Former Greek Catholic Church in Szlachtowa, Protection of the Virgin Mary, Consecrated in 1909, though not completed until 1920
THE WESTERNMOST OUTPOST OF THE EASTERN SLAVS
By Richard Garbera Trojanowski
As I was watching the 2014 Winter Olympics being broadcast from Sochi, Russia, I found myself wondering how many viewers knew about the tragic history of that place. Sochi, after all, was not historically a Russian town. It was originally the home of the Circassians, a people who had been displaced during the Russian conquest of the Caucasus in the mid-19th century. The brutal ethnic cleansing campaign banished most of them to Turkey with many dying along the way, including more than a few who perished at sea while crossing from Sochi to Turkey on ships. The same thought had occurred to me two years ago when I visited the area formerly known as Ru
Szlachtowska ( ), the westernmost Lemko territory in southeastern Poland. Before 1947, this area had been comprised of the villages of Szlachtowa (), Jaworki (), Biaa Woda ( ) and Czarna Woda ( ). Working on the "Lemko Project" has made me more sensitive than ever to the issues related to ethnic cleansing, minorities and minority rights. When I visited Ru Szlachtowska in July of 2012, it was bursting at the seams with holidaymakers hiking along the roads and trails into the national park lands that Poland had established there. I wondered then, how many of the summertime hikers, and how many of the winter sports enthusiasts realized that the beautiful landscape they were enjoying had, for centuries, been home to a peaceful, pastoral people with a rich folk culture? I imagined that most of them were oblivious. After all, except for the churches, the landscape held no traces of the community that had existed for centuries, where the Lemkos had scratched out a livelihood by sheep herding and subsistence farming. Some occasionally traveled to places near and far to work as tinkers, and over the centuries, became renowned for their skills as drotary (), men who mended broken crockery. In the period between 1945 and 1950, they were cruelly uprooted during ethnic cleansing campaigns which included Operation Vistula (Akcja Wisa), the final campaign to ethnically purify southeastern Poland, a fate that they shared with virtually all Lemkos, Rusyns and Ukrainians in Poland.1
1 These villages were largely expelled prior to Akcja Wisa, although the campaigns continued through 1947 and even afterward.
The four villages of Ru Szlachtowska, shown at the upper left on the map, (which until 1945 had numbered 690 residents in Szlachtowa, 640 in Jaworki, 550 in Biaa Woda, and 350 in Czarna Woda), had always been separated from all other Lemko villages farther to the east, on the former Galician side of the border. In between were the ethnically Polish villages located near the Poprad River, which were populated by a sub-group of Grale (Polish highlanders) known as the Lachy Sdeckie. However, the villagers of Ru Szlachtowska remained connected to their Rusyn brothers and sisters that resided in villages located immediately to their south. During the era of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, Ru Szlachtowska was under Austrian governance while villages to the south such as Velky Lipnik and Kamienka were under Hungarian rule. The border between those jurisdictions was easily crossed and there were economic ties as well as family ties between the villages. However, after World War I and the establishment of the Czechoslovak state and the Polish Republic, there was suddenly an international border that needed to be crossed. The Polish-Czechoslovak border now divided Lemko villages from their brothers and sisters who essentially shared the same culture, but by zigzagging across the border it was still possible to travel from one Rusyn village to the next without encountering a Polish or Slovak settlement from Szlachtowa all the way eastward to the Krynica and Bardejov areas and beyond.
