Sunday, May 1, 2011

Bieganski at Yad Vashem; Yad Vashem Dishonors the Heroic Wiktoria and Jozef Ulma

Ulma family. From Mateusz Szpytma, The Risk of Survival, The Institute of National Remembrance 2009. Source

Wiktoria and Jozef Ulma were two heroic peasant, Catholic, Poles who were martyred by the Nazis for sheltering Jews. Their remarkable story is told in detail at the website of the Am-Pol Eagle, the Voice of Polonia.

This excellent article details how the Ulma's risking their lives, and the lives of their seven children, to save Jews from the Holocaust, was a choice deeply rooted in their Polish, Catholic, peasant spirituality. As the article puts it,

"'The Commandment of Love – The Good Samaritan' – under such a title these very words can be found in the bible which Józef and Wiktoria Ulma owned. It's one of the two fragments to be found in the bible marked in red – most probably by Józef Ulma himself (the other one regards loving enemies). With their own life and death they proved these words did not remain an empty slogan for them. Both, Józef and Wiktoria Ulma, together with their six children and eight Jews of the Szall and Goldman families they were hiding, were executed by the Germans on March 24, 1944."

Wiktoria was pregnant at the time. A Pole who reburied her testified that her child was discovered partially outside of her body. Thus, one counts seven Ulma children lost to Nazism.

Yad Vashem tells the Ulma story quite differently than does the Am-Pol Eagle. I sent Yad Vashem an email taking them to task for their account of the Ulmas. My email, rapidly composed and no doubt imperfect because it is written in pained outrage, is below. I hope others of conscience will also write to Yad Vashem. Here is an email address: feedback [at] yadvashem [dot]

Dear Yad Vashem:

Of course, like good people everywhere, I honor and respect the terrific and tragically necessary work that Yad Vashem does. God bless you.

I'm writing today with a complaint, however. This morning I had a look at your webpage devoted to the Ulma family, who were martyred for protecting Jews.

Rather than beginning your page with a salute to this incomparably heroic and loving family, you begin with a racist smear against Poles.

All responsible persons acknowledge that there was significant anti-Semitism in Poland in the interwar, wartime, and post-war era. I'm not writing to you to deny that. All responsible persons know that we must discuss and understand this anti-Semitism. I'm not asking you to hide Polish anti-Semitism. In fact, I invite you to read "Bieganski," my own book's, frank discussion of anti-Semitism in Poland.

I'm writing, rather, to say that by opening your page devoted to the Ulmas with an unsupported statement charging that most Poles were indifferent or hostile to Jewish Holocaust victims (how on earth do you know?) you are not honoring the Ulmas, rather, you are dishonoring them.

In a blog entry devoted to my own book, "Bieganski," I discuss the work of Jewish, Israeli professor Jackie Feldman. Dr. Feldman points out that those Jews who would stereotype all Poles as evil manipulate accounts of Polish rescuers of Jews. This blog entry is here.

Unfortunately, Yad Vashem, in your webpage devoted to the Ulmas, you do exactly that. Rather than opening with, and emphasizing, the Ulmas heroism, you depict them, as Dr. Feldman mentions, as lone and anomalous heroes in a sea of Polish monsters. You state categorically, with no support, that most Poles were indifferent to the Holocaust, and you immediately invoke the massacre of Jews by Poles in Jedwabne.

In fact the Ulmas were were true Poles, born and raised in Poland, and acting on Polish, Catholic ideals.

I would like you to consider the following. In the blog devoted to my book, I talk about Jews who have been heroic supporters of Poland. I do that in this series of posts.

How would you feel, my friends, if I began that series of posts by saying, as you do about the Ulmas, "While most Jews held goyim in contempt, some Jews actually went against the grain of their culture and loved and supported Poland." I would NEVER make such a statement, a statement analogous to your statement about the Ulmas. I would never make such a statement because to do so would be a false, hatemongering lie.

Further, as you invoke Jedwabne, what if, every time I talked about Jews, I said something like this: "Many Jews betrayed Poles to the Soviets." Or, "Many Jews joined the Soviets and tortured Polish heroes after WW II."

Sadly, these are facts. Many Jews did betray Poles to the Soviets, and Jews, under the Soviets, did torture Polish heroes after WW II.

But to mention those complicated and troubling facts every time I talk about Jews who served Poland would be a terrible error. It would be racist.

It is no less a racist error for you to invoke Jedwabne in the first paragraph of your "salute" to the heroic Ulma family, who gave their lives for Jews and who do not deserve this smear.

If you can see how wrong it would be for me to open a web page devoted to talking about Jews who loved and served Poland by saying, "While most Jews held goyim in contempt," or "Under the Soviets, Jews tortured Poles," can you not see why it is very wrong for you to open a page devoted to the Ulmas with a statement about how most Poles were supportive of the Holocaust, or an invocation of Jedwabne?

Further, you do not mention that the Polish underground executed Wlodzimierz Les for his crime of collaborating with the Nazis, including his crime of betraying the Ulmas and the Jews they sheltered. By failing to mention this act of justice carried out by Poles, you contribute to the image of the Ulmas as lone decent people in a sea of Polish monsters.

You mention, but don't emphasize, that in spite of the horrendous massacre of the Ulma family and their Jewish charges, some in their village actually continued to shelter Jews. This is superhuman heroism.

In the name of human decency, please think about this, and please change your shameful page. The work you are doing to commemorate Holocaust victims is much more important than this kind of petty hate.

Thank you.

