Thursday 19 October 2023

No Greater Love The Martyrdom of the Ulma Family - Jean Olwen Maynard - CTS Books

No Greater Love: The Martyrdom of the Ulma Family
Jean Olwen Maynard
Catholic Truth Society
eISBN 9781784697112
CTS Booklet B778

This is the tenth volume from Jean Olwen Maynard that I have read. All of the ones I have read are from the Catholic Truth Society. A number of years ago I stumbled upon the CTS books while doing research on an author, since then I have read 368 different volumes from them. And nearly all have been excellent. I now purchase all new eBooks that are available from the CTS as soon as they release. This and three others were available on the same day and this was the second of them that I read. This volume released 9 days before the beatification of the family, including the new born baby. There was much news on social media about the family and specifically the baby. They were beatified as red martyrs for they gave their life because of their faith. It is not an easy book to read. But it is an important one.

The description of this book is:

“In 1944, under the Nazi occupation of Poland, a family with seven small children – including one not yet born – were murdered by the Nazis. Guided by the parable of the Good Samaritan, the Ulmas had sheltered a Jewish family, a heroic act the whole family gave their lives for.

Under the Nazi occupation of Poland during World War II, Jews were indiscriminately arrested, imprisoned, and killed. Christians who helped them hide or escape placed themselves in the same peril. Józef and Wiktoria Ulma, who, guided by the parable of the Good Samaritan, which was underlined in red ink in the family Bible, sheltered a Jewish family in their village of Markowa. As a result, in 1944, Józef, Wiktoria, and their seven small children – one not yet born – were murdered by the Nazis. This biography tells the story of the heroic virtue and sacrifice that led to their beatification.”

And the chapters in this little volume are:

A Family of No Importance
Poland: Land of Opportunity
The Summer of 1939
Life under Occupation
Operation Barbarossa
Ongoing Trauma and the Suppression of Memories

I highlighted numerous passages while reading this booklet. Some of them are:

“This is the story of a family – a mother and father, and their seven children all very small and one not yet born – who were of no importance in the eyes of the world. They lived their lives in an underdeveloped backwater of Central Europe, in a period of history when ideologies of hatred gained such widespread acceptance as to be considered normal and legitimate. Under the power of those ideologies countless numbers of people made choices which led them into horrifying depths of evil and brought suffering and death to millions of others.”

“Even if we can’t fully grasp the why and the how of it all, we do need to know about what happened. A firm consensus against permitting those terrible crimes to be forgotten and swept under the carpet provides a safeguard against letting them happen again. It is also a way of showing respect, something we owe to the dead.”

“Their story is nevertheless a bright light shining in the darkness. Through it God is saying to us something the world cannot hear. That each and every human person is infinitely precious in his sight. And that he designed us to be born and grow up in families, profoundly bound up with one another so that even in our fallen condition we might come to understand something of how truly precious each person is. The Ulmas didn’t have advanced degrees in theology, but they absolutely knew all this in their hearts. This is why the Church recognises them as having given their lives for the sake of the Gospel: as martyrs, slain by the forces of evil out of hatred for the Faith.”

“Poland was the only country in Europe where Jewish farmers were entitled to own the land they tilled. From the sixteenth century, the Jews of Poland experienced a golden age in which Jewish culture and rabbinic learning flourished wonderfully.”

“The majority Polish community would in pre-modern times have been thoroughly laid back about that, but the first half of the twentieth century was far too dominated by ethnonationalist ideologies. Moreover, although adversity can make people kinder and more sympathetic towards others, it often has the opposite effect, especially when the entire society they identify with has spent generations being pushed around and humiliated.”

“During the years of partition, the Roman Catholic Church had provided the Polish people with a safe space for expressing and nurturing their Polishness, and religious allegiance had come to serve as a crude identifier of nationality. Accordingly, the repressive measures against the Ukrainians included religious persecution of Orthodox Christians and efforts at forcibly converting them to Roman Catholicism in order to make them “properly Polish”.”