Being the westernmost Lemkos, and by virtue of their relative isolation, the residents of Ru Szlachtowska were unique in some respects. Rev. Stepan Dziubyna (1913-2004), a well-known Lemko Greek Catholic priest, was sent to Jaworki in 1939 as one of his first assignments as a priest and noted that there was very little if any Muscophile influence in the area. He mentions that by that time, a few villagers had adopted a Ukrainian identity, but by far most of the residents identified as Lemko-Rusyns. He was also amazed by the clothing worn by the locals. Even though they were Greek Catholic and spoke the Lemko vernacular, (though heavily influenced in this area by both Polish and Slovak) they dressed in a fashion that was almost indistinguishable from the Polish Grale. He also noted some peculiar local customs, such as a unique wedding custom. For three weeks prior to a wedding, the bride-to-be, along with her future bridesmaids, would dress identically and wear wreaths on their heads when they attended church on Sundays. During the reading of the banns of marriage, the wedding party would proceed to the front of the church and stand together before the iconostasis. According to Fr. Dziubyna, this was not customary in other Lemko villages.2
2 Rev. Stepan Dziubyna, I Stverdy Dilo Ruk Nashykh, Warsaw, 1995 Pages 57-58
Men in Ru Szlachtowska before the deportations: Hnat Salaniec, Stefan Salaniec and Stefan Ikoniak. Hnat Salaniec and Stefan Ikoniak, being from Jaworki. (Stefan Salaniec is presumed
to be from Jaworki.)*
The similarity in attire, however, did not prevent communist authorities from considering the local Lemkos to be "undesirables" by the end of the Second World War. By virtue of their adherence to the Greek Catholic faith, they were to have no place in a new and ethnically homogenous Poland. Whether they considered themselves to be Rusyn, Lemko or Ukrainian, their fate was to be banished. When the Red Army entered the Ru Szlachtowska area in early 1945, their modus operandi was the same as it had been in the eastern Lemko villages in the fall of 1944. They recruited eligible males into the Red Army and "encouraged" others to resettle to Soviet Ukraine. In this region, as opposed to some other counties, the number of people who relocated to Soviet Ukraine was very high: 1857 people.3 There were few Poles living there. There was only one Polish family in Jaworki and only 10 in Szlachtowa village, although there were apparently a few mixed marriages. But what were the reasons for this high rate of success in securing voluntary relocations?
When resettlement commissions were set up in Lemko villages, some of the poorer residents were intrigued by the promise of better lives in Ukraine. But, in the case of the Ru Szlachtowska region, even though the residents may have been poor by some standards, they didnt necessarily think of themselves that way. To be sure, their 3 Chusnutdinow, Anna, Nowa Ukraina, Kulturowy fenomen Rusi Szlachtowskiej, Krakow-Przemysl, 2010. Page 113 .
situation was comparatively better in the years leading up to WWII; however, by the end of the war, their material wealth had dwindled. During the war, they had been obliged by the German authorities to provide kontyngenty (quotas of foodstuff and also farm animals), an in-kind tax that had created a strain. In addition, Polish partisans operating in the area also demanded that they leave their storage sheds unlocked so that the partisans would have access to take whatever provisions they needed. Despite the hardships that the war had imposed on the Szlachtowska villagers, the real reason for the mass exodus of the native villagers had little to do with voluntary resettlement.
Polish accounts of the period leading up to the ethnic cleansing differ considerably from the recollections of the Lemkos themselves. Some Polish partisans, including members of the Armia Krajowa, noted a growing hostility among the Lemko population. They accused some Lemkos of being under the influence of the OUN (Organization of Ukrainian Nationalists) and alleged that they had reported Polish partisans to the German authorities and demanded money from couriers, only to turn them in afterward.4 In one act of retaliation against such alleged activity, some local Grale destroyed an Orthodox cross in Szczawnica (a Polish town immediately to the west of Szlachtowa) that had marked the grave of 13 Cossacks who had been killed there in a battle against Polish forces in 1706.
Because there were various bands of partisans and military units in the area, it was often difficult to identify who was who and therefore difficult to assign blame for any misdeeds. These elements included remnants of the Polish Underground (Armia Krajowa); the German army, various partisan bands including the followers of Sydir Kovpak (1887-1967, a Soviet partisan leader); possibly some OUN sympathizers; the Russian army (towards the end of the war); and criminal elements that were simply taking advantage of the chaos created by the war itself. In contrast to the unmitigated blame assigned by the Polish narrative, the Lemkos countered that there had been no OUN activity in the region and hence, there was no need to expel the local population. Although there may have been individuals who were supportive of the OUN and UPA,5 it isnt likely that those groups were active in the region in any great numbers. The Polish partisans and a unit of the Polish Underground (Armia Krajowa), known as Oddzia Tatara, had targeted four individuals from the region whom they considered to