28 March 2011

An ambitious new project to preserve the Lemko-Rusyn heritage

The Lake Michigan Chapter of the Carpatho-Rusyn Society's own Richard Garbera Trojanowski is part of a new effort catalogue the history of the Lemko-Rusyn people of southeast Poland.

Here's the full description of the ambitious project:

The Wolanska family
The Carpatho-Rusyn Society’s Oral History Research Committee seeks to preserve the oral histories and artifacts of the Lemko people, and to explore the post-World War II expulsion campaigns  that resulted in the destruction of their settlements in Southeast Poland.  

In order to obtain and preserve firsthand perspectives of the events, C-RS is conducting extensive fieldwork, including recorded interviews with eyewitnesses in North America, Ukraine and Poland. The research team is seeking individuals to participate in the study who meet one or more of the following criteria:

(1.) Lemkos who recall life in their villages before or during World War II;

(2.) Lemkos who experienced the post-World War II expulsions from their homeland, and who were resettled in either Soviet Ukraine from 1945-1946, or in Western Poland (former German territories) in 1947 (Operation Vistula/Akcja Wisla.);

(3.) Lemkos who were displaced in Allied-occupied Germany during the time of the expulsions in the Lemko region, and who became separated from their relatives as a result;

(4.) Former members of the Ukrainian Insurgent Army (UPA) who witnessed or had knowledge of the expulsion operations of Lemkos;

(5.) Polish civilians who lived in the Lemko region at the time of the expulsions and bore witness to these events; and


(6.) Others with relevant, first-hand information about the events.

In addition to locating and interviewing subject participants, the research team is interested in procuring the following types of artifacts:

(1.) Photographs (originals or reproductions) from the Lemko region, especially prior to Operation Vistula (“Akcja Wisla” 1947);

(2.) Letters between expelled Lemkos and their relatives in North America or elsewhere;

(3.) Lemko clothing and costumes (original and artisan reproductions); and

(4.) Other Lemko artifacts, such as rare literature, paintings, carvings, etc.

The oral history research project will be ongoing indefinitely; however, the committee would like to receive as many leads as possible prior to July 31, 2011 to prepare for fieldwork in Ukraine and Poland this fall.

How To Help:  The committee is seeking volunteers with various skill sets to assist with interviews, transcription, and other duties.  We are also accepting monetary contributions, which will be used to procure and preserve oral histories and artifacts.  If you are interested in volunteering or in making a tax-deductible donation to the project, please email us at history@c-rs.org.

Historical Background:
In the summer of 1944, the pre-war Polish government was in exile in London, and the future of Poland was yet to be determined.  The Red Army had “liberated” Poland by driving the Germans westward to Berlin, and a power vacuum suddenly existed in the war torn country.  

During that time, the Organization of Ukrainian Nationalists (OUN) hoped to establish an independent Ukrainian nation in the aftermath of the war, staking claim to territories of Southeastern Poland that contained a large number of “Ukrainian”2 settlements.  By “Ukrainians,” the nationalists were referring to the Lemkos, east Slavic highlanders who spoke a linguistic dialect similar to the Ukrainian language. The Ukrainian Insurgent Army (UPA), the paramilitary wing of OUN, took up arms in Southeastern Poland, recruiting and drawing support from the local Lemko population. Violence between UPA and Polish forces did not spare civilians, and terror and instability spread throughout the region. 

That summer, Soviet officials and Polish communist party leaders held a meeting in Lublin to discuss the future of Poland, arriving at mutually beneficial terms for both parties.  By late July, they had installed a communist government in Warsaw, agreed on the new borders for Poland and Ukraine, and developed plans to address “the Ukrainian problem” through an ethnic purification campaign.  Though many of the Lemkos targeted for deportation were simple farmers rather than political activists, such matters were of little to no importance to the Polish and Soviet leaders, who carried out their mandate indiscriminately. 

From 1945 to 1947, the coalition executed three major deportation operations.  Some Lemkos left the region on their own volition, but most were resettled forcibly.  The first two operations in 1945 and 1946 were somewhat disorganized, and UPA was successful in disrupting the operations, enabling many Lemkos to avoid deportation and remain in their villages.  That would end in 1947, when the Polish government enacted the third and most comprehensive mass deportation campaign called “Operation Vistula.”  Polish forces vastly outnumbered UPA partisans and effectively suppressed their activities in the region.  The remaining Lemkos had no choice but to be deported, this time to former German territories that Poland had acquired as the result of the Yalta Conference (1945.)  Many of the Eastern Catholic (Uniate) churches and the Lemko homes in Southeast Poland were burned or otherwise destroyed to prevent the deportees from returning. 

In all three operations, Lemkos were dispersed during the resettlement process, depriving them of a sense of community with their own people in order to encourage their assimilation into communist societies.

The Research Team:

Corinna Wengryn Caudill is a professional freelance writer and editor, and the chairperson of the C-RS Oral History Research Committee. Previously, she has worked as an analyst and consultant for several government agencies in Washington, D.C.  Corinna holds an MA in Public and International Affairs and a BA in Political Science from the University of Pittsburgh.  Her roots are from the Lemko villages of Vola Petrova3 (Wola Piotrowa), Karlykiv (Karlikow), and Prybyshiv (Przybyszow.) 

Maryann Sivak is the Chief Financial Administrator for C-RS and the Chairperson for the Cultural Center Committee, A founding member of C-RS, she has also formerly served as Vice President and Recording Secretary for the organization.  Maryann was born in Jakubany, Slovakia, is fluent in Rusyn, Czech, and Slovak, and is proficient in Russian and Ukrainian. 

John Schweich is an adjunct professor of Political Science at the University of Pittsburgh. For the last three years, he has conducted oral history interviews with senior officials of the US national security establishment. An avid scholar of Eastern-rite churches, he has developed an extensive collection of Rusyn and Ukrainian parish histories, and is proficient in Russian and Ukrainian.

Richard Garbera Trojanowski is a founding member of the CRS Lake Michigan Chapter.  He is a production analyst for Siemens Medical, Inc. in Chicago, Illinois, and holds a BA in Russian and Eastern European Area Studies from the University of Illinois.  Richard speaks Ukrainian, Rusyn and Polish and is proficient in Russian.  His Lemko roots are from the villages of Koroleva Ruska (Krolowa Gorna), Tylicz, and Muchnacka Nyznja (Mochnaczka Nizna.) 

Stephen Rapawy, Ph.D. is a specialist on Soviet and Russian Area Studies, and an independent scholar of Lemko history.  In addition to his scholarly credentials, Dr. Rapawy brings an eyewitness perspective to the research, having been an Operation Vistula expellee.  He is originally from the village of Karlykiv (Karlikow.)

Michael Buryk has done many years of research in Lemko and Ukrainian genealogy.  He is a freelance writer specializing in articles about the Lemko people and the history of Ukrainians in the United States.  He has been a contributor to The Ukrainian Weekly, Lemkivshchyna Magazine and other publications such as "The Ukrainian Heritage in America", UCCA, 1991.  Mike holds an M.A. in Russian Area Studies from Hunter College, the City University of New York.  His paternal grandparents emigrated to the U.S. in the early 20th century from the village of Siemuszowa (Semushova.) 

Please email us at:  history@c-rs.org or call  (703) 987-0592

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