A photograph, by Jozef Ulma, of a Polish peasant home. Source.


  1. William H. SzychMay 1, 2011 at 4:57 PM

    The Germans and former Soviet nations must love it and sit back and have a good laugh when they see the peoples that they murdered and raped so mercilessly keep the focus away from their unequivocal and total responsibility for the "bloodlands" as they have been recently called. Professor, someday your book will be required reading in universities who want to examine the full record and who are not afraid to question the shameful treatment of the nation of Poland. Please keep up the great work.

  2. Thank you for your comment. I really appreciate it.

  3. Thank you for your blog. Being the daughter of Catholic and Jewish parents I salute your efforts to educate and inform us all and so hopefully put an end to the widespread stereotyping of Poles, both Catholic and Jewish.

  4. Hello. I have just read story of Ulma family on Yad Vashem site. My family lives near Markowa so I know this story. After Germans killed those people there were only 17 Jews left in Markowa. All of them hidden by local peasants. All of them survived. What Yehuda Erlich wrote about dead 24 Jews is a lie! Why don't people from Yad Vashem contact Abraham Segal from Haifa. He was hiding in Markowa not in Sietesz (miles away).

  5. Thank you Danusha for pointing this out and writing this letter.
    I have sent 3 mails in Polish to the recipients mentioned below, asking for support in changing the note about Ulma family on Yad Vashem website.
    1. Mateusz Szpytma, Institute of National Remembrance, Branch in Kraków, Department of Public Education.
    2. Museum of the History of Polish Jews in Warsaw, Project – Polish Righteous
    3. Ewa Rudnik, Righteous Among the Nations, Embassy of Israel in Warsaw
    I hope something can be done about it!

  6. If only the time, thought, and effort of all the generally useless letters and supplicating petitions written to various Slavophobe organizations, institutions, and individuals were instead spent writing our own experience - - and especially - - - -analyzing and exposing those organizations.

    Writing to them from the one down supplicant position only encourages them to continue to think they are as wonderful as they and their mothers imagine they are, and affirms an already overdeveloped grandiosity. Nemo

  7. Malgorzata, brava for writing to these individuals and organizations. I hope for education, awareness, action, and change.

  8. @NEMO - please propose what can we do? I am curious what exactly your experience is that could change the current situation when writting about it.
    We do analyse and expose mistakes and lies these organisations make, but we do not use the same methods. We do not lie.
    I am personally open for any ideas that would help and will not cause any hatred or aggression.

  9. Oh, bravo to you! I absolutely look up to you, you truly inspire me. I did not know about this.

    I learned about Jedwabne just a couple of short years ago. My parents never talk to me about WWII, it's "too sad" they say. When I learned about it, in full detail, not from some short history book blurb, there was much more to it than many will have the world think.

    That being said, back to the Ulmas and this situation. As long as we share our ideas, and tell others, and stand up together (thanks to the new world of Social Media) perhaps one day the truth will prevail.

    I implore you to share this terrible discrepancy and any others you find, with fellow Poles, with Polish newspapers, blog about it, share it with the Polish Embassy in DC, the Kosciuszko Foundation. With enough noise saying "We were NOT monsters! We were victims, hand in hand, fighting together with the Jews against our opressors the Nazis and Soviets!", perhaps the truth will one day prevail.

    As it did Katyn.

    God bless you.

  10. Polish Mama on the Prairie! thank you so much for stopping by and having a look. I really appreciate your positive feedback.

  11. @Malgorzata, First - catch yourself supplicating. Then stop it. This creates time for other things, and breaks the cycle of engagement with the abuser. Even negative engagement is a form of engagement with the abuser, rather than freedom from the abuser. They don't deserve the engagement, you DO deserve the freedom.

    Write internet or other reviews on the various Slavophobe events, persons, organizations, etc. Dr. Goska has done this pretty well. Talk to a thousand persons in the light of the Net - - and not one, and not five, in some dark institutional alley where they will only do you in, or ignore you or patronize you at best. Dr. Goska's example of her thesis' political difficulty is an example of the latter.

    Do not feel you must limit your freedom to act if someone else will hate you for it. The hate is their responsibility, not yours.

    Begin to withhold all support from any institution, business, person, etc. that is part of the problem, and/or a platform for it. Don't even talk to them or argue with them if you have other better things to do. Vote with your dollars, vote with your time, vote with your feet, vote with your attention.

    For example, perhaps Polish American kids should get their college education in Poland?? . . cheaper, less toxic, less indoctrination? Maybe the Jagiellonian Univ might offer some online courses. Maybe you could teach one? Maybe you could get the JagUniv to create some positive courses that analyze matters from our own perspective, rather than always everyone else's. Maybe the JagU could offer some courses in the US, at select universities, which itself might be an illuminating experience.

    Giving your time and attention to the perps is what they want, what they thrive on. Sort of like some psychopaths savor their victims' pain. It makes them feel larger, maybe as large as their fantasies.

    I suppose you could put on yourself the responsibility to love those that hate you, but this can become a recipe for self-abuse at times, depending, and the worst abusers will only use that to abuse you more.


  12. Conformer with a CauseOctober 19, 2011 at 5:03 PM

    I notice the following article about a Ukrainian saving Jews sticks to the same credit the individual but slam the nationality theme

    Including the following sentence

    " He did so at great danger to his life, as there was intense competition between local Ukrainians and Poles as to who could deliver more Jews to the Nazi Gestapo - when they were not murdering Jews themselves."


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