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“Greater love has no man than this…”: On the beatification of Józef and Wiktoria Ulma

There have been movies made and books written about Corrie Ten Boom, and a TV series was recently released about Miep Gies. But those two brave women were not the only ones who risked their lives to hide Jews from the Nazis during World War II.

Yad Vashem, the World Holocaust Remembrance Center in Jerusalem, has recognized more than 27,000 men and women who tried to save Jews from extermination during that war. Established in 1953, this organization carefully studies evidence from survivors and witnesses, as well as the circumstances involved, to identify those who rescued Jews. For example, some people during World War II provided Jews with false identities or false papers, some smuggled them to safer locations, and some hid Jews on their own property. Those who are found to meet Yad Vashem’s criteria are recognized with the title of Righteous Among the Nations.

Corrie Ten Boom was a Dutch watchmaker during the war, and she and her family were sent to prison camps because they hid Jews in their home. Miep Gies was one of four1 employees who knew that a Jewish family was hidden in the attic of their office in Amsterdam. Although the Frank family was ultimately found, Miep was able to rescue one of the most famous diaries in history from destruction after their arrest: the diary written by young Anne Frank. Both Ten Boom and Gies have been given the title of Righteous Among the Nations.

So have Józef and Wiktoria Ulma, a Polish married couple scheduled for beatification on September 10, 2023. But seventy-nine years have passed since the deaths of the Ulmas. Why should the Church choose to honor them as blesseds now?

Józef Ulma was born in 1900 in Markowa, Poland, and, after graduating from agricultural school, earned his living as a fruit-grower, beekeeper, and tanner of leather. He also enjoyed photography and served as librarian for his parish youth group. Wiktoria was born in 1912 in Markowa, and, after the two married in 1935, she cared for their home and children. She was also active in the theater group of her village. They were hard workers and, in time, were able to purchase a larger farm for their growing family. They were also faithful Catholics.

Both Germany and the Soviet Union invaded Poland in 1939, each controlling part of the country. Jews were the largest minority group in Poland at the time, and Jews were particularly persecuted by both occupying armies.

In summer and fall of 1942, Nazi police came to the little village of Markowa to arrest and deport several Jewish families who lived there. Józef initially suggested to his Jewish neighbors that they build dugouts outside the village, hoping this would help them hide from the police. Many were found anyway. The Nazis had publicly stated that anyone who protected Jews would be executed, but Józef and Wiktoria made the brave decision to shelter eight Jews on their property: five men from the Szall family and three women from the Goldman family.

For more than a year, these eight people lived in the Ulma’s attic. They even helped with odd jobs on the farm, but they tried to stay out of sight as much as possible.

Unfortunately, even though the Ulmas lived on a farm at the outskirts of their village, it was not possible for eight people to remain completely hidden. A citizen of the village, Włodzimierz Leś,2 had taken possession of the Szall’s home after they disappeared, and he betrayed the Ulmas to the police to protect his rights to their property.

Read more at Catholic World Report 

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