Polish family executed for hiding WWII Jews to be beatified at weekend
A Polish family executed by German police during World War II for hiding Jews in their farmhouse are to be beatified at the weekend.
With an estimated 34,000 people expected to attend the ceremony in Markowa on Sunday for Józef and Wiktoria Ulma and their seven children who were shot on March 24, 1944, this will be the first time that an entire family will be beatified together.
The Ulma family are an important symbol of German crimes against Poles who risked their lives to hide Jews during the Holocaust.
According to German law in occupied Poland, any Pole who helped Jews was sentenced to death. Poland was the only territory in occupied Europe to have such a severe punishment.
On March 24, 1944 at about 5 a.m. in Markowa near Łańcut, German military policemen murdered eight Jews from the Didner, Gruenfeld and Goldman families and the Ulma family who were hiding them: Józef Ulma, his wife Wiktoria, who was in the last month of her pregnancy, and their six young children.
From the end of 1942, the Germans regularly conducted round-ups of Jews in the area, either taking them to the extermination camp in Bełżec or killing them on the spot.
Wiktoria and Józef Ulma decided to help their neighbours and hid eight Jews on their farm at the end of 1942.
Józef Ulma also helped several other Jews build a shelter in a nearby ravine, where four women were hiding and were given food by Wiktoria Ulma. However, during the manhunt, these women were found and murdered by the Germans.
The Ulmas continued to hide Jews on their farm until spring 1944, when the Germans learned of the Ulmas' activities through a denunciation by Włodzimierz Leś, who had personal conflicts with one of the hiding Jews, Saul Goldman.
On the night of March 24, five German gendarmes and 'blue' policemen, including Leś, arrived at the Ulma farm and killed the Goldman brothers and Gołda Gruenfeld in their sleep.
The remaining Jews and the entire Ulma family were led outside. The Jews were killed first, followed by Józef and Wiktoria Ulma.
The Germans then debated what to do with the children, but ultimately decided to kill them as well.
The Germans forced several Poles to watch the execution and later held a drinking party at the farm, looting it in the process. The mayor of Markowa was called to bury the dead, and later reported the crime to the Polish underground.
Włodzimierz Leś was sentenced to death by the Polish underground and was shot on September 10, 1944.
In 1995, the Yad Vashem Institute in Jerusalem posthumously honoured Józef and Wiktoria Ulma with the title of Righteous Among the Nations.
Meanwhile, President Lech Kaczyński decorated the Ulmas in 2010 with the Commander's Cross of the Order of Polonia Restituta.
In 2016, a museum named after them was opened in Markowa, which is dedicated to all Poles who saved Jews during the Holocaust.
The Ulmas’ process of beatification began 19 years ago. In December last year the family were declared martyrs by the Pope.