“Within Polish Catholic society there emerged a growing tide of anti-Semitism, and as the global Great Depression set in, the Jews were increasingly blamed for the spread of unemployment and economic hardship. In fairness to the Poles, this was part of a global trend: anti-Semitic attitudes and organised anti-Semitic movements were very much on the rise at this time throughout most of Europe and North America. Even in the UK, attitudes towards Jews which would nowadays be considered totally unacceptable were firmly within the spectrum of normal public discourse.”

“Speaking to pilgrims visiting Rome who had presented him with a missal, Pope Pius XI drew attention to the part in the Eucharistic Prayer referring to “the sacrifice of Abraham, our father in faith” and unexpectedly departed from his written text to issue a strong statement condemning anti-Semitism. “Through Christ and in Christ we are Abraham’s descendants. No, it is not possible for Christians to take part in anti-Semitism… We are spiritually Semites.””

“Galicia was a stronghold of the Polish peasant movement, which had its own political party. Pro-democratic and in favour of land reform, the Peasant Party was an important source of opposition to the Sanacja. The peasant movement was all for modernity and progress – and for education, provided that it wasn’t the kind that would suck young people out of the countryside and make them feel ashamed of getting their hands dirty.”

“Józef Ulma took his Catholic faith seriously. As a teenager he joined a diocesan Eucharistic Union, committing to pray and fundraise for the building of more local churches and chapels. He also belonged to the Catholic Youth Association, at the same time as being very active in Wici.”

“Józef loved reading and had a small collection of books which he happily lent out to anyone who was interested, acting as a kind of librarian to the various groups he belonged to. Another of his big interests in life was photography.”

“Nazi ideology deemed Poles, along with all Slavs, to be racially inferior – effectively sub-human and fit only to be slaves.”

“Polish Catholicism in the annexed regions was targeted for annihilation as a matter of top priority. Most of the bishops and clergy were arrested and then deported into the non-annexed region, sent to concentration camps or simply shot. Convents were closed, and hundreds of nuns were sent to concentration camps or transferred to Germany for forced labour.”

“Among the effects of the German occupation was a general enabling and fostering of criminality and violence: the official food ration for Poles was insufficient to sustain life, so everyone had to depend on the black market to survive, and hooligans of all kinds quickly learned that they could harass Jews with impunity.”

“The Polish Jews numbered 3.3 million – roughly ten per cent of the total population of interwar Poland. What the Nazis had in mind for them was even worse than for the Poles, though at this early stage the distinction was barely apparent.”

“No doubt most people kept their heads down and concentrated on their own daily struggles to make ends meet, but the plight of the Jews might still throw up tempting opportunities. There were rewards to be gained by denouncing Jews who had gone into hiding, or else there was the option of blackmailing them, demanding payment in return for not betraying them. Blackmailings and denunciations of Jews could, of course, incur punishment at the hands of the Resistance, and there were well-publicised cases of blackmailers being executed by the Home Army. However, such cases were difficult to investigate and hardly the Resistance’s top priority, so there was a good chance of getting away with it.”

“Research suggests that the overwhelming majority of Polish people resisted temptations to harm the Jews or exploit their vulnerability, and at least kept their hands clean, but didn’t feel obliged to make any positive efforts to help them. They’d have felt that they had enough problems of their own and that the Jews were really nothing to do with them anyway.”

“It was in this context that in Jedwabne a mob of about 40 ethnic Poles murdered at least 340 of their Jewish fellow-townspeople. Most of the victims – men, women and children – were locked in a barn which was then set on fire. In Lwów and other cities, Ukrainian nationalists, who’d been led to believe that the Nazis were supportive of their aspirations for Ukrainian independence, carried out fearsome pogroms in which thousands of Jews died and many others were left badly injured.”

