Ulma Museum in Poland Honours All Who Attempted to Shelter Jews from Nazi Germany

Józef. Wiktoria. Stanisława. Barbara. Władysław. Franciszek. Maria. Antoni. Eight names. Eight Poles worthy of honour. These were the members of the Ulma family – mum, dad and six children – all of them shot dead by Nazi German occupying forces in Poland because they sheltered Jews during the Second World War.

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On March 17, 2016, a museum was opened in the tiny village of Markowa, not far from Rzeszów in south-east Poland. It is named in honour of the Ulma family, who were murdered there, and stands in memory of the countless Poles who risked their lives while attempting to save Jewish neighbours from the Holocaust.

Poland’s president, Andrzej Duda, attended the opening ceremony, noting that the Ulma museum was a place that marked “what is good in history, what is beautiful, even amid the most tragic episodes.”

The heroism of the Ulma family began in the summer of 1942, when Nazi German troops occupying Poland raided Markowa and shot dead any Jews who were not able to escape. Those who did make it to temporary safety were hunted in the surrounding countryside, and in the early autumn of the same year, there came a knock on the Ulma’s door.

President Duda, in his speech at the opening of the museum, did well to evoke the feelings that Józef Ulma may have experienced at that moment.

He said: “When you are on the threshold of your own house and you realise that behind you are your wife, husband, children, grandchildren sometimes, it must be that there is a moment of hesitation… what do you do? Do you turn around and close the door, pretend that nobody was ever there, or open the door wide and say, ‘Come in, we’ll get by’? Of course, not all were able to open the door wider, but in Poland there were hundreds of thousands of people who did not refuse to help.”

Among those who could not refuse were Józef Ulma and his pregnant wife Wiktoria.

They willingly gave shelter to five members of a family known locally as the Szalls. They were Saul Goldman and his four sons (whose names have never been ascertained), along with Genia and Lea Goldman, and the daughter of the latter, also unknown.

As the sun was still struggling over the horizon on March 24, a German patrol led by Lieutenant Eilert Dieken arrived at the Ulma family home. The Szalls and the Goldman girls were shot, then one by one the Ulmas – mum, dad, children – were executed too.

Yehuda Erlich, who had been sheltering with the Wigłusz family, described what happened and its aftermath.

He said: “These were hard times for them [Jan and Maria Wiglusz] and for us. Searches were conducted both by the Germans and the Polish peasants themselves, who wanted to find the hiding Jews. In the spring of 1944, a Jewish family was discovered hiding with Polish peasants. The Polish family, eight souls, including the pregnant wife, were killed with the refugees. As a result, there was enormous panic among other Polish peasants who were hiding Jews. The morning after, 24 corpses of Jews were discovered in the fields. They had been murdered by the peasants themselves, who had given them refuge for 20 months.”

But the panic was never to become endemic. Poles continued to shelter Jews, saving the lives of 20 of the 120 or so who had lived in Markowa before the Nazi German invasion. To date, 6,532 Poles are listed as Righteous Among the Nations – an honour bestowed by Israel on the people who risked their lives to help Jews in the face of Nazi German brutality.

Among them, naturally, are Józef and Wiktoria Ulma.