Józef and Wiktoria Ulma, a Polish husband and wife, living in Markowa near Rzeszów in south-eastern Poland during the Nazi German occupation in World War II, were the Righteous who attempted to rescue Polish Jewish families by hiding them in their own home during the Holocaust. They and their children were summarily executed for doing so, like thousands of their Roman Catholic countrymen, along with the Jews they were hiding.
The rescuers and the rescued
At the onset of World War II, Józef Ulma (born in 1900) was a prominent citizen in the village of Markowa: a librarian, a photographer, active in social life and the local Catholic Youth Association. He was an educated fruit grower and a bee-keeper. His wife Wiktoria née Niemczak (born in 1912), was a homemaker. The Ulmas had six children: Stanisława, age 8, Barbara, age 7, Władysław, age 6, Franciszek, age 4, Antoni, age 3 and Maria, age 2. Another child was due to be born just days after the family's summary execution in 1944.
A year and a half earlier, in the summer and autumn of 1942, the Nazi military police deported several Jewish families of Markowa to their deaths as part of the German Final solution to the Jewish question. Only those who were hidden in Polish peasants' homes survived. Eight Jews found shelter with the Ulmas: six members of the Szall (Szali) family from Łańcut including father, mother and four sons, as well as the two daughters of Chaim Goldman, Golda and Layka. Józef Ulma put all eight Jews in the attic. They learned to help him with supplementary jobs while in hiding, to ease the incurred expenses.
Punished by death
On early morning of March 24, 1944 a patrol of German police from Łańcut under Lieutenant Eilert Dieken came to the Ulmas house which was at the end on the village. They were informed ahead of time about the Jews in hiding by Włodzimierz Leś – an ethnic Ukrainian police constable – who knew the Szall family from Łańcut and who took over their property there. The Germans surrounded the house and caught all eight Jews belonging to the Szall and Goldman families. They shot them in the back of the head – as told by the eye-witness Edward Nawojski and others, who were ordered to look at the executions. Then the German gendarmes killed the pregnant Wiktoria and her husband, so that the villagers would see what punishment awaited them for hiding Jews. The six children began to scream at the sight of their parents' bodies. After consulting with his superior, 23 year old Joseph (Jan) Kokott, a Czech Volksdeutsche from Sudetenland serving with the German police, shot three or four of them. Within several minutes 17 people were killed. The names of the other Nazi executioners are also known due to their frequent presence in the village. They were: Eilert Dieken, Michael Dziewulski and Erich Wilde. The village Vogt (Polish language: Wójt ) Teofil Kielar was ordered to bury the victims with the help from other witnesses. He asked the German commander whom he had known from prior inspections and food acquisitions, why the children were also killed. Dieken answered in German, 'So that you would not have any problems with them.' On January 11, 1945, in defiance of the Nazi prohibition, the closest family of Ulmas exhumed the bodies to bury them in the cemetery, and found out that Wiktoria's seventh child was almost born in the grave pit of its parents.
On September 13, 1995, Józef and Wiktoria Ulma were posthumously bestowed the titles of Righteous Among the Nations by Yad Vashem. Their medals of honor were presented to Józef's surviving brother, Władysław Ulma. Their certificate informs that they tried to save Jews at the risk of their lives, but fails to mention that they died for them, as noted in the book Godni synowie naszej Ojczyzny.
On the 60th anniversary of their execution, a stone memorial was erected in the village of Markowa to honor the memory of Ulma family. The inscription on the monument reads:
Saving the lives of others they laid down their own lives. Hiding eight elder brothers in faith, they were killed with them. May their sacrifice be a call for respect and love to every human being! They were the sons and daughters of this land; they will remain in our hearts.
At the unveiling of the monument, the Archbishop of Przemyśl, Jozef Michalik – the President of the Polish Bishops' Conference – celebrated a solemn Mass.
The local diocesan level of the Roman Catholic Church in Poland initiated the Ulmas beatification process in 2003. The Vatican Secretary of State Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone spoke of the heroic Polish family at the Roman Capitol on 24 January 2007 during the inauguration of the Italian edition of Martin Gilbert's book I giusti. Gli eroi sconosciuti dell'Olocausto (The Righteous. Unknown Heroes of the Holocaust). On 24 March 2007 – 63 years after the families of Ulma, Szall and Goldman were massacred – there were special commemorations held in Markowa. Mass was celebrated, followed by the Way of the Cross in the intention of the Servant of God the Ulma family's beatification. Among the guests was the President of the Council of Kraków, who put flowers at the monument to the dead. The students of the local high-school presented their own interpretation of the Ulmas' family decision to hide Jews in a short performance entitled 'Eight Beatitudes'. There was also an evening of poetry dedicated to the memory of the murdered. Older neighbors and relatives who knew them spoke about the life of the Ulmas. One historian from the Institute of National Remembrance presented archival documents; and, the Catholic diocesan postulator explained the requirements of the beatification process. On May 24, 2011, the completed documentation of their martyrdom was passed on to Rome for completion of the beautification process.
A new Polish national holiday has been proposed by brother of the late Polish President, ex–Prime Minister Jarosław Kaczyński, that would be named after the very family.
Notes and references
- Mateusz Szpytma, The Righteous and their world. Markowa through the lens of Józef Ulma, Institute of National Remembrance, Poland. Due to occasional downtime of the IPN server, please see the machine translation of Mateusz Szpytma's article in Polish made available by Google Translator.
- (Polish) Instytut Pamięci Narodowej, Wystawa „Sprawiedliwi wśród Narodów Świata”– 15 czerwca 2004 r., Rzeszów. "Polacy pomagali Żydom podczas wojny, choć groziła za to kara śmierci – o tym wie większość z nas." (Exhibition "Righteous among the Nations." Rzeszów, June 15, 2004. Subtitled: "The Poles were helping Jews during the war - most of us already know that.") Last actualization November 8, 2008.
- (Polish) Teresa Tyszkiewicza, "Rodzina Ulmów. Miłość silniejsza niż strach" Bibliography: M. Szpytma: "Żydzi i ofiara rodziny Ulmów z Markowej podczas okupacji niemieckiej" in W gminie Markowa, vol. 2, Markowa 2004, p. 35; M. Szpytma, J. Szarek: Sprawiedliwi wśród narodów świata, Kraków 2007.
- Wlodzimierz Redzioch, interview with Mateusz Szpytma, historian from the Institute of National Remembrance: "They gave up their lives", Tygodnik Niedziela weekly, 16/2007, Editor-in-chief: Fr Ireneusz Skubis Częstochowa, Poland
- Anna Poray, Józef and Wiktoria Ulma at "Those Who Risked Their Lives"
- Jolanta Chodorska, Alicja Augustyniak, Godni synowie naszej Ojczyzny, Wyd. Sióstr Loretanek (publishing), 2002, Warsaw. ISBN 83-7257-102-3.
- Joe Riesenbach, "The Story of Survival". Footnote by Richard Tyndorf
- Anna Poray, "Polish Righteous, Those Who Risked Their Lives" 2004.
- The Righteous and their world. Markowa through the lens of Józef Ulma, by Mateusz Szpytma, Institute of National Remembrance, Poland
- Gisele Hildebrandt, Otto Adamski. "Markowa" Dorfimfersuchungen in dem alten deutsch-ukrainischen Grenzbereich von Landshuf. 1943. Kraków.
- (Polish) Interview with the President of the Committee for the Monument in Markowa
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