St. Joseph, Galicia

This photo was sent to us by Héjoká, to see if any of our readers would recognize the persons on it. The picture was originally shared on Facebook by Szabolcs Szilágyi from Warsaw with the following text:

“This photo, which represents two Hungarian soldiers in civilian clothes, was sent to me by a Polish researcher of local history. He received it from the Galician (today Carpathian Ukrainian) village of Święty Józef. In the autumn of 1944 a troop of Hungarians mobilized in Nyíregyháza was stationed there. They left this photo as a souvenir with the Polish family where they were quartered, in a house on ulica Warszawska. They do not know their names. … Please let me know if you recognize the two Hungarian young men in this almost 70-year-old photo.”

I wanted to promote the recognition by including a map here, but it is not so easy. In fact, no settlement called Święty Józef, that is, St. Joseph, exists in Galicia.

By searching over the Polish net, you will soon discover why. During the Second World War the village still existed in the Galician Pokutia, the region belonging since 1325 to Poland and since 1945 to the Soviet Ukraine, which is bordered by the Carpathian Mountains to the west, the Romanian border to the south, and Ukrainian Bukovina to the east. The swift water of the Cheremosh flows through it from the Carpathians to the town of Kuty, which gave name to the region, and which in September 1939, during the retreat of the Polish army, was even the capital of Poland for a few days. Its center, however, is Kolomea, once a large Jewish and Polish, now a pure Ukrainian town.

Święty Józef lay some twenty kilometers to the west of Kolomea, as it is shown on the reconstructed Google map below (from here). The river running towards Kolomea along the lower yellow road is the Prut. The places labeled with A to E were also Polish villages: Św. Stanisław, Siedliska, Mołodyłów, Chorosno, Tłumaczyk.

On today’s Google, Święty Józef is completely absent, just like the other former Polish villages. The red road once leading through it and the former Hołosków is also gone, since there is no longer a need for it. A large, empty field yawns on the site of the village, as if the earth had swallowed it. What happened to it?

The Polish villages of Pokutia, just like almost all Polish villages in the former Eastern Poland, from Volhynia in the north to the Romanian border in the south, were under continuous attack since the beginning of the German occupation. The Ukrainian Insurgent Army (UPA), which was originally formed as an ally of the Wehrmacht, systematically exterminated the Jews and Poles in the villages in order to to create a fait accompli for the proclamation of an ethnically pure Ukrainian state. By the end of the war they had killed several hundreds of thousands of Jews and Poles in the territory of today’s Western Ukraine. Several poignant photos about the genocide can be found on the web, which we prefer not to reproduce here. In 2007 the UPA’s commander in chief, Roman Shukevich was declared Hero of Ukraine by the Ukrainian President, and the army’s military nostalgia pub on the main square of Lwów still enjoys great popularity.

Acts of genocide by the UPA in the Polish villages of the Kolomea district, 1939-1946
(the east-west diameter of the area is ca. 40 km). The black dots show the scenes
of genocide, while from the villages marked in white we have no reports
of genocide. Source: the Kolomean page of the Ludobójstwo site,
which also indicates the number of victims by village. Below:
the former Catholic church of Święty Józef, and the
cross set up on its place after the destruction.

The genocide became especially bitter from late 1943, when the UPA broke with the German occupation forces, and launched on its own a war of national liberation. This is why the Polish villages gave an especially warm welcome to the Hungarian battalions arriving here during the winter of 1943-44 to build out a defense line – roughly along the red route indicated on the first map – against the approaching Red Army.

“Our accommodation is very good. The doctor and I are hosted by a gentle Polish family. Our hostess almost reads our thoughts, and immediately brings the milk. This is already an usual and very pleasant phenomenon to us, and we are often surprised why the local population is so kind and thoughtful towards us. There was a small village where I was only looking into a house in search of accommodation, and the old lady already gave me the milk mug, and did not let me go until I drank one or two full mugs. In another place we were stuffed with milk, butter and eggs, and when they said good-bye to us in tears, the nanny even ran after me with a bowl of curds.”

This was written by the Hungarian captain Andor Salgó in his diary on 22 April 1944 in Iwanowce, on the bank of the Prut, just five kilometers south of Święty Józef (see on the above Google map). As a member of the 21/I battalion of Kassa (now Košice), they defended this front from the spring until the summer of 1944 against the earlier retreating and then attacking Soviets. His diary is also a unique source concerning the last months of the local Polish villages.

