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Thursday, 17 March 2016

Address by the President of Poland at the opening ceremony of the Ulms Family Museum

President at the opening ceremony of the Ulms Family Museum of Poles Who Saved Jews in Markowa

Address by the President of Poland at the opening ceremony of the Ulms Family Museum of Poles Who Saved Jews in Markowa

 

It was at night… They drove here on sideroads from the direction of Łańcut, as it was then recalled by the cart driver, a young peasant boy from one of Podkarpacie villages: the German police patrol and the blue police. Among them there was also the one, as it has been established with a fair degree of probability, also who had reported on the Ulms family and the Goldman family who were living with the former.

 

They stopped off the road. The house was on the outskirts of the village, with no other buildings in the vicinity. The policemen and the blue policemen directed themselves towards the Ulms' house. The, a gunfire was to be heard… They summoned the cart drivers and ordered them to look. They first murdered Chaim Goldman's sons, then himself, his then Józef and Wiktoria Ulms. One of the Germans told the cart drivers: "Look. This is how Polish pigs are slaughtered who help Jews". Thereafter, they did not know what to do with the children: the six children of Józef and Wiktoria. And the commanding officer of the German police said: "We will spare you the trouble in the village", and he killed them all, one by one. The author of this account said: “Gunfire, screams, lamentation were to be heard. It was shocking”. See also: President: By saving Jews Poles survived in dignity

 

Why would Józef Ulma and his wife behave this way, why would they decide take under their roof the Goldman family? Chaim, the head of family, approaching his eighties, a merchant from Łańcut nearby, his grown-up sons, his daughters and a granddaughter? Why would they take such an decision? Were they following the appeal of the Command of the Polish Underground State which stated that it is a moral obligation of the Polish people to come to aid to our Jewish compatriots, the citizens of the Republic of Poland, facing annihilation? Or was it because they knew Chaim Goldman and his whole family? Since all people knew each other in that local community. Or was the biblical story of the Good Samaritan that inspired them, as the story was later found underlined in their family Bible at home? Nobody knows... Nobody can tell. One thing is certain: Józef Ulma was an ordinary peasant, a farmer from the Podkarpacie region. An educated and intelligent man, he completed his primary education of four classes, and thereafter a farming school. He was shown as a model farmer, he was a dedicated bee keeper, he also bred silkworms. By today's standards, he was a local opinion leader. And he certainly was one. People would seek his advice. He took pictures to record the life of his local community and of his own family. Also thanks to this contribution, the museum here is so persuasive and beautiful. It is full of pictures that Józef had taken: also full of pictures taken of his Jewish neighbours and guests, whom he had taken under his roof and with whom he died.

 

This is an extremely compelling museum. I am very grateful and I wish to thank in the name of the Republic of Poland and in the name of all my compatriots to all of them who contributed to the establishment of the museum. I wish to thank them who made sure that the Ulms, their family and all people who helped their compatriots of Jewish descent to survive the massacre of their people, as the Nazi destined back them for annihilation. Thank you for making this museum a memorial to them all. Thank you - for such a memorial was urgently needed by Poland, also in terms of historical fairness.

 

Our nations: the Polish and the Jewish one inhabited this land for one thousand years. This millennium of shared history was then subjected to a horrifying fracture, i.e. the Holocaust on Polish soil occupied by the Germans. The death camps which for a black chapter in the history of the Jewish People. Many people come to our country to see the Auschwitz Birkenau Camp and other testimonies of the massive annihilation which come as a warning for the whole world: what hatred and insane ideology mean, and what a man possessed with both can be capable of doing. Fortunately, also other places have been recently set up our country, pointing to what is  good in history, what is beautiful in history, even the most tragic part of it. This museum is precisely such a place: the museum of brotherhood, charity, cooperation, the museum of shared space, homeland, and many a time of shared attachment.

