The Ulma Family

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Story of the Ulma Family

As the result of being denounced, on 24th March 1944, in Markowa (Podkarpackie Province), Józef and Wiktoria Ulma, their children and the Jews they were hiding, were all murdered by the Germans. By a decress of the Polish President, that date has been designated as "Poles Who Rescued Jews Under German Occupation Remembrance Day".


During World War II, Józef and Wiktoria Ulma, together with their six children, lived in the village of Markowa near Łańcut (Podkarpackie Province). They ran a farm – Józef specialised in the cultivation of vegetables and fruits, beekeeping and silkworm breeding. His passion was photography and he was active within his commuity. Wiktoria ran the home and took care of the children. They lived a distance away from the farms of the other villagers.

Around twenty Jewish families lived in Markowa. About 1,000 Jews overall lived in the district. In the first half of 1942, the majority of them had been deported and murdered in the Bełżec extermination camp or had been shot on the spot. From July, hunts began searching for those who were in hiding in the forests and fields, outside that area. Hiding-places were built mainly in thickets and ravines. Józef Ulma helped one family to build one such hideout. Jews also sought refuge with the residents of the nearby villages, but they were rarely successful. In Markowa, a dozen or so Jews survived the War thanks to help from Polish families.

Hiding With the Ulma Family

In the autumn of 1942, the Goldman family of Łańcut knocked on the door of the home of Józef and Wiktoria Ulma – Saul Goldman who, before the War was a local cattle trader and his four sons, whose names are unknown (in Łańcut, they were called "Szall"). The Ulma couple gave them refuge in the attic of their own home. Soon after, those in hiding were joined by the two daughters and granddaughter of Chaim Goldman of Markowa – Lea (Layca) Didner and her daughter (whose name is unknown) and Genia (Gołda) Grünfeld. 

Earlier, the Goldmans had been in hiding and, in return for payment, they had been assisted by Włodzimierz Leś, a Polish Blue policeman who lived near Łańcut. The Goldman had left him their property, but Leś stopped helping them and would not return their property. It was then that they came to the Ulma family.

For over a year, eight people lived in the Ulma attic. The men helped in the tanning of hides, sawed timber and chopped wood for fuel. Ulma even photographed them at work, as well as many other scenes from the everyday life of the family. It seemed as though the hell of the occupation was far away. But this was just a sham – they were surrounded by death. Everyone had seen it many times. The windows of the house overlooked the so-called "trench", where Jews were shot.

Crimes in Markowa

Just before dawn on 24th March 1944, German police from Łańcut, accompanied by Polish Blue police, arrived in Markowa. These torturers had been well-informed. They knew why they were coming to Markowa and whom they were looking for. They found the Jews hiding in the attic. Shots rangout. Within the space of a few minutes, all had perished at the hands of the police – Józef Ulma, his heavily-pregnant wife Wiktoria, their six children and all the hidden Jews.

In all probability, it was Włodzimierz Leś who had reported them out of the fear of losing the property he had acquired. One of the perpetrators, Joseph Kokott apparently said, "Look at how those Polish pigs are dying – those who were hiding Jews”. 

On the orders of the Germans, the local villagers buried the bodies of the victims. One of Józef's brothers, Władysław Ulma, wrote the following for the Jewish Historical Institute:

A week after this incident, we put the bodies of my brother's murdered family into coffins and took them to the cemetery. Following liberation, a Jewish organisation took the bodies of the Jews. 

The Ulma property was ransacked by the Germans.

Remembering the Fate of the Ulma Family and the Hidden Jews

On 13th September 1995, the Yad Vashem Institute in Jerusalem posthumously honoured Józef and Wiktoria Ulma with the title of Righteous Among the Nations.

In 2016, a museum bearing the Ulma name was opened in Markowa. It is devoted to all those Poles who rescued Jews during the Holocaust. Since 2018, the anniversary of that tragic event in Markowa – 24th March – by a decision of the Polish President, has been designated as "Poles Who Rescued Jews Under German Occupation Remembrance Day".

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Bibliography

  • Archiwum Żydowskiego Instytutu Historycznego, Dział Dokumentacji Odznaczeń Yad Vashem, 349/24/2235
  • Gutman Israel red. nacz., Księga Sprawiedliwych wśród Narodów Świata, Ratujący Żydów podczas Holocaustu, Kraków 2009
  • Szpytma Mateusz, Sprawiedliwi i ich świat. Markowa w fotografii Józefa Ulmy, Warszawa-Kraków 2007
  • Szpytma Mateusz, The Risk of Survival. The Rescue of the Jews by the Poles and the Tragic Consequences for the Ulma Family from Markowa (Ryzyko ocalenia. Ratowanie Żydów przez Polaków i tragiczne następstwa...), Warszawa 2009