocities perpetrated by their executioners, on whom, by the way, the judgment of history already weighs heavily,” Cardinal Marcello Semeraro, prefect of the Dicastery for the Causes of Saints, said Sept. 10 in his homily at a beatification Mass attended by some 30,000 people in the family’s village of Markowa in southeastern Poland.

“Instead,” the cardinal continued, “we want today to be a day of joy, because the page of the Gospel written on paper has become for us a lived reality, which shines brightly in the Christian witness of the Ulma couple and in the martyrdom of the new Blesseds.”

Cardinal Marcello Semeraro, prefect of the Dicastery for the Causes of Saints, on Sept. 10, 2023, in Markowa, in southeastern Poland, at the beatification Mass for the Ulma family, who were executed for sheltering Jews during World War II. Credit: Polish Bishops Conference

Operation “Reinhardt,” a program aimed at murdering all of the Jews in Germany-occupied Poland, began to be implemented in the Ulma family’s area of Poland in late July and early August 1942.

The Nazis began to deport the roughly 120 Jews in the Markowa area to a labor camp and extermination camp. Approximately 54 Jews in hiding were found and shot on Dec. 14, 1942. An additional 29 Jews continued to hide in Markowa, including the eight who found refuge with the Ulma family.

Early on March 24, 1944, a Nazi patrol surrounded the home of Józef and Wiktoria Ulma on the outskirts of Markowa. They discovered the Jewish people hiding on the Ulma farm and executed them.

The Nazi police then killed 31-year-old Wiktoria, who was pregnant and in premature labor, and 44-year-old Józef outside their home.

An additional order sealed the fate of the remaining family members: “Kill the children, too.”

Stanisława, 7; Barbara, 6; Władysław, 5; Franciszek, almost 4; Antoni, 2; and Maria, 1, were executed.

The family grave of the Ulma family is pictured in Markowa, Poland, on Sept. 10, 2023, during the beatification of the Ulma family. Credit: Bartosz Siedlik/AFP via Getty Images

The seventh Ulma child to die was the couple’s unnamed son, who was in the process of being born. The boy had been incorrectly described in some news reports as the first unborn child to be beatified, a key detail that the Vatican recently clarified. Though there was no time to baptize the child, what transpired instead was what the Church calls a “baptism of blood.”

In his reflections on Sunday, Cardinal Semeraro also made a point to honor the memory of the Ulmas’ Jewish friends who also were killed that day.

Poland’s chief rabbi, Michael Schudrich, at the beatification Mass for the Ulma family in Markowa, Poland, on Sept. 10, 2023. Credit: Polish Bishops Conference

“Today, together with the new Blesseds, we also want to remember their names," he said. They were: Saul Goldman with his sons Baruch, Mechel, Joachim, and Mojżesz, as well as Gołda Grünfeld and her sister Lea Didner, together with her young daughter Reszla. Among those at the beatification ceremony Sunday was Poland’s chief rabbi, Michael Schudrich.

Beatification in the Catholic Church is one step before canonization, when a person recognized for special holiness is officially declared to be a saint. Those beatified receive the title “Blessed” and may receive public veneration at the local or regional level, usually restricted to those dioceses or religious institutes closely associated with the person’s life.

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