 

Perhaps the reason why Józef Ulma took the Goldman family under his roof considering that their son took part in Polish defense war of 1939, like himself. Perhaps considering the fact that thousands of citizens of Jewish descent fought for Poland in 1918, 1919, 1920, 1939, and thereafter. They fought since Poland was our shared homeland where they were born, raised, were they lived. And, fortunately, the place where during the unspeakable tragedy of the Holocaust, in the days of putting into test of the "final solution of the Jewish question", as it was cynically termed by German commanders, thousands of Polish people were to be found who lived up to the test, as brothers and citizens. Being charitable people who heeded the teachings offered to us all by Christianity: the teaching about loving one’s neighbour. Fortunately, there were people who had sufficient love in spite of the great risk, the risk of imminent death, since unlike anywhere else, in Poland assistance to Jews was punishable with death, and unlike anywhere else it was mercilessly enforced. There were more poeple than Wiktoria and Józef Ulms and their children who perished this way. There were tens, hundreds of families, thousands of people who gave their lives for the assistance offered to their compatriots, co-citizens.

 

As we recall today those dramatic times and one thousand years of shared history, may our path across that epoch be charted out by what can be now seen in free and independent Poland, mindful of her own history. This is the museum of the History of Polish Jews POLIN in Warsaw which shed lights on those beautiful and those sad chapters, this is German Nazi concentration camp Auschwitz, but also it is the museum in Markowa, a very important site on our shared itinerary. The museum which features, albeit in a tragic format, the most powerful sign of the Republic of Friends: where a friend was ready to offer his life for a friend, a brother for a brother, man for man. May what we have heard today testify to the truth of it. Even the German example of terror, i.e. the slaughtering of the Ulms family and the Goldman family whom the former were hiding, would not drive other Markowa inhabitants, who also had families and wanted to survive, to give away the Jews they had been hiding. In spite of that tragedy, twenty one Jews continued to be sheltered in that village until the end of war.

 

This is a grand place for the history of the Republic of Poland for it manifestly exemplifies why we a Polish people can feel worthy. Among us, there were the ones who went beyond decency, who were heroic and who must be treated on a par with those who stood in arms and lost their lives in the fight for Poland's freedom. There I no difference: the former and the latter sacrificed their lives for another man and for freedom; since freedom equals dignity. The fact that they were hiding their neighbours, acquaintances, or even accidentally encountered people, was their objection to cruelty, contempt, hatred: all of the sentiment that was brought by German Nazi to the Polish land, the antisemitism with which they could not come to terms and would never come to terms till the end of their life.

 

As President of the Republic of Poland, I want to say loud and clear:  anyone who preaches and incites hatred among nations, anyone who preaches, sows or incites antisemitism, tramples on the grave of the Ulms family, tramples on their memory, the ideals they pursued as the Poles and for which they sacrificed their lives: for dignity, decency, justice, and the most fundamental respect that every man deserves. May this museum, next to other existing, serve as a great testimony to everyone, of this tragic but also edifying memory, and a warning about what contempt and hatred can make of people.

 

In all those circumstances, it is good that the authorities of the Polish Underground State were able to show their resolve. The one who most probably betrayed the Ulms and their guests, their Jewish neighbours, would not live long after. They perished at night on 23-24 March, and the Polish Underground State executed the collaborator on 10 September of the same year: 1944. Later, another murderer was also captured: the one who was responsible for shooting three children. First condemned to death by the Polish court, he was then pardoned to serve life sentence, and then to 25 years of impediment. He died in a Bytom prison. It is good that the Polish state was capable of showing fundamental justice in the face of murder. Such a fundamental justice should be dealt to any murderer. In any just and law abiding state it so happens. And by the same token, none fair and law abiding state can condone inciting hatred, national phobias, or xenophobia. I trust that Poland will never condone it. As much as the State of Israel nowadays, as much as its founding fathers, taught by the dramatic Holocaust experience, decided never to leave any of their citizens abandoned and will go to great lengths to protect every Jew, we the Polish people and our state, we should follow the suit.

 

May the tragedy of what happened in World War 2 be a dramatic lesson, equally to the Jewish people and to our people; the lesson allowing us and generations to come to draw our conclusions, the future generations to whom we must relate the truth. The truth about the Holocaust, the truth about what was happening, the truth about the heroism but also sometimes the sad truth about wickedness. Since truth builds brotherhood among nations and allow to create friendly bonds. Since prosperous future can only rely on truth.  

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