Family killed by Nazis for sheltering Jews beatified by Catholic church

Jozef Ulma, his wife Wiktoria and their seven children were given one of Catholicism's highest honours


The family grave of family Ulma is pictured in Markowa on September 10, 2023 during the beatification of the Ulma family. A Polish couple and their seven children, murdered in 1944 by the Nazis for hiding Jews, were beatified in Poland, a first for an entire family in the Catholic Church. (Photo by BARTOSZ SIEDLIK / AFP) (Photo by BARTOSZ SIEDLIK/AFP via Getty Images)

A Polish family who were killed by Nazis during World War II for hiding Jews have been given one of Catholicism's highest honours.

Jozef Ulma, his wife Wiktoria and their seven children were beatified on Sunday, the first time an entire family was given the honour and a possible path to sainthood in the Catholic Church.

The ceremony in the family's hometown of Markowa, Poland was led by Papal envoy Cardinal Marcello Semeraro. 

On March 24, 1944, Nazi German police, acting on a tip-off, shot dead Jozef and his wife Wiktoria, who was seven months pregnant and partially gave birth during the execution.

Their children, Stanislawa, Barbara, Wladyslav, Franciszek, Antoni and Maria, aged between two and eight, were killed too, along with the eight Jews the family had been hiding in an attic in Markowa. 

The eight Jews were named as Shaul Goldmann and his five children, including his daughter Lea Didner and her five-year-old daughter, and Golda Gruenfeld.

Detailing the incident, the Vatican said police fired up into the attic from the floor below "and the blood of the victims began to drip from the ceiling... onto a photograph of two Jewish woman lying on a table below".

Jozef Ulma was a photographer and a farmer. Photographs he took that survive reveal the family's life through simple, everyday scenes.

Among the attendees of the ceremony were the Polish president and prime minister, bishops, priests, the country's chief rabbi and an Israeli delegation.

Pope Francis said: "May this Polish family, who represented a ray of light in the darkness of the Second World War, be for us all a model to imitate in the impulse of goodness, in the service of those in need.”

Reading a letter from Pope Francis, Cardinal Semeraro said during the ceremony: "We authorise that from now on the venerable Servants of God, Jozef and Wiktoria Ulma, spouses and their seven children... (who) fearlessly sacrificed their lives for the sake of love for their brothers and welcomed into their home those who suffered persecution, be given the title of blessed.”

During the ceremony, Ulmas' newborn seventh child also earned the title of 'blessed.'

The Vatican's department for saints said the child was eligible for beatification through the concept of "baptism of blood", having been born "at the time of the mother's martyrdom". Typically, people need to have performed a miracle to be eligible for beatification but martyrs are exempt.

Jozef and Wiktoria were recognised by Israel in 1995 as members of the "Righteous among the Nations", an honour for non-Jews who tried to save Jews from Nazi extermination.

The family also has a museum dedicated to it in Markowa and in 2018 Poland decreed March 24 - the date of the massacre - a day of remembrance for Poles who rescued Jews during the German occupation.

The family has been at the heart of the Polish government’s efforts to highlight the courage of thousands of Poles who helped Jews escape the Holocaust.

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