Poland – September 10th, 2023, an unborn child left its mark on the world. The Catholic Church declared baby Ulma a martyr for the faith and beatified the child, alongside the baby’s parents and six siblings, aged between one and half years and eight years old.
The Catholic Church states in its Catechism that “By canonizing some of the faithful, i.e., by solemnly proclaiming that they practiced heroic virtue and lived in fidelity to God’s grace, the Church recognizes the power of the Spirit of holiness within her and sustains the hope of believers by proposing the saints to them as models and intercessors” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 303). In the process of beatification, the Church requires two miracles from the future beatified person, however, since the Ulma have been recognized as martyrs for the faith, no miracle was needed. Such was the case for another canonised Pole – Maximilian Maria Kolbe, another victim of Nazi rule.
Józef and Wiktoria Ulma, married in 1935, in the nine years of their marriage, six children were born: Stanisław, Barbara, Władysław, Franciszek, Antoni and Maria. They were farmers, Józef was hard-working and inventive. A keen gardener, and a mind bursting with ideas. His home was the first to boast electricity in the village, after he connected a light bulb to a small hand-built windmill. Socially active, he was attentive to the affairs of the local community. He was librarian to the Catholic Youth Club, a member of the Union of Rural Youth of the Republic of Poland, he managed the Marków dairy cooperative, and was a member of the health cooperative. His great passion was photography, thanks to which today we can have a glimpse into the Ulma family life. Wiktoria, was an actress in an amateur theatre group and she tended to and cared for the children.
The family’s greatest treasure was their faith. Józef and Wiktoria, passed on their faith to their children and lived it out. They were active members of their parish and participated in the Sacramental life of the Catholic Church. That is why, when eight persecuted Jews, asked them for shelter, in 1942, they did not hesitate.
Poland was the only country in occupied Europe, during the Second World War, where the death penalty was imposed on anyone that gave shelter or helped Jews to survive. Despite that risk, over 300, 000 Poles hid and helped Jews, of that about 1,000 were executed by the Nazis. Amongst them is the Ulma family.
On March 14, 1944, Nazi soldiers came to the Ulma’s farm, they first executed the eight Jews, followed by Józef, seven-month pregnant Wiktoria, and their six children. The soldiers then buried them in a mass grave. Later on, one of Józef’s brothers, defying German orders, ensured his family, as well as the Jews were granted a dignified burial. As they prepared the burial, they discovered, the remains of Victoria’s unborn child, suggesting she may have been undergoing childbirth during the execution or that the child experienced a phenomenon known as a “coffin birth.” That is why, the Catholic Church was able to beatify the “unborn child”, since it is considered born, and underwent a baptism of blood.
In Markowa, the Ulma’s home town, there were 120 Jews before the war, 21 survived, thanks to the generosity of the local population. The Ulma sacrificed everything they had for love of their neighbour. Their story did not end on March 14, 1944, their story still resonates today, and is an example of love and sacrifice. Their last child’s voice, who did not get to see the light of day, resonates loudly today, showing us that every life, no matter how small, is worth protecting and dying for.