Józef and Wiktoria Ulma along with their seven children (one of them a seven-month preborn child) were brutally murdered one early morning before Easter in 1944. Their “crime”, which was punished with death in Poland, was the hiding of Jewish people from the Nazi occupiers.
The Ulmas were respected farmers near the town of Markowa in southeastern Poland. A pious Catholic family, they were known to be especially generous to those in need and never turned the needy away from their farm.
But a Samaritan, as he journeyed, came to where he was, and when he saw him, he had compassion. He went to him and bound up his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he set him on his own animal and brought him to an inn and took care of him.Luke 10:33-34
Józef Ulma was something of a renaissance man, having great expertise in the cultivation of fruit trees and the keeping of bees, but also running a book coop, using a windmill to generate electricity for his home (the first in his region), and most importantly for historical purposes, delighting in photographing his family.
When Nazi forces occupied Poland and began enslaving and murdering polish Jews, some brave families like the Ulmas risked their lives to give the persecuted families shelter. By March of 1944, the Ulmas had successfully hidden eight members of the Szall and Goldman families for almost two years when a local policeman turned them in to the Nazis.
After an early morning raid, the eight Jews were rounded up and summarily murdered. Then Józef and Wiktoria (who was seven months pregnant) were shot. After witnessing the murder of their Jewish guests and parents, the screaming children were also executed. The children’s names were: Stanisława, age 8, Barbara, 7, Władysław, 6, Franciszek, 4, Antoni, 3, Maria, 2, and a baby who was only weeks away from birth.
After the brutal murders, the Nazis and their collaborators ransacked Józef’s workshop and proceeded to get drunk on site.
Righteous Among the Nations
In 1995, Israel gave the Ulma family the honorific title of Righteous Among the Nations, a special honor given to recognize non-Jews who risked their lives to protect Jews during the holocaust.
Of the 28,217 individuals officially honored by Israel as Righteous Among the Nations, the largest number of them, 7,232 were polish. Jósef and Wiktoria are listed, but the Ulma children are not.
Martyrdom and Sainthood
The cause for the Ulma’s sainthood was officially begun in 2003 and in 2022 the Vatican confirmed the martyrdom of the Ulma family, including their unborn child, clearing the way for all nine members of the Ulma family to be beatified.
In 2021, during a homily for a Mass commemorating the martyrdom of the Ulma family, Fr. Witold Burda, postulator of the causes, praised Józef and Wiktoria as a model for Christians.
The Ulmas put God’s law in the first place every day. The smile of the children in the photos touches me. These children felt safe, loved by mom and dad.Fr. Burda speaking of the Ulma family during a homily as reported on CatholicNewsAgency.com
In the Catholic tradition, the path to sainthood begins when a “cause” is officially accepted by the Vatican after initial reports of the candidate’s holiness and intercessory prayer are confirmed. At that point the candidates are considered “Servants of God.”
The second step involves determining if the candidate(s) either lived a life of extraordinary and heroic virtue or were martyred.
The candidates must either be attributed a miraculous intercession or have been confirmed to be martyrs, in which case the requirement for a confirmed miracle is waived.
Just last week, the Archdioceses of Przemysl in Poland announced that Pope Francis has decreed that the beatification of the Ulmas will take place Sept. 10 in the Ulma’s home town of Markowa.
After this point, one officially confirmed miracle will be required for the Ulmas to be recognized as saints, or canonized.
This case marks the very first time in history that an unborn child is on the path to sainthood.
In this particular case there was debate as to the question of whether the preborn baby, not yet being baptized, could be beatified. However, as one of the founders of the Ulma Family Museum, Mateusz Szpytma, told OSV News, the question of the baptism of the preborn child was resolved by the ecclesiastical authorities because in this case “the little one was baptized not by water, but by blood.”