Born in Markowa village on 2 March 1900, eighteen years later he celebrated regaining independence, on 11 November 1918, free Poland returned to the world map! So, Józef belonged to the generation which had an honoured role of rebuilding the homeland after 123 years of captivity. His social-religious engagement was the necessity of moment then. Young Ulma acted in the Union of Holy Mass in the Diocese of Przemyśl and Catholic Association of Youth. He acted in the Union of Village Youth of Poland ‘Wici’, in which he had a function of a librarian and a photographer. He was also the chairperson of the Provincial Section of Agricultural Education in Przeworsk. In the years 1921 – 22 he was performing military service in Grodno. As a graduate of the National Agricultural School in Pilzno, feeling love and passion, he began to implement rules of modern utilization. He was a pioneer in promoting vegetables cultivation and setting up orchards. In this purpose he set up a school of fruit and mulberry trees. Great passion of Józef was the famous silkworm breeding and apiary, for which he was awarded in 1933.

It is worth mentioning that Józef willingly made his agricultural achievements available for others, developing education among people. He was brought up in his love to books. He was interested in various areas of science and knowledge branches. He was even a student of the Folk high school opened in nearby Gacia. He read a lot, bought books, subscribed ‘Knowledge and Life’. On the basis of technical novelties he assembled the first camera and photographing became his another and creative passion of life. On 7 July 1935 Józef and his sister Wiktoria Niemczak, twelve years younger than him, got married. They had new hopes and new perspective of family! For nine years of their marriage, Józef and Wiktoria made a family full of love, which showed lots of respect to every new life. As parents with opened hearts, they accepted their six children: Staś, Basia, Władzio, Franek, Antoś and Marysia. And in spring 1944 pregnant Wiktoria was expecting another birth….

Markowa – execution of Jews and Poles

Life of the Ulmów family was in deep poverty, but very peaceful. Józef worked a lot. ‘Both of them were hard-working people’ – one of their family members said. Wiktoria was taking care of children, home and the garden. When looking at photos taken by Józef, one can see various episodes of their family life. One can see work, play, meals, learning. Everything took place in the atmosphere of friendliness, mother’s attention, love; in one room, at a small table, or near the house. One can say – idyll… which was suddenly disrupted by the tragedy of the Second World War. Jóżef was mobilized, so Wiktoria returned to her family home. She did not stay there long, as her severely ill husband had returned home on foot soon before his death.

The war occupation changed the life of the Ulmów family a lot, particularly Jews. In the Ulmów family, similarly as in the lens, fates of Poles and Jews is focused on the land invaded by the occupant with the intention of exterminating both of them. At that time nobody was writing the history of theirs or the neighbours with whom they were sharing their fate…But it was the time when, beside the cruelty of the occupant, one could see nobility of heart, sensitivity of conscience and human warm-heartedness towards the neighbor being in need. Till now they have existed as a beautiful mosaic of deeds, words and values. The fact is that the Ulmów family, not watching out consequences, gave a refuge to eight Jews. They gave refuge to Saul Goldman and his four sons called Szale and two daughters of Chaim Goldman – a nearby neighbor: Gołda Grunfeld and Lee Didner with a little daughter. They were living together for nearly half a year, helping one another, but because of a betrayal (probably a policeman from Łańcut Włodzimierz Leś reported on the hidden Jews to Germans), death arrived before the dawn on 24 March 1944. German police officers surrounded the house and first killed the Jews, then Józef and Wiktoria, who had just begun to give birth to her seventh child, and, finally – after their consultation and decision of the chief Eiler Dieken – they shot dead six children, so that ‘the village would not have any trouble with them’. The Ulmów family, whose name was given to the Museum of Poles Saving Jews during the Second World War, reaches the rank of a symbol. The fact that the Ulmów family were saving Jews despite a danger, risking their life and life of their children, proves their heroism. German ‘justice’ reached everybody – Poles and Jews – in the same way. They all, 17 people, were killed. Then their property was plundered, their bodies were thrown into ground and there was to be no sign after them…But it did not. It somehow became a loud sound telling the world about the pain and tragedy of people of the same land, despite their different religion, whom the invader forbade the basic right – right to live. In Markowa also other families were hiding Jews, the war was survived by 21 people of Jewish origin.

