In a First, Vatican Beatifies an Entire Family

Polish parents, children were killed by Nazi troops along with the Jews they were sheltering
By Newser Editors and Wire Services
Posted Sep 10, 2023 11:50 AM CDT
In a First, Vatican Beatifies an Entire Family
A crowd attends a Mass in Markowa Poland, in which the Vatican beatified the Ulma family.   (AP Photo)

In an unprecedented move, the Vatican on Sunday beatified a Polish family of nine—a married couple and their small children—who were executed by the Nazis during World War II for sheltering Jews. During a ceremonious Mass in the village of Markowa, in southeastern Poland, papal envoy Cardinal Marcello Semeraro read out the Latin formula of the beatification of the Ulma family signed last month by Pope Francis. In his homily, Semeraro noted that for their "gesture of hospitality and care, of mercy," the Ulmas "paid the highest price of martyrdom," the AP reports. It is the first time that an entire family has been beatified.

A contemporary painting representing Jozef and a pregnant Wiktoria Ulma with their children was revealed near the altar. A procession brought relics taken from their grave to the altar. At the Vatican, speaking to a crowd in St. Peter's Square, Pope Francis said the Ulmas "represented a ray of light in the darkness" of the war and should be a model for everyone in "doing good and in the service of those in need." The pope then joined in applauding the family. Those gathered in Markowa watched Francis' address on giant screens placed by the altar. Last year, Francis pronounced the Catholic Ulma family martyrs for the faith.

The Ulmas were killed at home by German Nazi troops and Nazi-controlled local police in the small hours of March 24, 1944, together with the eight Jews they were hiding at their home, after they were apparently betrayed. Jozef Ulma, 44, was a farmer, Catholic activist and amateur photographer who documented family and village life. He lived with his 31-year-old wife, Wiktoria; their daughters Stanislawa, 7; Barbara, 6; Maria, 18 months; and sons Wladyslaw, 5; Franciszek, 3; and Antoni, 2. Killed with them were 70-year-old Saul Goldman and his sons Baruch, Mechel, Joachim and Mojzesz, along with Golda Grunfeld, and her sister Lea Didner with her little daughter Reszla, according to Poland's state Institute of National Remembrance, which has meticulously documented the Ulmas' story, per the AP.

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The orders were given by Lt. Eilert Dieken, head of the regional Nazi military police. After the war he served in the police in Germany. Only one subordinate, Josef Kokott, was convicted in Poland in the killings, dying in prison in 1980. The suspected betrayer was Wlodzimierz Les, a member of the Nazi-controlled local police; Poland's wartime resistance sentenced him to death and executed him in September 1944. Polish President Andrzej Duda and Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki, as well as Poland's chief rabbi, Michael Schudrich, attended the celebration in Markowa, and thousands of pilgrims came from across Poland to take part. Poland was the first country invaded by Nazi Germany, on Sept. 1, 1939. Some 6 million of its citizens were killed during the war, half of them Jews.

(More beatification stories.)

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