The Ulma family: seven martyrs of the Christian faith

On December 17, Pope Francis approved a decree on the martyrdom, in defense of the faith, of the seven members of the Polish Ulma family in the town of Markowa. The parents, Jozef and Wiktoria, gave hiding place to a persecuted Jewish family, and for that reason they were killed together with their children: six minors and the one Wiktoria, pregnant, was carrying in her womb.

Ignacy Soler-December 20, 2022-Reading time: 4 minutes
Józef and Wiktoria Ulma

Photo: Józef Ulma and Wiktoria with their children and relatives ©CNS photo courtesy National Remembrance Institute

On March 24, 1944 at about 5:00 a.m. in Markowa, near the Ukraine, German gendarmes murdered eight Jews and Józef Ulma, who was hiding them, together with his wife Wiktoria, who was in her last month of pregnancy, and their six children.

After Hitler's decision to carry out the inhumane "final solution" of extermination of all Jews, the Ulma, aware of the risk and in spite of their economic straits, but moved by the commandment of love and the example of the Good Samaritan, helped the Jews.

As early as the second half of 1942 they hid Saul Goldman with his four adult children, and also Lea Didler and Gołda Grünfeld with their infant daughter. The Goldmans were neighbors of the family home of Józef Ulma, who was known for his kindness towards Jews. Earlier, he helped another Jewish family build a hiding place.

The Ulma family also witnessed how in 1942, in the neighboring plot where animals were buried, the Nazis shot 34 Jews from Markowa and the surrounding area. Among the more than 4,000 inhabitants of Markowa, the Ulmas were not the only family to hide Jews. At least 20 other Jews survived the occupation in five peasant homes.

Before World War II, about 120 Jews lived in Markowa. In 1995, Wiktoria and Józef Ulma were posthumously honored with the title of Righteous Among the Nations.

Józef Ulma was born on March 2, 1900 in Markowa, he was the seventh child of Marcin Ulma and Franciszka Kluz. First, he completed four classes of elementary school and then, after military service, he graduated with a final award from the agricultural school in Pilzno. In 1935, Józef married Wiktoria Niemczak, also from Markowa.

Wiktoria was born on December 10, 1912. At the age of 6 she lost her mother. She studied at a public school in Markowa. She also attended courses at the People's University in nearby Gać. After her marriage she devoted herself to working at home and caring for children.

In the nine years of marriage to the Ulma family six children were born: Stanisława (born July 18, 1936), Barbara (born October 6, 1937), Władysław (born December 5, 1938), Franciszek (born April 3, 1940), Antoni (born June 6, 1938, 1941) and Maria (born September 16, 1942). They brought them up in the spirit of Christian faith and love, teaching them love of work and respect for others. In the spring of 1944, Wiktoria was expecting another child.

Józef and Wiktoria were farmers on a small farm of several hectares that they owned, as is customary in Poland. Józef was an extremely hardworking and inventive man. In addition to growing vegetables, he was also involved in fruit growing, of which he was an active promoter in the village. He founded the first orchards and a fruit tree nursery, where he demonstrated gardening techniques every week.

He willingly offered advice and help, passing on his newly acquired knowledge to others. He knew beekeeping and kept a good number of hives. His innovation was also revealed in the fact that he was the first in the village to introduce electricity into his home, connecting a light bulb to a small hand-built windmill.

Józef had a lot of social initiative and actively participated in the affairs of the local community. He was a librarian in the Catholic Youth Club, an active member of the Union of Rural Youth of the Republic of Poland "Wici". He also managed the Marków dairy cooperative and was a member of the health cooperative in Markowa. His greatest passion was photography, an activity that was extremely rare in Polish villages at that time. He learned about photography from books. Wiktoria, on the other hand, was an actress in the amateur theater group of the Association of Rural Youth of the Republic of Poland "Wici".

Józef and Wiktoria were active members of the parish of St. Dorothea in Markowa. Their faith life was based on the two commandments: love of God and love of neighbor. Already as a teenager, Józef participated in the activities of the Mass Association of the Diocese of Przemyśl. He was also a member of the Catholic Youth Association. As spouses, they deepened their faith through family prayer and participation in the sacramental life of the Church. Both also belonged to the Sisterhood of the Living Rosary. For Józef and Wiktoria the Christian life of their children was the most important thing. They passed on to them a living faith in Christ and love for everyone without exception.

In a few minutes in the early morning of March 14, 1944, 17 innocents were murdered. Józef and Wiktoria died at the hands of gendarmes, staunch and ruthless guardians of the German Nazi system.

Along with them, their children and the Jews they had sheltered were also shot. The Ulmas' unborn child also died.

The entire Ulma family are martyrs, they gave a testimony of Christian life until they died. It is not easy to give one's life for fidelity to the Christian faith and to the evangelical commandment of love of neighbor, but it is even more difficult to risk and give the life of one's own family for love of God and neighbor. They succeeded, with God's grace.

La Brújula Newsletter Leave us your email and receive every week the latest news curated with a catholic point of view.
Banner advertising
Banner advertising