The political struggle over the Ulma beatification

Perhaps the most dangerous civilian activity of WWII, the effort to hide Jews from occupying German forces, resulted in the heroic deaths of around 6000 Poles. Many of those involved were acting on behalf of the active Polish Underground State, formally under the control of the Polish Government-in-Exile.

It was under their umbrella that the Żegota organisation was created to delay, frustrate and sabotage Germany’s execution of the Holocaust as a matter of national principle.

Others, such the recently beatified Ulma family of Markowa, acted independently in a Christian capacity. Publicly executed for sheltering two Jewish families on their farm, Jozef, Wiktoria and their seven children are now recognised as martyrs.

The Christian witness of the Ulma family has, for better or worse, been tied up with aspects of Poland’s political life. Already recognised as ‘Righteous Among the Nations’ by the Yad Vashem Institute, the date of their murder is now designated as the Remembrance Day for the thousands of Poles who rescued Jews under German occupation – many of whom, it was later discovered, had survived in other houses around the village of Markowa.

President Andrzej Duda, head of the ruling Law and Justice party, Jaroslaw Kaczynski, and Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki were all present in the village for the beatification ceremony on September 10th. The Church has been provided with a powerful witness to the full personhood and dignity of every child, born or unborn. The Polish parliamentary election was due to take place 5 weeks after the beatification and not everyone was happy with the timing.

“Should the Ulma be commemorated? Yes, of course. Should they be commemorated now? Absolutely not,” railed Historian Jan Grabowski in a Facebook post. “In the present context of militant nationalism [sic], the ultimate sacrifice of the Ulma family is cynically used by people of bad will to distort the history of the Holocaust.”

Grabowski’s controversial claims about Poles’ complicity in the Holocaust have already landed him in court for defamation, but he may be heartened that the Ulmas are to be commemorated by the Church on the date of their wedding anniversary of July 7th, rather than the now-politicised date of their execution – which has become Poland’s national day of remembrance for those who helped shelter Jews..

Those who venerate the Ulma family today must see through the secular hagiography of the Holocaust to perceive the Christian nature of rebellion against eugenics, genocide and the dark spell which propagandists cast over Europe.

It is true that, to venerate infants and even an unborn child as Christian martyrs is unusual but, if the nay-sayers want to supply bad political intentions to the Ulmas’ veneration – then why shouldn’t the Church supply good Christian intentions to the family’s sacrifice?

Those who we allow to move us and speak for us is a matter where we put our faith. As long as Poland aspires to the values shared by Jozef and Wiktoria Ulma, the efforts of PR and revisionist historians can only really succeed where they direct themselves towards the ends of Christian salvation.

Alexander Shaw

Photo: IPN

This article was written in cooperation with Three Seas Fundations – Fundacja Trójmorza and PZU

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