Lemko Oral History Project Underway - US



Lemko Oral History Project Underway - US
Contact: Carpatho-Rusyn Society
C/O Oral History Committee
915 Dickson Street
Munhall, PA 15120-1929
United States
U.S. Phone: (703) 987-0592
Email: [email protected]
Lemko Oral History Project Underway:
Call for Research Participants
“It is important to hear these stories while my generation is still here to talk about it.”
Carpatho-Rusyn Society
Oral History Research Committee
-Mrs. Anna S., 88, Operation Vistula Expellee
“A people which is able to say everything becomes able to do everything.”
–Napoleon Bonaparte
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
(1.) Photographs (originals or reproductions) from the Lemko
region, especially prior to Operation Vistula (“Akcja Wisla”
(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 [email protected]
Artifacts acquired through this initiative will be donated to and managed by the Carpatho-Rusyn Cultural Center in
Munhall, PA.
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
In the 1940s, some Lemkos considered themselves to be Ukrainians, whereas others aligned only to a separate, regional
identity of “Lemko” or “Rusyn.” Despite these distinctions, OUN/UPA considered all Lemkos living in Poland to be
Ukrainians, and relied on them to support their activities in the region.
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
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
The Carpatho-Rusyn Society is a non-profit, 501(c)(3) organization dedicated to promoting Rusyn culture in
the United States and supporting humanitarian projects benefiting Rusyns in East Central Europe. We work to
educate the general public about Rusyn culture and history, and endeavor to preserve that culture on both sides
of the Atlantic. As a membership-based organization, we have over 1,800 members worldwide who support
Rusyn historical preservation, cultural development, and humanitarian aid for Rusyn communities in Europe.
Learn more about us at our website: www.c-rs.org.
Copyright, 2011 Carpatho-Rusyn Society, All Rights Reserved
Lemko toponyms are mentioned first, with the current Polish toponyms in parenthesis.

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