MARKOWA, Poland (OSV News) — Kelly Lindquist was three months pregnant with their seventh child when her husband, Ian, was diagnosed with leukemia March 24, 2021.
That was the day when she learned about another family of seven living in Poland at the beginning of 20th century: Servants of God Józef and Wiktoria Ulma.
Józef and Wiktoria Ulma secretly gave shelter to eight Jews for almost two years in German-occupied Poland, hiding them from the Nazi regime during the Second World War. The Ulmas had seven young children, including the unborn child in Wiktoria’s womb. They were murdered by German Nazi policemen March 24, 1944, along with the Jews they took in from the Goldman, Grünfeld and Didner families.
“Ian was diagnosed with leukemia on the feast of the Ulma family or on their death day. I was pregnant with our seventh child at the time, just like Wiktoria was pregnant with her seventh child when they were killed,” Kelly Lindquist told OSV News.
“Our Catholic doctor had said, ‘You need to pray to this family for a miracle,'” she recalled.
That was how a whole new chapter started for the Lindquist family in the fight for Ian’s life and in bringing the family closer to God and to each other.
“From the time he was diagnosed, we had about a year and a month together and the Ulma family were with us the entire time,” Lindquist said.
A family friend asked for memorabilia of the Ulma family to be shipped from Poland to the Lindquist family in Maryland. People of Markowa, where the Ulmas lived and died, did not hesitate to hand these on to a family they did not know: a book with Józef’s signature; a little rosary from the tree growing in the Ulma family garden; and a piece of wood from Wiktoria’s family home. The Lindquists treated the items like precious relics.
“I can remember lying there, pregnant with my child, and it did not look good for my husband. I very much felt like he could die that night. He was getting sicker and sicker, and I just felt the Ulmas present there with me,” Lindquist said. “I was praying to them, and I felt like they were taking care of me and the baby and our children and Ian.”
“There’s been so many graces shed on my children, and I attribute that to the Ulma children. Every night we pray to them by name. They accompanied us and we felt their presence so strongly throughout,” Lindquist added.
Ian Lindquist, an education scholar at Ethics and Public Policy Center in Washington, died of leukemia May 5, 2022.
Asked today whether she felt at all disappointed there was no miracle, Kelly Lindquist replied, “I never felt like the miracle didn’t happen.”
“I realized that the miracles that God had given us through the intercession of the Ulma family had been huge miracles. Miracles of ‘knots’ that have been tied in our marriage, all being unknotted, all being washed away,” she said.
“So God gave us a big miracle. The Ulma family gave us a big miracle. A small miracle never came. Although he did stay alive for so much longer than he really should have or we would have expected given the disease.”
She said the miracle “to be together, to love one another here on this earth,” was the biggest one they could get.
A month after Ian’s passing, Kelly felt she needed to thank the people of Markowa for much more than the souvenirs they shipped to Ian. The whole village was praying for months for Ian’s healing.
“I felt very strongly I wanted to go and say thank you to them. I wanted to see where the Ulma family had died. I wanted to see where they lived. I wanted to meet their family and say thank you to their village just for all the graces that they had given to us in that time that we had with my husband,” Lindquist said.
She packed her seven small children onto a plane to Europe with the help of a friend and arrived in Poland in the summer of 2022. They arrived in Markowa July 29, 2022.
The Vatican confirmed the martyrdom of the Ulma family, including their unborn child, on Dec. 17, 2022, clearing the way for all nine members of the Ulma family to be beatified. For the first time in history, an unborn child is on the path to sainthood. The beatification of the Ulmas will take place Sept. 10 in Markowa.
Kelly Lindquist and her children visited the Museum of Poles Saving Jews in World War II, where the Ulma family memorabilia is on display.
It contains a number of photographs taken by Józef Ulma that documented their family life. At the time of their death in 1944, the oldest Ulma child, Stasia (Stanislawa) was 8; Barbara, 7; Wladyslaw, 6; Franciszek, 4; Antoni, 3; and Maria, under 2.
“Their ages are almost identical to the children’s ages,” Lindquist told OSV News.
In Markowa, they were hosted by Urszula Niemczak — whose husband is Wiktoria’s nephew — and Maria Ryznar-Folta, who runs a historical center in the village.
“We are only here on earth to serve others,” Niemczak told OSV News. “This is what I learned from my father-in-law, who was Wiktoria’s brother.”
She prepared a village feast for the American family from Maryland whom they saw in person for the first time. Kelly Lindquist handed Niemczak the rosary that accompanied her throughout Ian’s disease.
“This rosary was for me the first sign of the Ulma family beatification,” Niemczak said. “The rosary that Kelly gave us we pray every night, it is like a relic to us, a sign of victory of life over death. It is the biggest weapon for the lack of love in people’s hearts.”
“What I saw in Markowa is the Ulma family struggle, the evils that persisted around them and how they didn’t stop being good despite the evil,” Lidquist said. “And I found myself very grateful for their willingness to die for what is good.”
Of the Ulmas’ relatives hosting her in Markowa she said: “It’s an amazing generation to generation thing that we see in Markowa that those people are just carrying that message throughout their lives.”
The feast of the Ulma family after their beatification will be celebrated on the day of their wedding, July 8. For Kelly Lindquist, the Ulma family is an example to follow and to be grateful for.
“It was a grace that Ian got to see our child and that we all got to be together as a family for about a year, because when Ian died, the baby was nine months old.”
The youngest Lindquist child, Victoria Josephine, born during Ian’s illness, is named after the Ulmas.
“The Ulmas didn’t get to see their child born here on this earth,” Lindquist added, referring to the couples’ unborn child, who also will be beatified Sept. 10.
“Kelly entrusted everything to God and for us here in Markowa it is a testimony we will never forget,” Niemczak said.
For Lindquist, almost a year after Ian’s passing, it’s hard, but she and her children cling to the biggest of hopes.
“They know daddy is in heaven and they are happy he’s in heaven. They miss him. But, you know, they are just so much closer to Jesus than I am. I find it hard, so hard, so many times throughout the day,” she said. “But I just feel like they just know what life is about. And I think the example of their father as well as of the Ulma family helps them to see that this life is not the life we’re living for.”
Despite the risk of the death penalty, an estimated 300,000 Polish people hid and helped Jews in their homes. Over 6,600 Poles hold the title of Righteous Among Nations. Around 1,000 Poles, including women and children, were executed for hiding and helping Jews.
Commemorating the Ulma family sacrifice, March 24 is celebrated in Poland as National Day of Remembrance of Poles who Rescued Jews under the German occupation.
Paulina Guzik is international editor for OSV News. Follow her on Twitter @Guzik_Paulina.