The Beatification of the Ulma Family of Markowa: Essential Historical Information

Mateusz Szczepaniak / English translation: Andrew Rajcher, 9 September 2023
On Sunday, 10th September 2023, will take place the beatification ceremony of Józef and Wiktoria Ulma, and their seven children. As a result of being denounced, on 24th March 1944, this Polish family was murdered by the Germans for helping Jews. The ceremony, which will take place in the village of Markowa in Podkarpacie, where the Ulma family lived and where they were murdered, will culminate the beatification process which has lasted twenty years. It will be accompanied by events held all over Poland, including exhibitions, concerts and academic conferences, many of them under the Patronage of the President of the Republic of Poland. This article, which we have prepared, contains the most important historical information, including a selection of POLIN Museum’s articles on the attitude of Poles towards Jews during the German occupation (1939-1945). These allow us to better understand the tragic history of the Ulma and of the Jews (the Goldman and Szall families), who were hiding with their help.

“This tragedy occurred on [2]4th March 1944. Someone denounced them to the police in Łańcut. On that day, they came in the morning. They shot all the Jews and my brother’s family – the parents and six children”, recounted Władysław Ulma. He was Józef’s brother and Wiktoria’s brother-in-law.

The beatification of the Ulma family is one of the most significant religious events to have taken place in Poland in recent years. It is also a special event in the memory of Poles who, during the years of German occupation, experienced the heaviest if repressions – the death penalty for helping Jews. Józef and Wiktoria Ulma are, today, the most famous victims of this Nazi law. Their story is one of the most famous amongst Poles who have been honoured with the title of Righteous Among the Nations.

Associated with the Ulma family’s beatification, we have prepared the most important historical information for anyone who is interested in this event. The fate on the Ulma family, as well as that of other rescuers, is presented on this “Polish Righteous” portal, in the context of the German occupation, as well as the complexity and diversity of Polish society's attitudes towards the Holocaust. We have also prepared expert answers to frequently asked questions, having verified the most important facts.

In POLIN Museum of the History of Polish Jews, we pay particular attention to the fate of the Jews hiding on the “Aryan side”, as well as those who perished along with the Ulma family.

Here, we remember their names:

  • Saul Goldman, b. ? – d. 24th March 1944,
  • Baruch Goldman (Szall), b. 1911 – d. 24th March 1944,
  • Mechem Goldman (Szall), b. 1914 – d. 24th March 1944,
  • Joachim Goldman (Szall), b. 1919 – d. 24th March 1944,
  • Mojżesz Goldman (Szall), b. 1921 – d. 24th March 1944,
  • Lea (Layca) Didner née Goldman, b. 1907 – d. 24th March 1944,
  • Reszla Didner, b. ? – zm. 24th March 1944,
  • Genia (Gołda) Grünfeld née Goldman, b. 1913 – d. 24th March 1944.

The Ulma family from Markowa and the Jews hiding with their help – the most important historical information

During the German occupation, despite the threat of punishment, even death, thousands of Poles engaged in underground activities, some of them even helped persecuted Jews – selflessly or for payment, for a shorter or longer period. However, within Polish society, the attitude to help was rare and did not meet with universal approval.

The majority of Poles remained passive towards the Holocaust. Many were averse towards the Jews, some displayed histility, while a few helped them.

Poles’ participation in hiding Jews took many forms and resulted from varying motivations,

How did Józef and Wiktoria Ulma help Jews? Here, we present to most important information. Details are presented in a separate study: The Story of the Ulma Family and the Jews Who Hid With Their Help

Kolaż zdjęć różnej wielkości, przedstawiających kobietę i mężczyznę oraz ich dzieci; w lewym dolnym rogu logo Muzeum POLIN

Above is a collage of photographs showing the Ulma family. Source: the Digital Collection of the Ulma Family Museum of Poles Saving Saving Jews During World War II, in Markowa. More photographs appear in the gallery above on this page.

  1. During the German occupation, Józef Ulma (b. 2nd March 1900) and his wife Wiktoria nee Niemczak (b. 12th December 1912), together with their six children, lived in the village of Markowa near Łańcut (Podkarpackie Province), where they ran a farm. Józef specialised in growing vegetables and fruit, beekeeping and breeding silkworms. His passion was photography. Wiktoria ran the home and cared for the children.

  2. Józef and Wiktoria Ulma’s children were: Stanisława (b. 18th July 1936), Barbara (b. 6th October 1937), Władysław (b. 5th December 1938), Franciszek (b. 3rd April 1940), Antoni (b. 6th June 1941), Maria (b. 16th September 1942).

  3. In autumn 1942, a Jewish family from Łańcut took shelter in the Ulma home: Saul Goldman and his sons Baruch, Menachem, Joachim and Mojżesz. Shortly after, they were joined, in hiding, by the two daughters and granddaughter of Chaim Goldman of Markowa – Lea (Laycia) Didner and her daughter Reszla and Genia (Gołda) Grünfeld.

  4. At dawn, on 24th March 1944, five German gendarmes, assisted by “blue police” (Polish Police of the General Government), searched the Ulma house. First, the Jews in hiding were murdered, followed by Józef and Wiktora Ulma. The decision was then made to kill their children. At the time of her death, Wiktoria was in an advanced stage of pregnancy – she was expecting her seventh child (b. 24th March 1944).

