MUSEUM OF THE ULMA FAMILY
Aneta Kamieniecka talks with dr. Mateusz Szpytma – a historian of a branch of the National Remembrance Institute in Kraków, a proxy of the director of the Museum – the Castle in Łańcut for Museum of Poles saving the Jews during the Second World War named the Ulma Family in Markowa, a relative of Wiktoria Ulma
ANETA KAMIENIECKA: - On 17 March 2016, in the presence of the Polish President Andrzej Duda, there will be an opening ceremony of the Museum of Poles Saving the Jews during the Second World War named the Ulma Family. This event is important not only for Markowa and Podkarpacie…
DR. MATEUSZ SZPYTMA: - The organizer of the ceremonies which will definitely have a non-regional character, is the Marshal’s Office of Podkarpacie Province in Rzeszów and these are its authorities which are the most competent as for the details of those events. I can confirm that the ceremonies will be attended by the Polish president Andrzej Duda. We expect a lot of prominent guests from Poland and abroad. The recent works on the exhibition, scenography and the museum equipment have finished. We can say that everything has already been ready.
- The opening ceremony of the museum finishes a kind of a phase, but can we say that it closes the issue of help which Poles gave to the Jews during the war?
- Certainly, we cannot. Building the museum required determination and engagement of many people; without it, we could not speak about realization of intentions which have taken on a realistic form now. In this context making the building available in Markowa for visitors is an important element but only of phases. With the day of opening the building, there will begin another phase concerning developing functioning of the museum and developing knowledge about the Ulma family and many other Poles who saved the Jews against murders and deserved to be called heroes with their attitudes.
- Could you remind us how the idea of building the museum in Markowa appeared?
- In 2004 in Markowa a monument reminiscing heroism of Józef and Wiktoria Ulma and their children was unveiled; they were murdered on 24 March 1944 by the German gendarmerie for hiding the Jews. After that event more and more pilgrimages and visitors from Israel began to arrive in Markowa. People from Poland but also from abroad wanted to get to know about the history of the Ulma family not only through mass media but also personally, somehow touching the places where they had lived, had been brought up for heroism and where they had devoted their lives, bringing help to their neighbours. Having talked with Bogdan Romaniuk – the current vice-marshal of province of Podkarpacie – we both concluded that it is worth coming out to those expectations and create a museum and, on the example of the Ulma family, show that the scale of devotion of the Polish society was much wider than it is generally thought. What is more, it turned out that in Poland – beside few monuments or remembrance boards – there is no place where Poles saving the Jews would be reminisced with dignity. It made us believe more that the museum is a good idea.
- What range of the museum will there be in Markowa?
- As I mentioned, the range of the museum will not be limited to Markowa or Podkarpacie. Therefore, last October the building changed its name for the Museum of Poles Saving the Jews during the Second World War, which somehow widespread its range. We hope that through the fact that people from all over the world will arrive in Markowa, the museum will gain the international dimension. In order to go out towards expectations, we prepared a presentation in three languages: Polish, English and Hebrew.
- What can somebody expect after visiting the museum in Markowa?
- I would begin with saying that the museum is a monument which shows that both scenography and the solid of the building are important, which, emerging from the ground, appeals to imagination. This emerging symbolizes places where the Jews were hidden during the war. According to the ideal intention of an architect, the museum has got the shape of a rectangle ended with a triangular sharp roof. Outside there are illuminated tablets with surnames of Poles murdered for helping the Jews, which itself builds atmosphere of what can be seen inside. The heart of the museum is an illuminated site, through which one can see a symbolic glass house of the Ulma family, pulsing with photos. What is essential, the author of the photos of Wiktoria and children, as well as the Jews hidden, and coming from the Didner, Grunfeld and Goldman families, is Józef Ulma who was a photographer with passion. Scenogrpahy on walls of the museum shows what the Polish-Jewish relations had been like before and during the German occupation, as well as reality of those times, thanks to which one can see how the Jews were hidden and how it was punished. There are also portraits of Poles who undertook this challenge, despite their awareness of repressions. Certainly, we devoted most attention to the history of God’s servants Józef and Wiktoria Ulma and their children. They all deserve honour and remembrance but also being an example for us, that in inter-human relations we should follow love.
- So, it is love towards our neighbours which is a prism through which we should judge decisions of those who brought help to the Jews?
- Motivations of particular people were various, but in most cases it was selfless help. Neighbours helped neighbours, acquaintances – to acquaintances. An example of selfless behavior was the Ulma family, for whom motivation was their willingness to help the others. It was a family which had made friendship with the Jews – so they helped their acquaintances. We celebrate the Extraordinary Jubilee of Mercifulness, so, it is worth referring to the fact: as we know, the members of expedition of the German gendarmerie from Łańcut after murdering the Ulma family and Jewish families hidden by them, did not burn their house, therefore, the Bible with marked fragments about the merciful Samaritan survived. It points to the intention which made the Ulma family do such heroic acts. Although – as I think – they would not have defined their help to others as heroism, but something extraordinary. Humility is a feature of great people. The Ulma family were surely great people.