The Ulma Family Beatification

In a first ever case for the Catholic Church, Pope Francis approved the beatification of an entire family, including their youngest - unborn - child. The Ulma family of South East Poland were shot by the Gestapo in March 1944, for sheltering Jews. Their actions nevertheless inspired others in their village of Markowa to follow their example, and the family have been revered in the region ever since.

Painting of the Ulma Family
Ulma Family. Photo: Piotr Tumidajski / Forum

The Polish Pope, John Paul II, reformed the process for beatification and canonisation, proclaiming more new saints in his reign than in the previous 500 years. The Ulmas were among 100 Polish WWII martyrs whose cause for beatification was submitted to the Vatican in 2003 – but the case of Józef, Wiktoria and their seven children was so unique that it was quickly separated from the rest.

The beatification of an unborn child – an unprecedented move – provides the Church with a powerful witness to the full personhood and dignity of every child, born or unborn. Although a martyr must usually assent to their own martyrdom, the Vatican explains that the Ulma family children all “shared in the operative faith of their parents.” Although unbaptised, the unborn child in Wiktoria’s womb received a ‘baptism of blood’ and thus may be considered for sainthood in the same way that the Holy Innocents massacred by Herod are now considered saints.

Beatification – which is the step before sainthood – usually requires a miracle to be attributed to the beatified person, but this requirement is dropped in the case of martyrs so the Vatican confirmed in 2022 that Józef, Wiktoria and all their children can be beatified at once and, as witnesses to their parents’ faith, are likely to become patrons for pro-life and family causes.

Although Józef and Wiktoria Ulma and their seven children “The Good Samaritans of Markowa” – were murdered on March 24th, 1944, they will be commemorated by Catholics on July 7th – the date of their wedding anniversary. Their beatification took place in Markowa on September 10th this year.

The Catholic Church is by no means the first to recognise the Ulmas’ great contribution to humanity. The anniversary of their murder – March 24th – now marks Poland’s national day of remembrance for Poles who helped Jews in WWII and a Museum in Markowa, opened in 2016, displays their family bible along with artefacts from thousands of other households which made similar efforts to hide Jews during the German occupation of Poland.

Israel bestowed upon Józef and Wiktoria Ulma the title of ‘Righteous Among the Nations’ in 1995, making sure that their legacy will also be remembered in the Holy Land.

Adam Starzynski

Political journalist with a special interest in the Three Seas region, Italy and Brazil

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