Vatican beatifies Polish family killed for hiding Jews during WWII

On behalf of the pope, the apostolic letter was read out by Cardinal Marcello Semeraro. Darek Delmanowicz/PAP

Pope Francis has beatified the Polish Ulma family, including parents and their small children, who were all executed in 1944 for having sheltered Jews during World War II

It was the first time when an entire family had been beatified together, including the child carried in the mother's womb at the time of her death.

A beatification service for the Ulma family was held in Markowa, south-eastern Poland, on Sunday.

Early on March 24, 1944, a Nazi patrol surrounded their home in Markowa, where Wiktoria and Jozef had been hiding eight Jews. For this they were executed together with their six children and the Jewish fugitives. At the time of her execution, Wiktoria Ulma was eight months pregnant, her eldest daughter was eight years old.

Poland was the only country during WWII where Nazi Germans punished any form of assisting Jews by killing the helpers and their families.

Papal envoy Cardinal Marcello Semeraro, who presided over the beatification mass, said in a homily that the example of the Ulma family should encourage people to respond to a 'culture of rejection,' which was also condemned by the pope, and to teach them openness to others, especially those in need.

Having expressed his gratitude for the beatification, President Andrzej Duda said that, apart from its religious significance, it had also another extremely important dimension as it showed historical truth about the times of the Nazi German occupation of the territory of Poland during WWII and about criminal German laws which "had become the cause of this terrible crime committed on the Polish family."

"Poland, divided by two totalitarian regimes, was removed from the map," the president said, adding that "there had been no Polish authorities collaborating with Nazi Germany on the territory of Poland."

Present at the beatification ceremony were Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki, Ruling Law and Justice (PiS) party leader and deputy Prime Minister Jarosław Kaczyński, government officials, Poland's chief Rabbi Michael Schudrich, parliamentarians, diplomats and thousands of Poles.

During his Sunday Angelus address, Pope Francis said in the Vatican that the Ulma family had been a ray of light during World War II, and that it should be an example to be followed in efforts to do good and serve those who were in need.

In 1995, Józef and Wiktoria were posthumously awarded with the title of Righteous Among the Nations. The medals are awarded by the Jerusalem-based Yad Vashem Institute to individuals and families who risked their own lives and the lives of their loved ones to rescue Jews from the Holocaust. In 2010, late President Lech Kaczynski distinguished them with the Commander's Cross of the Polonia Restituta Order.

The Ulma Family Museum of Poles Saving Jews opened in the village of Markowa on March 17, 2016.

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