Polish Family Honored with Beatification for Sheltering Jews During WWII

A beatification Mass service was held in Poland to honor a Catholic family who were murdered by Nazis for hiding Jews during World War Two. This event marked the first time an entire family has been beatified, which is a significant step towards sainthood in the Catholic Church.

The family, consisting of farmers Jozef and Wiktoria Ulma and their six young children, bravely hid eight Jews in their farmhouse in the village of Markowa in south-eastern Poland. Their act of compassion and resistance against the Nazi regime ultimately led to their execution in 1944 when they were betrayed.

In occupied Poland, the penalty for aiding Jews was summary execution, unlike in Nazi-occupied western Europe. A Polish police officer is believed to have informed the Nazis about the Ulma family’s secret, leading to the tragic events. German gendarmes shot the Jews hiding in the attic and then brought the Ulma family outside, where Jozef and Wiktoria were shot in front of their young children. The children were subsequently killed as well.

Several months later, members of the Polish underground resistance executed the police officer responsible for betraying the Ulma family. The courage and sacrifice of the Ulmas were recognized by Israel’s Yad Vashem in 1995 when they were awarded the title “Righteous Among the Nations”. The beatification process began in 2003 and finally culminated in the recent Mass service.

The beatification Mass was attended by Poland’s president, over 30,000 pilgrims, and Pope Francis’ envoy, Cardinal Marcello Semeraro. Pope Francis addressed the event from the Vatican, describing the Ulma family as a “ray of light” during a dark period in history. President Andrzej Duda expressed gratitude to the Pope for the extraordinary beatification, highlighting its significance in revealing the historical truth about the German occupation of Poland.

Beatification is an important stage in the Roman Catholic Church that precedes canonization or sainthood. It signifies that the individuals being beatified are “blessed” and deserving of public veneration. The recognition of the Ulma family as blessed serves as a testament to their selflessness and heroism in the face of extreme danger.

Poland, home to Europe’s largest Jewish community in 1939, has seen numerous individuals recognized by Israel for aiding Jews during the war. However, it is important to acknowledge that while many Poles bravely helped their Jewish neighbors, some also cooperated with the Nazis and participated in acts of violence against Jews.

The beatification of the Ulma family has sparked controversy, with critics accusing the Polish government of attempting to rewrite history. Concerns have been raised that the government is selectively focusing on Polish suffering at the hands of the Nazis while suppressing research into cases of Poles who committed crimes against the Jewish population.

The beatification of the Ulma family serves as a powerful reminder of the courageous acts of resistance and compassion displayed during the darkest moments of human history. It is crucial to not only honor those who risked their lives to protect others but also to continue engaging with historical research and conversations that strive for a comprehensive understanding of the past.