The Vatican beatifies a Polish family of 9 killed by the Nazis for sheltering Jews
Crowd attending a Mass in which the Vatican beatified Ulma family, including small children, who were killed by the Nazis in 19944 for having sheltered Jews, in the Ulmas' home village of Markowa Poland, on Sunday, September 10, 2023. Photo: AP News

WARSAW, Poland (AP) — In an unprecedented move, the Vatican on Sunday beatified a Polish family of nine — a married couple and their small children — who were executed by the Nazis during World War II for sheltering Jews.

During a ceremonious Mass in the village of Markowa, in southeastern Poland, papal envoy Cardinal Marcello Semeraro read out the Latin formula of the beatification of the Ulma family signed last month by Pope Francis.

In his homily Semeraro noted that for their “gesture of hospitality and care, of mercy” the Ulmas “paid the highest price of martyrdom.”

A contemporary painting representing Jozef and a pregnant Wiktoria Ulma with their children was revealed near the altar. A procession brought relics taken from their grave to the altar. It was the first time that an entire family has been beatified.

At the Vatican, speaking to the public from a window in St. Peter’s Square, Pope Francis said the Ulmas “represented a ray of light in the darkness” of the war and should be a model for everyone in “doing good and in the service of those in need.”

The pope then invited the crowd below to applaud the family, and he clapped his hands. Those gathered in Markowa watched Francis’ address on giant screens placed by the altar.

Last year, Francis pronounced the deeply Catholic Ulma family, including the child that Wiktoria Ulma was pregnant with, martyrs for the faith. The Ulmas were killed at home by German Nazi troops and by Nazi-controlled local police in the small hours of March 24, 1944, together with the eight Jews they were hiding at their home, after they were apparently 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; their daughters Stanislawa, 7; Barbara, 6; Maria, 18 months; and sons Wladyslaw, 5; Franciszek, 3; and Antoni, 2.

Giving the orders was Lieutenant Eilert Dieken, head of the regional Nazi military police. After the war he served in the police in Germany. Only one of his subordinates, Josef Kokott, was convicted in Poland over the killings, dying in prison in 1980. The suspected betrayer was Wlodzimierz Les, a member of the Nazi-controlled local police. Poland’s wartime resistance sentenced him to death and executed him in September 1944, according to IPN.

The Catholic Church had faced a dilemma in beatifying Wiktoria’s unborn child and declaring it a martyr because, among other things, it had not been baptized, which is a requirement for beatification.

The Vatican’s Dicastery for the Causes of Saints issued a clarification saying the child was actually born during the horror of the killings and received “baptism by blood” of its martyred mother.

The clarification was issued September 5 by Cardinal Semeraro, who is the prefect of the Vatican’s saint-making office.

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