  5. The execution, carried out in front of the Ulma house, was the result of denunciation (probably by  Włodzimierz Leś, a “blue policeman” from Łańcut).

  6. The bodies of those murdered were buried on the spot and the property was plundered. A week later, the remains of the Ulma family were moved to the local cemetery. Following the end of the German occupation, the bodies of the Jewish victims were buried in the cemetery in Jagiełła near Przeworsk.

  7. In Septemnber 1995, by decision of the Yad Vashem Institute in Jerusalem, Józef and Wiktoria Ulma were posthumously honoured with the title of “Righteous Among the Nations". This honour is awarded, by the State of Israel, to people who selflessly helped Jews during the Holocaust.

  8. In 2003, the beatification process of the Ulma family began in the Przemyśl diocese. In December 2022, Pope Francis signed the decree on their martyrdom and set the date for their elevation to the altars – 10th September 2023.

  9. In 2016, the Ulma Family Museum of Poles Saving Jews was opened in Markowa.

  10. In 2018, the date of the murder of the Ulma family and the Jews in hiding – 24th March – at the initiative of the President of the Republic of Poland, was declared as a public holiday – the Day of Remembrance of Poles Saving Jews under German occupation.

The death penalty for helping Jews in occupied Poland – answers to the most important questions

From 1941, in  the General Government (part of occupied Poland), the Germans punished Jews with death for escaping from ghettos and for hiding on the “Aryan side”. The same punishment applied to those who helped them hide or provided them with other assistance. Escape attempts primarily occurred in 1942, when the Germans began transporting Jews, from the ghettos, to centres of extermination, namely mass extermination.

“Jews, who leave the district assigned to them without authorisation, are subject to the death penalty. The same penalty applies to people who knowingly provide such Jews with a hiding place”, according to a regulation imposed by Governor Hans Frank, dated 15th October 1941.

Polish public debate often emphasises that the German legislation in occupied Poland was unique regarding the death penalty for helping Jews. This is probably most likely due to the relatively high (although still not fully known) number of death cases, which were examined using archives, court documents and witness accounts. As a result, false historical information on this subject is often repeated in the mass media.

Below, we present concise answers to the most frequently asked questions. Detailed explanations are presented in the separate study: The Death Penalty for Helping Jews in Occupied Poland

  • In occupied Poland, did the Germans always punish helping Jews with the death penalty? No. Depending upon the place, time and type of offense, the German authorities’ regulations were enforced differently. Penalties were imposed during special sessions of German courts, but also in absentia or without any trial. It did happen that someone, arrested for helping Jews, was allowed to go home, but usually they were sent to prison, a concentration camp or were sentenced to death. There were some exceptions to the execution of the sentence.

  • Was the death penalty for helping Jews applicable only in occupied Poland? No. While the death penalty was in force in the General Government, it was also in force in other territories occupied by the Germans – there are known cases of its use against Belarusians, Ukrainians and Serbs. In the occupied countries of Western Europe, prison or concentration camp sentences were more common in such cases – but there are also known cases of the death penalty. 

  • In the years 1939-1945, how many Poles perished for providing Jews with help? To this time, the number of people who, like the Ulma family, died while helping Jews, has not been determined precisely. The latest study, by the Institute of National Remembrance, authored by Dr. Martyna Grądzka-Rejak and Dr, Aleksandra Namysło (Represje za pomoc Żydom na okupowanych ziemiach polskich w czasie II wojny światowej, Warsaw 2019) documents 333 cases of repression, involving 654 repressed people. Of them, 341 lost their lives (e.g, in concentration camps) and 258 people were shot by the Germans. Research in this area is still ongoing.

  • Did the Ulma family die as the result of being denounced? Yes. The fact that Jews were hiding in the Ulma home was probably reported to the Germans by Włodzimierz Leś – a “blue policeman” from Łańcut. Previously, for payment, he had helped to hide the Goldman family – who left him their assets. When Leś stopped supporting them and refused to return their property, the Goldmans asked the Ulma family for help. Włodzimierz Leś took part in the crime in Markowa.

  • Have the perpetrators of the deaths of the Ulma family ever been brought to justice? After the War, only Józef Kokot stood trial, accused of numerous murders, beatings, extortion and other crimes. On 30th August 1958, he was sentenced to death, which was then commuted to life imprisonment. The State Council of the Polish People’s Republic changed the sentence to twenty-five years imprisonment. In 1980, he died while serving his sentence in Racibórz. Other perpetrators of the crime in Markowa included the commander of the German gendarme station in Łańcut, Eilert Dieken, his subordinates, Michael Dziewulski, Gustaw Unbehand and Erich Wilde (who died in August 1944), as well as “blue policemen”, of whom we only know of Włodzimierz Leś (shot in September 1944). Dieken, Dziewulski and Unbehend never stood trial.

  • Will the seventh child of Józef and Wiktoria Ulma be beatified as an unborn child? No. On 5th September 2023, the Holy See issued a statement in which the Prefect of the Dicastery of Canonisation Affairs, Cardinal Marcello Semeraro, stated that the Ulmas’ seventh child was born at the time of their death:
    • “1. At the time of the crime, Wiktoria Ulma was heavily pregnant with her seventh child.
    • 2. The child was born at the moment of its mother’s martyrdom.
    • 3. So, it was added to the number of children who also suffered martyrdom. Indeed, through the martyrdom of its parents, it had received baptism in blood”.

The beatification of the Ulma family – what reading: