Dear Friends of Today's Heroes - Poles from all over our country, but especially from here, from Podkarpacie, those who saved their fellow citizens, neighbors of Jewish nationality during World War II under German occupation, especially those of you who are present here, in Markowa.
Dear Ladies and Gentlemen Ministers, Excellency, Reverend Archbishop, Honorable Representatives of the Voivodeship Self-Government and local governments, Mr. Starosta, Mr. Mayor, Representatives of councils, poviat, commune headed by the Chairmen, Representatives of the Podkarpackie Voivodeship Assembly, Dear Mrs. Voivode, Mr. President of the Institute of National Remembrance, Mr. Ambassador, all the members of our, Polish and European Parliaments, Dear Residents of Markowa, Dear Inhabitants of Podkarpacie, All Ladies and Gentlemen!
Today, for the sixth time, we officially celebrate the National Remembrance Day of Poles who saved Jews under German occupation as a public holiday. Seven years have passed since we opened this extremely important museum together, commemorating the family who lived and died here, in fact giving their lives for helping other people, for helping their fellow citizens - Poles of Jewish nationality, who lived with them together, when the German invader came here, took over this land and began to carry out their planned action of destroying the Jewish nation, their elimination in a ruthless, brutal way, never seen before in history.
There were at that time in our country, in Poland, people who had extraordinary courage; who deeply in their hearts held the ideals of humanity, respect for life, for other people, love of their neighbor - yes, the Christian one - of the great ethos of the Commonwealth of many nations, which together, for years after regaining independence in 1918, they co-created as a free, independent, sovereign Poland, imbued with these ideals so deeply that they were not afraid.
They were not afraid to help, they were not afraid to give shelter despite the terrible threat that everyone was aware of at the time.
You know this, but I am saying it out loud to remind you once again. Very often in Western Europe, in the United States, in Israel, and other places in the world, they do not know about it: in Poland, helping Jews under German occupation during World War II by the German occupiers and torturers, was punishable by death. Death! Not prison, not deportation, not any kind of punishment, not even a concentration camp - the death penalty was brutally and ruthlessly carried out, practically without a trial, without any indictment, without any examination of the case, without any rules.
Thousands of Poles out of - as we estimate - a million, who helped Jews who were hiding at that time, who were trying to escape death, were murdered in this way, most often together with their Jewish neighbors, along with their Jewish charges, those whom they helped, whom they hid. Many of them also here, in Podkarpacie. We do not know about many crimes committed then, because many of them remain unknown. No archives, no documents, no witnesses.
The crime that took place here in Markowa survived in memory, in documents, and is one of the absolutely most monstrous crimes committed at that time. A large family was murdered: parents - Józef and Wiktoria Ulma - together with six children and a seventh unborn child in the mother's womb, Wiktoria Ulm, then in advanced pregnancy. They were all shot by the German gendarmes for helping the Jewish Goldman family. In total, the Germans murdered 17 people then: two parents - the aforementioned Wiktoria and Józef Ulma - all their six children plus the unborn; a total of seven children. And eight of their Jewish charges – people they gave shelter to.
This was done in the morning of March 24, 1944 in a planned, bestial and brutal manner. This was witnessed by many inhabitants of this village at that time. And I want to emphasize here very strongly: not only the village of Markowa, but the whole neighborhood knew that this crime had taken place, that the death penalty on Ulmas was carried out. And, practically in all towns around, there were Polish families who hid Jews and helped them. Because there were many Jews living in these areas - simply citizens of the Republic of Poland. Here, in Markowa, despite this crime, despite the terrible horror it must have caused, those Jews who were hidden mostly survived. People did not stop helping.
We are standing in front of this memorial wall with nameplates on it. And these are families only from here, only from this region, from this land, from Podkarpacie. It is a testimony to what those days were like at that time and how many people in the occupied Polish lands were able to behave decently, for whom Christian values, ethics and ordinary love of neighbor were stronger even than the fear of death - not only their own, but also their own families. This is one aspect of those times.
But it is also necessary to mention the second, extremely important one, which should also be known and remembered by the world. All of Poland - all of this land that was the Republic of Poland until 1939 - was occupied. Poland did not exist in the sense of a state at that time and there were no Polish authorities that would collaborate with the occupier. There were no Polish authorities, no Polish official institutions that would in any way participate in this terrible crime that the Germans committed against the Jewish nation, including Jews of Polish citizenship. We were all together victims of World War II, victims of Hitler's terror.
Almost 6 million Polish citizens died during World War II, 3 million of whom were of Jewish descent. Our two nations, our state - as a society of the Republic of Poland - experienced a terrible tragedy. But in the official, institutional sense, it has always stood up for all its citizens, regardless of their nationality.
It was none other than the Delegation of the Government for Poland - the government in exile, which was then in London - that had a unit called the "Żegota" Council to Aid Jews.
Practically throughout the entire period of the Nazi occupation, it provided help here, on Polish lands, to Jews persecuted by the Germans; children helped by Irena Sendler; over 200 religious orders and congregations that were involved in the relief effort at that time, actively hiding children and adults of Jewish descent.
And thousands of people - very often nameless, very often unknown to this day - who brought this help. We estimate that it was a total of about a million Poles, because in order to save one fellow citizen of Jewish nationality, it was usually necessary to obtain help of at least a few people to deliver food, to provide shelter, to hide.
We celebrate their holiday today. It is before their memory - in particular those who died, were murdered - that we bow our heads today here in Markowa. We thank them with all our hearts, honoring their memory, we thank their relatives, loved ones, those living families for their extraordinary gift - the gift of humanity, the gift of life for another human, sacrifice, and also the gift to the Republic of Poland, which was precisely this attitude of helping another human so deeply lodged - I have no doubts about it, which can also be seen today - in the mentality of our nation, in the mentality of Polish society.
Honor and glory to the heroes! Eternal memory to the fallen and murdered citizens of the Republic of Poland! To everyone - those who were rescued, who were murdered despite everything, and those who were rescuing and were murdered. Eternal memory and glory! Honor their memory!