According to Szabolcs Szilágyi, the front stretch to the north of Iwanowce, that is, around Święty Józef, was defended by a corps mobilized in Nyíregyháza. According to the 25 November 2013 edition of the daily Blikk – the single online source that has information on this interesting document of microhistory –, this corps belonged to the 12th infantry regiment of Nyíregyháza. This report also mentions that, according to the Department of Defense, 199 Hungarian soldiers were buried in the local military cemetery, and nearly the same number is mentioned in the diary of Andor Salgó. The cemetery, however, was destroyed by the Soviet army without a trace.

“After Delatyn the road is already familiar, as I have often marched here from 1941 on. The only difference is that instead of the then peaceful villages now I was received by largely devastated and burned villages, destroyed by the retreating Soviets. We often met 2- or 3-day-old soldiers’ graves. Large tank battles were fought here a few days ago, and it was never without many dead.” (Andor Salgó)

A large part of the inhabitants of Święty Józef and the surrounding Polish settlements left their centuries-old residences together with the retreating Hungarian troops. The remainder was exiled by the Soviet authorities in 1945 together with the complete Polish population of the Kresy, that is, Eastern Poland (since then: Western Ukraine and Western Belarus). Arriving in a truncated Poland, they shared for years the troubled fate of the other refugees from the Kresy, until they were settled down in German Silesia, which was awarded by the great powers to Poland in return for the Kresy. The two million German inhabitants of Silesia were, in their turn, exiled to the truncated Germany, where they shared for years the troubled fate of the fourteen million refugees of the former Eastern territories. The inhabitants of Święty Józef were scattered in several places, but most of them settled down in Olbrachcice Wielkie, the former German Groß-Olbersdorf, seventy kilometers south of Wrocław, the former Breslau, which now hosts the exiled Polish inhabitants of Lwów. Here their descendants may have preserved the photo given to their ancestors by the Hungarian soldiers of Nyíregyháza in the Galician St. Joseph, before the village was abandoned.

The descendants of the former residents of Święty Józef – just like those of Lwów – still preserve a vivid memory of their native land, and publish a number of books and blogs about it. The most informative one is Historia pamięcią pisana, “the memoirs of St. Joseph in Pokutia”, with a list of documents, reconstructions and travel reports. The few families now living in a couple of farmhouses in the territory of the former village eagerly show to the Polish visitors whatever is still visible.

The former Warsaw Street looking north

The former Warsaw Street looking south, towards the Carpathians

On the former Warsaw Street, where the hosts of the two soldiers of Nyíregyháza lived, at the group of trees to the right in the above photo two crosses are shown to the author of the blog.

“Further down Warsaw Street to the south, near the former School Street, some trees stand at the right side of the street. [The Ukrainian] Lubomir points two crosses between them. I don’t know who they may be, he says, it is unlikely that Poles: is it possible, that they were earlier settlers, before the Poles? The crosses were apparently recently visited by someone. We go closer. The crosses are made of metal, and on one of them, a wreath made of pinecones and a tricolor ribbon. These three colors are strangely familiar from somewhere. After a while, we recall the key of the mystery: these are the colors of the Hungarian flag. One grave also has a plaque which confirms our assumption: József Názárovics, 1921-1944, and the number of the battalion: dfz. sz. 4212. 21. 0037. These are then the graves of those Hungarian – as my grandfather used to say, madziary – soldiers, who during WWII were stationed in the village for some time. From the stories of my grandfather I remember that when the front was next to the village, the madziary asked him to bring food to the front. The other grave is unmarked.”

According to the book of György Dupka on the retaliations of the Soviet NKVD against the Hungarians and Germans in Subcarpathia from 1944 to 1946, József Názárovics came from the Hungarian Aknaszlatina (today Solotvino, Ukraine). So we do not know whether the Hungarian soldiers buried here are in any connection with the young men in the photo, nor do we know why they were buried here instead of in the Hungarian military cemetery which lay somewhere further south. But the destroyed village kept their graves, just like the former Warsaw Street family and the photo, and the exiled persons in the memories of the village. The whole pre-1945 history of the Ukraine must be reconstructed from such fragments. As long as they still exist.

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A selection from the photos of the former village of Święty Józef, from the blogs Historia pamięcią pisana and Opowieści Babci Kasi, as well as the Facebook page dedicated to the history of the village

2 comentarios:

Languagehat dijo...

An amazing and moving post. Thank you, as always, for your dogged excavation of communities forgotten by history.

Studiolum dijo...

Thank you, Language, for your inspiring attention.