“All the ghettoes had good railway connections – their locations had been selected with that in mind – and from March onwards the people imprisoned in them began to be summoned to assemble with their luggage to board trains. They were told that they were being evacuated for “resettlement in the east”.”

“An underground network – Żegota – was set up as part of the Polish Resistance to provide assistance to the Jews. Żegota provided food, medicines, money and false documents to thousands of Jews – mainly those who’d managed to hide, but also some of those held in forced labour camps. Jews in hiding, unless they could pass as Aryans, were unable to work and weren’t entitled to rations, so help with food was vital. Żegota also placed around 2,500 Jewish children with foster families or in church-run orphanages, where they had to learn Christian prayers so that they could pretend to be Polish Catholics. Despite huge difficulties in doing so, the Polish government-in-exile was constantly trying to send funds to support underground activities.”

“A cause for the beatification of Józef and Wiktoria Ulma and their children, along with other Polish martyrs of World War II, was introduced in 2003. The process for the Ulmas was subsequently separated off from that for the others and entrusted to the Archdiocese of Przemyśl. On 17th December 2022, Józef and Wiktoria, Stasia, Basia, Władziu, Franuś, Antoś, Marysia and the unborn baby were all officially recognised as martyrs, and the date for their beatification was set for 10th September 2023. Fittingly, it was decided that they would be declared “Blessed” in a ceremony conducted by Cardinal Semeraro, Prefect of the Dicastery for the Causes of Saints, among those who treasure their memory, in their own home village of Markowa.”

As mentioned this was not an easy read. Reading about the holocaust, and the actions of both the Germans and the Soviets during the Second World War are never easy. But they are important. This is an excellent offering. It provides a clear back story to the region and events. It provides concise details of the events. And research into the events after. It is a book that will inspire, challenge readers. I am thankful I read this volume. 

Note: This book is part of a series of reviews: 2023 Catholic Reading Plan! For other reviews of books from the Catholic Truth Society click here.

Published work by Jean Olwen Maynard:
Privately published by religious orders/parishes:
Greyfriars Convent, Elgin (2006)
A History of St Mary and St Michael’s Parish, Commercial Road, East London (2007)
Sisters of Mercy Bristol (2008)
150 Years of Mercy: A History of the Sisters of Mercy Commercial Road East London (2009)
The Saint of Hoxton (2011)
Saint Monica’s Church Hoxton Square (2018) 
150th anniversary history brochure for Parish of Guardian Angels, Mile End (2018)
150th anniversary history brochure for Parish of Our Lady and St Catherine of Sienna, Bow (2020) 
Immaculate Heart of Mary and St Dominic, Homerton 1873-2023 – 150 Years: A History of the Parish (2023)

CTS Booklets:
Isidore Bakanja 
Joseph Vaz

Between Christendom and Islam, The Martyr Mystic Christian de Chergé and the Atlas Cistercians in Algeria, in: Catholic in Religious Dialogue: Monasticism, Theology and Spirituality, ed Anthony O’Mahoney and Peter Bowe OSB, Gracewing, 2006
Campaign for the Catholic Workhouse Children, in: British Catholic History, Vol 31: Issue 4 Oct 2015

Books in the 20th Century Martyrs Series:
Sophie Scholl and the White Rose: Resistance to the Nazis - Helena Scott and Ethel Tolansky
Johann Gruber & Jacques Bunel Victims of the Nazis - Helena Scott and Ethel Tolansky
Maximilian Kolbe, F. Jagerstatter, K. Leisner, R. Mayer: Victims of the Nazis - Franz Jagerstatter
Edith Stein, Marcel Callo, Titus Brandsma: Victims of the Nazis – Matthew Monk
Saint Maria Goretti: Teenage Martyr for Chastity - Glynn MacNiven-Johnston
The Atlas Martyrs – Jean Olwen Maynard

Jerzy Popieluszko Victim of Communism - Grazyna Sikorski
Isidore Bankanja - Jean Maynard

Gianna Molla - Jean Olwen Maynard

No comments: