The Murder of Józef and Wiktoria Ulma

72 years ago today, on March 24, 1944, a terrible crime took place. In front of their six children, aged 2-8, Józef and Wiktoria Ulma were murdered by the German Nazis, each killed with a bullet to the back of the head. Wiktoria was about 9 months pregnant, too. And after that, each of the children was also murdered, executed, a bullet to the head.

What led up to this? In 1942, Józef and Wiktoria Ulma, prominent citizens of the small town of Markowa, gave shelter to two Jewish families, a total of eight Jews, hiding them in their attic. For nearly two years, they were hidden, sheltered, saved from the Nazi machine that was busy rounding up and murdering millions of Polish Jews.

But on that fateful morning of March 24, 1944, time had run out. Given up by an informer, a German patrol surrounded the house and caught all eight Jews. They were each shot in the back of the head. Next, Jóżef and Wiktoria were summarily executed, then each of their children, one by one. A few locals were forced to dig a mass grave and bury them all.

In all the Nazi-occupied territory in World War II, it was only in Poland that the penalty for sheltering a Jew was death, and death to you and your whole family. Thousands of Poles were caught sheltering and helping Jews, and they too were murdered.

You can read more about this horrific crime here:

But that’s not the end of the story. The story of the murder of Józef and Wiktoria Ulma does not end there. The bodies were later exhumed and given a burial in the church cemetery–that’s where they discovered the nearly born seventh child. In 1953, Józef and Wiktoria were recognized as “Righteous Among the Nations” by Yad Vashem. Of all nations so honored, Poland by far has the most people, because Poland by far did the most to help the Jews in World War II, and Poland by far had the most Jewish citizens that were murdered by the Nazis.

In 2004 a stone monument was erected in memory of this horrific crime. And now, in 2016, on March 14, a new museum opened, the Ulma Family Museum of Poles Saving Jews on the site that the Ulma family was murdered. The museum is a testimony to the thousand of brave Poles who gave their lives to save fellow citizens, and also to the thousands who suceeded. You can read more about the museum here:

Never forget…..

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Condemned to Death

It was 76 years ago today, on March 5th, 1940, that about 22,000 people were condemned to death. During April and May of 1940, they were murdered, killed with a shot to the back of the head and buried in mass graves.

Who were they? They were mostly Polish Army officers, along with some other Polish intellectuals–police officers, professors, doctors, lawyers–all the cream of the crop (intelligentsia) of Poland before the Soviet invasion of 1939.

Who did this? 76 years ago today, Joseph Stalin (may he burn in hell forever) signed the order of Lavrentiy Beria, the head of the Soviet Secret Police (NKVD). In subsequent months, this was carried out at several sites, the most notorious of which is in the Katyń forest. Today this “event” is generally known as the Katyń Massacre.

Why did they do this? Russia and the Soviet Union have coveted Poland for centuries. Stalin wanted Poland for his own from before the start of World War II, but he also knew of the zealousness and fierce nationalism of the Poles. By murdering their top level of society, he hoped to quell any rebelliousness. Of course we know that in the long run, this did not work out so well for the Soviet Union, though we must be wary even to this day, as Russia still in her heart covets Poland.

Where can you find out more?

Then ponder this fact: The German Nazi’s uncovered the truth about the Katyń massacre in 1943 and published this for the whole world to know. Roosevelt and Churchill knew what the Soviets had done. Yet they still sacrificed Poland and gave her to Stalin as a “prize” at the Yalta conference. So whenever you think of Roosevelt as some huge hero, think again–the blood of 22,000 Polish Patriots is on his hands as well, as he did nothing to avenge their murder.

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Polish Stars

Polish Stars are a beautiful, traditional Polish ornament that anyone can make. They take a bit of time, but are very easy to do. Here’s just a few of the ones that we’ve made recently:
PolishStars-TommyPic-Web-sm

On Friday November 27th, 2015, for the Sanford Art Walk, I will be in front of Gallery on First demonstrating how to make these. If you’d like to make your own, stop on by, or read/view the following. They really are easy to make, once you get the hang of it.

There is a great online tutorial here: http://80thbirthdaypresents.org/polish-star-christmas-ornament.

You can read more online directions here:

And here is a YouTube Video showing detailed instructions: https://youtu.be/7JXWXG3hsRg.

Paper and size: You can use various types of paper and sizes, but you don’t want the paper to be to thick or it’ll be hard to roll. Here’s what we’ve used”

  • Origami Paper: comes in 6″x 6″ squares, bright colors, and can be found at many craft stores as well as online. It is easy to fold and cut with minimal waste.
  • Gift wrap: foil works especially well, but any give wrap will do. A good way to recycle, too.
  • Magazine Photos: Yes, you can even use magazine photos, they work quite well, actually. The one closest to the top right corner of the photo above is one made from magazine pictures.
  • Send me your suggestions, I’d love to try something new.
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Irena Sendler

Few people today know the story of Irena Sendler. It’s a pity, because it’s a story well worth telling, a tale of a very brave and courageous woman.

On this day in history, Irena Sendler was arrested and tortured by the Gestapo, October 23, 1943. She was a Catholic woman, sentenced to death because she helped save an estimated 2,500 Jewish children from certain death, smuggling them out of the Jewish Ghetto and placing them with Polish families. She kept meticulous records in the mostly vain hope that these children could be reunited with their families after the war. Though tortured and sentenced to death, she never revealed the names of anyone who helped her, and she was rescued by the underground (Żegota, the Polish Council to Aid Jews) in 1944 and spent the rest of the war in hiding. She spent most of the rest of her life in relative obscurity. The communist government of Poland. In 1999 a group of American high school students learned of her story and produced a play about her. It was followed by a TV movie and international attention. You can read more here: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Irena_Sendler and http://www.haaretz.com/israel-news/this-day-in-jewish-history/1.681204. In later years, she received many awards and tributes, and was nominated for a Nobel prize a number of time. In 1965, Sendler was recognized by the State of Israel as Righteous among the Nations. Late in life she was awarded the Order of the White Eagle, Poland’s highest honor, for her wartime humanitarian efforts. She died in Warsaw in 2008 at age 98. Several schools in Poland are named after her. And now you know the rest of the story.

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Irena Krzyżanowska Sendler, 1942.

 

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Kotwica

Kotwica is the Polish word for Anchor. It’s a Polish symbol that became a Polish underground rallying point during World War II. It’s pictured here:

Kotwica-120px-Flaga_PPP.svg

The symbol started as a stylized acronym for Pomścimy Wawer (“We shall avenge Wawer”). This was a reference to the Wawer massacre (26–27 December 1939), which was considered to be one of the first large scale massacres of Polish civilians by German troops in occupied Poland. It looks like an anchor, hence kowica. During the war it became a symbol for the Polish Home Army (Armia Krajowa), and a sign of the underground and underground activities. Many such activities were “signed” with the kotwica.  Over time it came to symbolize the phrase Polska Walcząca (“Fighting Poland”), P-W.

Today it is also a symbol also used to remember the Warsaw Uprising which ended 71 years ago, on October 2nd, 1944. Today it stands for, among other things P-W, remember Warsaw (pamiętacie warszawa) and also for the Muzeum Powstania Warszawskiego, the Warsaw Uprising Museum, which i had the good fortune to visit in 2011.

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September the 17th….

September 17th was a grim day in history for Poland and lovers of freedom everywhere. On September 17th, 1939, the Soviet Union invaded Poland. Poland was already reeling from the German attack and start of World War II just a few weeks earlier. Using the secret protocols/map of  the Ribbentrop-Molotov Pact–signed only a month earlier–the Soviet Union invaded Poland from the east. As a result, Poland was effectively divided between the Soviets and the Nazis, generally along the Curzon line. Poland would not emerge as a truly free country, free from Soviet/Russian domination for another 54 years.

It’s a sad story, and one the world often forgets. You can read more here: http://www.17september1939.com/. But, more importantly, never forget. A free Poland is vital to all of Europe. For hundreds of years, Poland was the savior of Europe, a powerhouse. Today she continues as a shining beacon of freedom and an example to freedom-loving people everywhere. Never forget!

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Start of World War II, 76 years ago today

Today we remember the beginning of World War II. It is measured as starting on September 1, 1939, when the Germans invaded Poland, but in truth, the war itself was a long time in the making, began by the the punishments imposed at the end of the “Great War,” fueled by the appeasements of the allies (France and England) and the closed-door policy of the USA, and incited by the spoils of war hoped for by Stalin with the partition of Poland. Still, we mark it as beginning this day, 76 years ago.

I was there. Not when it started, but where it started–I was there on Westerplatte 71 years later, in 2010, at 4:38 AM in the morning, on September 1st. I was there with thousands of others. I sang Jeszcze Polska nie zginęła, watched some re-enactments, heard the bells toll, and listened to the President of Poland speak, and the Archbishop lead a prayer. It was very moving, and I will never forget it.

I wrote about that experience here in my blog and later on I posted some pictures from that somber ceremony of remembrance. It is worth remembering, the sacrifice of a nation that started that day, and did not really end for nearly 50 years. It’s a story of a tenacious people, longing for freedom, holding on to an ideal, and not giving up, even when abandoned by her friends and allies. It’s a story to long to recount here, now. But a story worth remembering. And it started 76 years ago today, on Westerplatte, with the “official” beginning of World War II….  I remember.

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Black Ribbon Day


Today is Black Ribbon Day. As you may surmise by the color of the ribbon, it’s not a day to remember happy things. This day (August 23rd) was chosen as it is the day on which, on which the so-called Molotov–Ribbentrop Pact was signed in 1939. That treaty between the Nazis and Soviets divided Poland and central Europe between the two totalitarian regimes, and World War II started mere days later with the invasion of Poland.

But what about Black Ribbon Day? What
is it for. It’s also known as the European Day of Remembrance for Victims of Stalinism and Nazism, a day to remember the millions of victims of totalitarian ideologies, specifically communism/Stalinism, fascism and Nazism. The purpose of the Day of Remembrance is “to preserve the memory of the victims of mass deportations and exterminations, while promoting democratic values with th
e aim of reinforcing peace and stability in Europe.”

Black Ribbon Day is observed by many countries in the European Union, as well as by Canada and the United States. It is good that we never forget what happened when two of the worst extremes of totalitarianism got together–they managed to torture and murder millions upon millions of people. Don’t forget.Black-ribbon-4-xxl

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Cud nad Wisłą — Miracle on the Vistula

Today is not only a momentous day in Polish history, it also marks the 95th anniversary of one of the t0p 20 most important military battles in the history of the world, the Miracle on the Vistula, also known as the 1920 Battle of Warsaw. On this day in history, the battle for Warsaw turned in the Poles’ favor.

95 Years ago today, Poland was again a fledgling nation, having risen again out of the ashes of World War I after 117 years of non-existence, having been partitioned in the 18th century between Prussia/Germany, Russian, and Austria/Hungary. But a new map was drawn at the end of World War I, and that included a free Poland. The Bolshevik Communists in Russia, however, had different ideas–they wanted to spread Communism throughout Europe, but they had to go through Poland to do that. Poland was not cooperative, understandably so.

So between 1919 and 1921, Poland and the Soviet Red Army fought, a war started by the Soviets. Poland won, and the turning point happened on August 15, 1920. Though faced with numerically superior forces, Poland’s fledgling army managed to route the Soviet Red Army and save the capital city of Warsaw. It was the beginning of the end for the Communists, at least for another 19 years.

Why did Poland win? They had fervor and nationalism on their side. Having been oppressed for over 100 years, Poles were hungry for freedom. They believed in Poland. The Communists had conscripted (forced) soldiers who were fighting for nothing, being fed like fodder to the guns of the Poles. The Poles had love of country, all the Soviets had was fear. And, the Poles had Józef Piłsudki, their military and political leader. Not especially diplomatic, not typically military-trained, Piłsudski shared the same love of Poland with the Poles. He brought fervor and belief in themselves to the Polish army. Aided by many able generals, the Poles were able to prevail.

Though they won the battle, and this was the turning point, leading to eventually winning the war, the battle was not without consequences for either side. Estimated Red Army losses were 10,000 killed, 500 missing, 30,000 wounded, and 66,000 taken prisoner, compared with Polish losses of some 4,500 killed, 10,000 missing, and 22,000 wounded. Freedom is not cheap, nor easy.

But on this day, 95 years ago, the battle turned in favor of the Poles. August 15th is a national holiday in Poland, a religious holiday, the feast of the Assumption. It’s also celebrated as Armed forces day, and a day of remembrance of the miracle on the Vistula River, 95 years ago today….

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Wola Massacre

71 years ago, the “Wola Massacre” was going on in Warsaw, Poland? What is that? Well, if you read my last post, the Warsaw uprising had started on 01 August 1944. In an attempt to curb the uprising (crush is probably a better word), the Germans began the systematic murder of the civilian population in the Wola district of Warsaw. This lasted for nearly a week, from August 5-12. Under direct orders from Himmler, special units went from block to block, systematically murdering the local population. The murdered were mostly women, the elderly, and children. Several hospitals were burned while crammed with patients, people were systematically tortured, sexually assaulted, and sadistically murdered. One man’s story summarizes some of what went on [the words are my summary]:

The Germans came to our block and rounded everyone up, herding us into a local park area. It was surrounded by mounted machine guns. I was forced there with my wife and family. Then the machine guns opened fire, for a long time, until we were all mowed down. I was not hit, but fell to the ground like everyone else. The firing went on for a long time. I heard my little daughter moaning in pain next to me but dared not move. Soldiers were moving among the bodies, shooting those still alive. I heard a shot next to me. My daughter stopped moaning. She was dead. I feigned death. Later, other Polish prisoners were sent in to remove the bodies. I got up and became one of them. My whole family was murdered, I alone survived…. I ended up in a concentration camp, but survived the war. All of my family perished…. I alone survived….”

On the first day of this  “action,” it’s estimated that 10,000 civilians were systematically murdered, and more tens of thousands in the following days. After the war, though several of the leaders were known, not one was prosecuted. There is some controversy about this even today in Poland, as a car dealership has been built upon a field that contains the ashes of many of these innocent victims of the Wola Massacre.

You can read more about the Wola Massacre here: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wola_massacre. It’s not a pretty story, not a fun story, but it’s history.

The Germans hoped that their actions would break the will of the Polish Home Army and end the Warsaw uprising. If anything, it stiffened the resolve of the Poles who fought on nearly two more months, tying down countless armies of Germans. In the end, abandoned by her so-called allies (England and America), the Poles were left to themselves, slaughtered, abandoned, and handed over to Stalin, They were defeated in part by the allies they so brilliantly and fiercely supported during the war. War sucks, doesn’t it…..

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