Pope Francis on Saturday declared as martyrs a Polish couple who were executed by German police during World War II for hiding Jews in their farmhouse.
A farmer and beekeeper, Jozef Ulma, and wife Wiktoria in the Polish town of Markowa hid several members of the Jewish community, who were being hunted down during the German occupation of Poland. An informant apparently betrayed them, and the Jews were killed by police in March 1944. The couple were then shot to death along with their six young children, the oldest of whom was 8 years old.
Recognition of martyrdom would permit the couple to be beatified, the last formal step before possible sainthood. After beatification, a miracle attributed to their intercession would be necessary for eventual canonization, as the Catholic church’s sainthood process is called.
According to Yad Vashem, the World Holocaust Remembrance Center in Jerusalem, the couple had witnessed the execution of Jews who were seized from their homes during the summer of 1942.
While the search was on for other Jews, a Jewish family of six sought shelter with the Ulmas, who took them in, along with two sisters from another Jewish family, hiding them in the garret of their farmhouse. German police discovered the Jews on the farm and fatally shot them, before they murdered the farmer, his wife, who was seven months pregnant, and children.
According to the Vatican, Pope Francis learned about the Ulma family when he visited Poland during a 2016 pilgrimage. At a public audience in 2018, Francis hailed the family as “an example of faithfulness to G-d and His commandments, of love for neighbor and of respect for human dignity.”
Poland was the first country invaded and occupied by Nazi Germany in World War II. Members of Poland’s resistance and government-in-exile warned the world about the Nazis’ mass killing of Jews, and thousands of Poles risked their lives to help Jews — even though other Poles murdered or victimized their Jewish compatriots.
Nearly all of Poland’s roughly 3 million Jews were killed by the Germans and their collaborators during the Holocaust, and the Nazis built their major death camps in occupied Poland.