A Polish couple and their seven children, murdered by the Nazis during World War II for hiding Jews, will be beatified on Sunday, the first time an entire family has received this high recognition from the Catholic Church.
The ceremony in Markowa, the family's hometown in southeastern Poland, will be attended by some 30,000 people, including 80 priests, a thousand priests, the country's chief rabbi and an Israeli delegation.
It was in that rural commune where on March 24, 1944, German police murdered Jozef Ulma and his wife Wiktoria, who was seven months pregnant and partially gave birth during the execution.
Their other children, Stanislawa, Barbara, Wladyslav, Franciszek, Antoni and Maria, aged between two and eight, were also murdered, along with the eight Jews they were hiding in the attic of their house.
They were Shaul Goldman and his five children, his five-year-old granddaughter and Golda Gruenfeld. The Nazis shot them before looting the family farm and burning it.
The police shot into the attic from the lower floor "and the victims' blood began to drip from the ceiling onto the photograph of two Jewish women on a table," Vatican News explained. The photograph "has been preserved as a relic," she added.
The massacre ended "a story of love and friendship," explains Italian journalist Manuella Tulli, who wrote a book about the family with Polish historian and priest Pawel Rytel-Andrianik.
"When the Jews asked for help, they opened the doors to them. They lived together for a year and a half, cooking and eating together," Tulli told AFP.
In addition to being a farmer, Jozef Ulma was fond of photography. Some of his snapshots survived the massacre and reveal family life through simple, everyday scenes. "We see the children running barefoot on the grass, doing their homework, the mother hanging the clothes," says Tulli.
The families were denounced by a Polish police officer. After the execution, another 24 Jews in Markowa were murdered by their Polish neighbors.
The Ulma family will be the first to be beatified in its entirety, in an indispensable step towards possible canonization in the Catholic Church. In an unusual gesture, the Ulma's newborn baby will also receive the title of "blessed."
The child can be beatified through the concept of "baptism of blood" having been born "at the moment of the mother's martyrdom," according to the Vatican's canonization department.
Normally, the faithful need to have performed a miracle to be eligible for beatification, but martyrs are exempt.
Jozef and Wiktoria Ulma were recognized in 1995 by Israel as members of the "Righteous Among the Nations," an honor for non-Jews who helped save Jews from Nazi extermination.
In Markowa there is a museum dedicated to the family. And since 2018, Poland decreed March 24, the date of the massacre, as a day of commemoration for the Poles who rescued Jews during the German occupation.