In an unprecedented move, the Vatican on Sunday beatified a Polish family of nine – a couple and their young children – who were executed by the Nazis during World War II for providing refuge to Jews.
During a solemn mass in the village of Markowa in southeastern Poland, papal envoy Cardinal Marcello Semeraro read out the Latin formula for the beatification of the Ulma family, signed by Pope Francis last month.
A contemporary painting depicting Jozef and the pregnant Wiktoria Ulma with their children was unveiled near the altar. A procession brought relics from her grave to the altar. It is the first time that an entire family has been beatified.
At the Vatican, Pope Francis said in an address to the public from a window in St. Peter’s Square that the Ulmas represented “a ray of light in the darkness” of war and should be an example for all in “doing good and in… to be in service.” of the needy.”
The pope then invited the crowd below to applaud the family and clapped his hands. The people gathered in Markowa watched Francis’ speech on huge screens next to the altar.
Last year, Francis declared the deeply Catholic Ulma family, including the child Wiktoria Ulma was pregnant with, martyrs for the faith. The Ulmas were killed at home by German Nazi troops and the Nazi-controlled local police in the early hours of March 24, 1944, along with the eight Jews they had hidden in their home after apparently being 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; her daughters Stanislawa, 7; Barbara, 6; Maria, 18 months; and sons Wladyslaw, 5; Franciszek, 3; and Antoni, 2.
With them were killed 70-year-old Saul Goldman with his sons Baruch, Mechel, Joachim and Mojzesz, as well as Golda Grunfeld and her sister Lea Didner with her little daughter Reszla, as the Polish state Institute for National Remembrance (IPN) announced the history of the Ulmas meticulously documented.
The order was given by Lieutenant Eilert Dieken, head of the regional Nazi military police. After the war he served with the police in Germany. Only one of his subordinates, Josef Kokott, was convicted of the murders in Poland and died in prison in 1980. The suspected traitor was Wlodzimierz Les, a member of the Nazi-controlled local police force. According to IPN, the Polish war resistance sentenced him to death and executed him in September 1944.
The Catholic Church faced a dilemma when it beatified and martyred Victoria’s unborn child because, among other things, he had not been baptized, a requirement for beatification.
The Vatican Dicastery for the Causes of Saints issued a clarification saying the child was actually born during the horrific murders and received the “baptism of blood” of his mother, who was martyred.
The clarification was issued Sept. 5 by Cardinal Semeraro, prefect of the Vatican’s canonization office.
The celebration in Markowa was attended by Polish President Andrzej Duda, ruling party leader Jaroslaw Kaczynski and Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki, as well as Poland’s Chief Rabbi Michael Schudrich, and thousands of pilgrims came from all over Poland to take part.
Poland’s conservative ruling party has emphasized family values as well as the heroism of Poles during the war, and the beatification ceremony was a welcome addition to its intense political campaign ahead of the Oct. 15 parliamentary election, in which the Law and Justice party won a victory wants unprecedented third term.
After the mass, Duda, the ruling party’s ally, thanked Francis for the beatification of the Ulmas. He also stressed that the ceremony also had a political dimension because it expressed “the truth about the Nazi German occupation” of Poland during the war. The Polish government is demanding reparations from Germany for war damage, but Berlin says the matter is closed.
Ulma’s beatification raises several new theological concepts about the Catholic Church’s ideas of saints and martyrs, which also have implications for the pro-life movement because of the baby in the womb, said the Rev. Robert Gahl, a professor of ethics at the Catholic Church Church University of America and the Pontifical University of the Holy Cross in Rome.
Perhaps because the concept of “beatification of a fetus” could be weaponized by the pro-life movement, the Vatican apparently found it necessary to state that the child was “born” at the time of the mother’s execution.
In determining that the child was actually born, the Vatican also confirmed that the killers wanted to kill the child out of hatred for the faith, a requirement for a martyrdom and beatification declaration, Gahl told The Associated Press.
After the beatification, a miracle attributed to the intercession of the Ulmas would be necessary for her eventual canonization, as the Church’s canonization process is called.
Israel’s Yad Vashem Institute recognized the Ulmas in 1995 as Righteous Among the Nations who lost their lives trying to save Jews during the Holocaust.
In Poland they are a symbol of the courage of thousands of Poles who took the greatest risk to help Jews. The Nazi decree made any assistance to Jews punishable by immediate execution. In 2016, a museum showing how Poles saved Jews during World War II was opened in Markowa.
Poland was the first country to be invaded by Nazi Germany on September 1, 1939. About 6 million of its citizens were killed during the war, half of them Jews.