Entire Polish family murdered by Nazis for sheltering Jews beatified

A depiction of the Ulma family is on display during a religious service to beatify Jozef and Wiktoria Ulma and their seven children, who were murdered in 1944 by German Nazis for sheltering Jews, in Poland on Sunday. Photo by Darek Delmanowicz/EPA-EFE

Sept. 10 (UPI) -- An entire Polish family that was murdered by Nazis for sheltering Jews during the Holocaust was beatified Sunday, Pope Francis announced.

Józef and Wiktoria Ulma, with their seven children, were beatified at an outdoor mass in Markowa, said Francis while speaking after his delivery of the Angelus prayer from the window of his study in the Vatican Apostolic Palace.

The mass was led by Cardinal Marcello Semeraro, an envoy for Pope Francis -- whose speech was televised to attendees.

Francis referred to the Ulma family as "martyrs" and said they were "exterminated by the Nazis" on March 24, 1944.

"They opposed the hatred and violence that characterized that time with evangelical love," Pope Francis said in his speech.

"May this Polish family, which represents a ray of light in the darkness of the Second World War, be for all of us a model to imitate in the zeal for goodness and service to those in need. A round of applause for this family of Blesseds!"

Francis then segued into calling for the end of war around the world, including prayers for "beleaguered Ukraine." The pope also led prayers for Morocco, which was hit by a devastating 6.8-magnitude earthquake that has killed at least 2,012 people.

The beatification, the first step toward sainthood, marked the first time that an entire family had received the honor, the BBC noted.

According to the news outlet, the ceremony was attended by Poland's President Andrzej Duda and 30,000 onlookers.

"Thank you for showing the historical truth about those times, about the fate of Poles under the German occupation," Duda said. "The death penalty was intended to instill terror."

Poland's state Institute of National Remembrance has described the Ulma family as a "hardworking and passionate couple."

The Ulmas were Catholic farmers and silkworm breeders who began harboring eight Jews in December 1942 in their own home.

German police eventually discovered the Jews on the Ulma's farm, shooting them dead before executing the family. Wiktoria was pregnant and the time as she was executed and all of their children were still in primary school or younger.

"By hosting them in their home, they were aware of the enormous risk. Helping the Jewish population in German-occupied Polish territories was punishable by death," the institute said.

"Despite the widespread terror, fear and limited material resources, the Ulmas bore witness to the fact that a person, in the name of evangelical love of a neighbor, is willing to overcome fear and even risk his own life."

Beyond his actions during the Holocaust, Józef Ulma served an important role in the community as an activist and amateur photographer -- documenting life in the town during the turmoil of the 1930s and 1940s.