Submitted into Contest #241 in response to: Start your story with an unexpected betrayal.... view prompt


Historical Fiction Christian

This story contains sensitive content

Content warning: Murder during WWII, including murder of children

Greed is a powerful motivator. It has been working on Wล‚odzimierz Leล›, a member of the Blue Police, for a year.

A year ago, he agreed to bring six Jews, Saul Szall, Saulโ€™s wife, and their four sons, Baruch, Mechel, Joachim, and Mojzesz, from ลaล„cut to Markowa. The Szall familyโ€™s aim was to evade the occupying German forces, and they had entrusted their lives to Leล›. It was easier for Jews to go into hiding in cities. In small villages, everyone knew everyone else, and it was all too easy to be denounced. Moving from one small village to another could give a bit of safety.ย 

The Szall family, and two Jewish sisters, one with a young daughter, were all taken in by the Ulmas. The nine people spent more than a year in tiny Markowa without being found out by the Germans.ย 

But now, Leล› has decided to denounce them. The Szall family contacted him and requested that he return their personal property he had been holding for them. They were not able to bring the things with them when they were transported to the Ulma familyโ€™s farm. Leล› now wants to keep their possessions.ย If they were dead, they could not demand that he hand the things over to the rightful owners. And so he goes to people who can silence the Szall family.

Four armed Nazis approached the Ulma family farm not long before midnight of March 23, 1944.

Jozef and Wiktoria Ulma are startled awake by a pounding on their farmhouse door. Jozef rolls out of bed and walks in his stockings across the wooden floorboards. When he opens the front door, he is shoved bodily backwards into his home, nearly falling. Four men tromp into the dark house. โ€œWhere are the Jews?โ€ they demand.

โ€œThere are no Jews here,โ€ Jozef replies. This is the stock answer of all people accused of hiding Jews, whether or not it is true. Many people who believe lying is wrong also believe it cannot be frowned on when lives will be saved.

โ€œWe know they are here. We will find them,โ€ the leader retorts, and the four men proceed to tear the house apart.

As the modest home is ransacked, the six Ulma children wake up. Their pregnant mother puts her arms around them like a mother hen sheltering her chicks, and the boys and girls watch the strangers tip over their fatherโ€™s shelf full of painstakingly-collected books, scattering the volumes. The tables are turned over and the few rugs on the floor are thrown about in a search for any kind of hidden trapdoor.

Finally, the invaders climb up to the attic garret, and find the guests huddled there. They were already awakened by the commotion down below, and there is one great fear: They have been found out.

Everyone in the house is forced out into the front yard. One Nazi goes around the village and rouses the rest of the villagers, calling them to the Ulma property.

Shots ring out in the cold early March morning, and the six children of Jรณzef and Wiktoria Ulma began screaming. The children have just witnessed the killing of the nine Jewish men and women who lived and worked with them on their farm for over a year. Now, the same thing is happening to their father and mother.ย 

Seven months pregnant with her seventh child, Wiktoria falls to the ground pieced by bullets, and goes into labor.ย 

Jan Kokott, a twenty-three-year-old Czech man serving in the German police force, looks at the weeping children, and speaks to his superior, Lieutenant Eilert Dieken.ย 

Eilert nods, and shouts a command.ย 

Kokott and the other two officers, Michael Dziewulski and Erich Wilde, raise their guns and fire at the children. Stanisล‚awa, Barbara, Wล‚adisล‚aw, Franciszek, Antoni, and Maria die with their parents, and Wiktoriaโ€™s unnamed son is born as his mother dies, and dies with her.ย 

โ€œLook at how Polish swine who hide Jews die,โ€ Lieutenant Dieken says to the assembled villagers. He then orders them to dig a mass grave in the Ulma familyโ€™s front yard.

โ€œWhy were the children killed?โ€ Teofil Kielar, the Wรณjt, or regional leader, asks the German lieutenant. Kielar is already acquainted with Dieken from past inspections.ย 

โ€œSo that you would not have any problems with them,โ€ the lieutenant answers.

The bodies of the Jewish men and women, and the one little girl, are taken to a disused burial ground for farm animals, according to Diekenโ€™s orders.

After the internment, Edward Nawojski, a neighbor of the Ulmas, takes the news and spreads it about Markowa. โ€œThe Ulma family and their Jews have been killed!โ€ย 

Every villager knew before the day was out. But all had already known about the presence of the two Jewish families living in the Ulma farm. They had slept in the attic, but during the day they had helped with the chores of the farm. Jozef, an amateur photographer, had even taken a picture of three of the Szall sons at work on the property.ย 

What fear stirs in the hearts of others who are harboring hunted Jewish people? The Ulmas have been found out, or denounced, and all their children, from the two-year-old to the eight-year-old, have been shot.

One man goes home with the terrible report and quietly shares it with his wife. He is wracked with the fear his family could be next.ย 

There are Jews hiding in his root cellar. They have been hiding there for twenty months. If they are revealed, all in the house could be killed. Lt. Dieken has shown beyond doubt that the penalty for concealing Jews is death.ย 

This man is not the only one wrestling with a demonic thought. He is not the only one who succumbs to it.ย 

The next morning,ย twenty-four Jewish people are found dead in the fields near Markowa.

When a relative comes to claim the Ulma farmstead in Markowa, they find the family Bible in the house, and leaf through it. Solace in this dark time can be found both in the Word of God and in simply touching the book used so much by the dearly departed.

Bright red on the cream-colored paper stops their hand. A passage in the Gospels has been underlined. A quick reading shows it is the parable of the Good Samaritan.

Further paging reveals more verses underlined in red: A new commandment I give you, that you love one another: that as I have loved you, you also love one another. By this will all men know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.

โ€”John 13:34โ€“35

Authorโ€™s note: โ€œbliลบniโ€ is the Polish word for โ€œneighborโ€

The Ulma family were beautified by the Catholic Church on September 10, 2023.

Lt. Diekenโ€™s lines about โ€œPolish swineโ€ and why the children were killed is what Kielar remembered him saying. All other spoken lines were imagined by the author.

March 15, 2024 15:28

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Helen A Smith
13:19 Apr 01, 2024

It could have more dialogue to get the feel of the characters as it reads in an abstract way, but this doesnโ€™t mean the reader doesnโ€™t get involved. I find it a strongly written story.


Thanks for reading, Helen! And thanks for the feedback. Yeah, the dialogue could have been stronger. I opted to almost exclusively use the words recorded as having been really said, but adding more fictional dialogue would probably have helped to make the story more engaging.


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Trudy Jas
23:31 Mar 19, 2024

The holocaust is a stain on human history ans should be told over and over again. You asked for feedback, Using more dialogue between the various characters and thus giving life to the deceased, might have made it more powerful.


Thank you for reading, Trudy! This was such a terrible time. Itโ€™s painful to read and write about, but as you said, itโ€™s important not to forget. Thanks for the feedback! Friends have also told me that more dialogue between the characters would have made for more interesting reading. However, I also wanted to stay as close to the truth as possible. It just didnโ€™t feel right to me to add more fictionalized dialogue than I already did. But to make a good story, you sometimes need to use imagination rather than just grip the facts.


Trudy Jas
20:16 Apr 22, 2024

Yes, I know. I had the same dilemma when I wrote my father's story (the railroad along the river), and his POW years in Burma. How much is too much gore when it really happened (as opposed to werewolves and vampires) and how close to stick to the truth. Either way, they make for powerful stories.


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