Victory grown on the rubbles of the tragedy

Like a sound bounces with echo in space, the news about the heroic Ulmów family is running around the world on the track of truth and glory. Half a century after the tragedy, thanks to engagement of Wiktoria’s relatives, the Ulmów family are beginning to come out of the shadow of forgetfulness. Stanisław Niemczak, a nephew of Wiktoria, made efforts to make it possible for Józef and Wiktoria Ulmów to be honored on 13 Sepetmber 1995, after their death, by the Yad Vash Institute, with the medal the Righteous among the World Nations. Whereas the Polish president Lech Kaczyński granted the Commander’s Cross of the Poland Rebirth Order to Józef and Wiktoria in 2010.

On the 60th anniversary of their death, on 24 March 2004, there was a ceremony of unveiling the monument of the Ulmów family in Markowa, funded from fees of the community. After some time there appeared an initiative of building a museum commemorating the sacrifice of the Ulmów family and a lot of other Poles saving the Jews. The local government of the province of Podkarpacie completed building it. The solemn opening ceremony of the Museum of Poles Saving Jews during the Second World War named the Ulmów family with participation of the president of Poland Andrzej Duda and many guests took place on 17 March 2016. From the beginning this unique and first object of remembrance raises sincere interest. People from whole Poland and abroad arrive here. Markowa village is also visited by lots of tourists from Israel, as here it is impossible to falsify history. Facts, testimonies and stones prove it, so visitors write about their impressions and thanks in the Book of remembrance. Heroes of this land - 1100 surnames of brave Poles are seen on the remembrance wall – teaching our generations THE TRUTH, LOVE and imperishable values. Considering nearly two years of the museum functioning and crowds of visitors arriving here to get to know testimonies – saved, before witnesses passed away – it makes impression. As long as one humble family belonged to the society of the commune, the same family, shown as one of many heroic Polish families, is like the sunset, brightening the dark of history and closing the mouths of scoffers, and the message of multimedia images moves hearts and consciences of visitors. A lot of visitors experience shock when seeing the truth about that event. Young people were not even aware of what their ancestors had been suffering from, when being faithful to God and conscience.

Last year, around the museum, an unique Orchard of Remembrance was created. Its idea refers to the Garden of the Righteous at the Yad Vash Institute in Jerusalem. Beside fruit trees reminding of orchard hobby of Józef Ulma, in the orchard, along alleys, there are plastic transparent tablets with 1480 names of towns and villages in which Poles were helping Jews. The names of towns and villages were made available by the Yad Vash Institute on the basis of its archive, containing data of nearly 7 thousand Poles awarded with the medal the Righteous among the World Nations. The location and names of the towns and villages refer to the borders of the Second Republic of Poland.

A beautiful property are publications. An album about the Ulmów family was elaborated by Mateusz Szpytma with Jarosław Szark and was reedited a few times. The National Remembrance Institute and the Strategic Studies Institute prepared and published another genuine album: ‘The Righteous and their world. Markowa village in photography of Józef Ulma’ prepared by Mateusz Szpytma. TV Łańcut made a feature documentary devoted to the Ulmów family – ‘Our daily bread’. The band Soul Sanok recorded a music video ‘Execution in Markowa village’. The archdiocese of Przemyśl edited a book devoted to the Ulmów family entitled: ‘Starks of Markowa village’…As it has been mentioned above, 74 years after their death, the great promotion of the Ulmów family is going on.

Translated by Aneta Amrozik

Niedziela 11/2018 (18 III 2018)

Editor: Tygodnik Katolicki "Niedziela", ul. 3 Maja 12, 42-200 Czestochowa, Polska
Editor-in-chief: Fr Jaroslaw Grabowski • E-mail: