The Lemko Region, 1939-1947 War, Occupation and Deportation

20. The Lemko Village, 1939-1947 (the village of
Mszana, Krosno County)
Maria Starchak-Vavrychyn
Ukrainian Academy of Sciences Lviv, Ukraine

The former village of Mszana of Krosno County (today the Podkarpatska province) was located in the Beskid Niski [lower Beskid's (hills/mountains)] at 455 meters above sea level.
Mszana was cosily (?) distributed in the valley of and along both sides of the river Mszanka in the Jasełko basin. Low mountains/hills along the parallel sides of village marked its boundaries. The easy access to the village and the wide easily cultivated fields, meadows and pastures made it a nice place to live.
Because of its moderate geographic position, Mszana was part of an important land route leading from the city of Krosno, 30 kilometers to the north, through the Dukla Pass, 14 kilometers south, leading to Slovakia/Hungary, Because of its good location and soil the village had a long history, and documents indicate it is one of the oldest settlements in the Lemko Region.
The first name of Mszana can be found in a charter/deed of the [Polish] king Kazimierz III of June 28, 1366,' another charter of February 24, 1369 from the same king gave the right to two brothers, Mikola and Radostanov of the town of Biecz, to found a settlement to be called "Mssana" based on German [Magdeburg] Law and to take over 50 or more "Lan" of forest, or more if necessary.2 The village of Mszana often appeared in documents of later Polish kings.3 In the Lustration of 1581 [a sort of property and personnel census] in the village there were 18 houses, a Rus priest, a church and a sołtys [a village chief].
In 1772 the Lemko Region and all of Galicia went to Austria [in the first partition of Poland]. The Austrian government and the newly arrived officials as we may suppose, intended to get the maximum income possible through taxation. In order to do that the whole situation had to be regularized by mapping out land and land/property boundaries (cadastral mapping) figuring out who was who (keeping birth, marriage and death records) and setting up property ownership records (the "Metrical" books). There were two such regulatory waves - the [Emperor] Joseph/Jozef reordering (late 18
th c) and the [Emperor] Franz Jozef one (Mid 19th c), which were meant to make the village profitable for the ruler.
From the Joseph Metrical records retained in the State Archives of Ukraine in Lviv the village of Mszana had 1536 morgs [one morg=55 acres] of arable lands, 395 of meadow and 162 of pasture. The parish church possessed 59 morgs of arable land, 12 of meadow and 9 of pasture.
From the elimination of serfdom in 1848 to the mid 1880 the principal land owner in the village was one Count Mencinski who had 872 morg of forest, 22 of tillable land.
5 The Greek Catholic parish had 55 morgs of arable land, 12 morgs of meadow and 7 of pasture and the rest of the village had 1667 morgs of tillage, 240 of meadow and 307 of pasture and unusable land, and 105 of forest. There were 2319 morgs of land in all categories a situation which lasted up to the end of the village's existence.6
Just as in the rest of Galicia the church played an important role in the life of the village.
The parish in Mszana has a long and interesting history. The first information about a church in Mszana appears in the 1369 "location" document based on German Law, given by the king. The church was to get one Lan of land. In 1521 there is information about new church construction. Then the owners, the Szczykowski's sold the village chief position [Sołtystwo] to Vasyl, from Unichow, Stebnytsky (Stebnicki), and designated one of the five Lan which went with the position to support the parish... "for bettering of situation of the newly constructed church of the Greek rite."
7 The church and the parish in Mszana belonged to the Stebnicki family from 1521 to 1772. That family was descended from the Ukrainian szlachta [noble] family of the Rus province, -the Perestril/Przestrzal.
In the next decade the parish in Mszana changed hands a number of time, Ivan Lavrivsky (1772-1804), Hryhorii Lavrivsky (1804-1856), Yuliian Durkot (1887-1907), Stepan Tarnovych (1909), Kazymyr Dutkovsky (1910-to beginning of 1920s) were the church priests (rectors). They played an important role in the life of the village, helping to create communal culture, spiritual life and national identity. This was the seat of the Dukla deanery of the Przemysł Greek Catholic diocese, and the deanery library was here. In mid-19
th c. a new church was built.
In the 1920s in the Lemko Region and in Mszana there was a strong Moscophil influence. In many villages this inspired a change of confession from Greek Catholicism to Orthodoxy. In 1928, under the influence of the priest Kyrylo Chaikovsky (Czajkowski), Mszana changed over too. Chaikovsky remained a Greek Catholic and lived in the parish house until 1933 when he was transferred to the Staryi Sambir area. [The previous two sentences are unclear as to exactly what Fr. Chaikovsky did.]
The school developed attached to the church. The existence of a parish school is reflected in a document from 1830.
8 Local people taught in the school, [especially] cantors [who had some church training]. A state one class school was established here in 1880.9 The language of instruction was the national one, Ukrainian.
After the collapse of the Austro-Hungarian Empire and the reestablishment of the Polish state the Polish authorities set up a so-called "Utkrakwist" school, bilingual education. The local Ukrainians protested against the Polonization of the school and sent a declaration asking for the national language to remain as the way of instruction.
Mszana was an exclusively Ukrainian village. In the census of 1921 there were 804 inhabitants, of which 789 were Greek Catholics (98.13%), 4 Latin Rite Catholics and 11 Jews. Fifty two fathers of 70 children requested that the national language [ridna mova] be used in school. Regardless, on December 12, 1925, the Superintendent of the Lviv school district ordered the school to be bilingual.
In 1933 the language question came up again. In this case 79 declarations were sent on behalf of 140 children, to Krosno county school officials asking for the national language in their two class school.. .but no response was received.
In 1913 a Kachkovsky Society Reading Room [a Russophil/Moscophil organization] was established and after WW I renewed in 1929. Situation reports indicate there were 28 members in 1932, 74 in 1935 and 1937 - 64 members out of 900 inhabitants.
The cooperative movement also developed in the interwar period based on private shops. The peasants cooperative Nadiya (Hope) was part of the Union of Rus Cooperatives. In 1932 members started the construction of a two floor "national home" in the center of the village - it was finished in the mid 1930s. It had an office for the community, a diary office and a large hall.
That's the way the village was up to the outbreak of WWII. The village was quite stable with a slight tendency toward increase but still was mono-national and cultural. In 1830 Mszana had 969 inhabitants - Greek Catholics, in 1913-1182 plus 3 Roman Catholics,, 10 Jews and 7 Gypsies. In 1936 the count was 960 people; 927 Orthodox, 18 Roman Catholics, 4 Jews and 11 Gypsies.
WWII began for the Lemkos on September 1, 1939 with Hitler's attack on Poland and lasted 6 years. The first victims were those mobilized into the Polish army and who didn't return from the field of battle.
After the conclusion of the first campaign, on November 26, 1939 the German Occupiers formed the General Government (GG). It was put together out of central Poland's lands in which there were a substantial number of Ukrainians (700,000) - Chelm, Pid-lashia, On-the-San and the Lemko Region. The Germans left the local administrative structure in tact but changed those in-charge whose job it was to be sure maximum advantage could be extracted. In order to do that a new material and popular census was undertaken. Peasants were forbidden from selling anything or using it themselves and mills couldn't be used. The military required forced labor for its purposes - cutting trees. ..and roadwork. Purchase of manufactured products was based on ration cards.
Villages were required to deliver grain and potatoes. The worst, however, was the necessity to deliver up people to forced labor. Periodically the village had to send a certain number of forced laborers to Germany. Youth (15-16 years old) were not sent to Germany but were assigned to larger farms which didn't have enough workers.
To assist the Ukrainians Help Committees were established in Nowy Sącz, Gorlice, Krosno, Dukla, Żmigród, Baligród, Sanok, Dynow. The UCK established in 1940, coordinated activities, just as parallel Polish and European help committees. These commit-
tees supported national-cultural life, schools (elementary, 7 class and gymnasiums).
13 These activities got harder as the front approached the Beskids.
The situation became very bad in autumn 1944 when Mszana found itself in the center of the arena of battle for the Dukla Pass....
The Dukla-Carpathian operation of the Red Army's 38
th army of the First Ukrainian Front was commanded by K. S. Moskalenko. The goal of the operation was to break through the pass into [the Nazi Protectorate of] Slovakia. The line of battle led through Iwla to Tylawa through Hyrowa, Mszana to Dukla. The lOltst Infantry Corps was to carry out the attack. The plan was to reach Tylawa by the second day and on the third to reach Svidnik in Slovakia. Artillery was to play an important role. As Moskalenko wrote in his memoirs, 82.2% of the artillery available to him was concentrated on the line of the mam attack.14 The attached was prepared by 1,517 artillery pieces and 1,724 mortars....
On the average there were 140 artillery tubes per one kilometer of front. We must add to that the air forces. Maximum firepower was to be directed onto the line of attack. Just before the appointed hour, the artillery was set up one piece every hundred meters to the depth of 12 kilometers. The Germans put up as much resistance as they could. The Mszana population well remembers that hail of artillery, which fell on the village. The people, who had no idea of the military plan, fled into the woods and neighboring villages because they couldn't stay in that fire.
The plan of quick seizure of Dulka Pass by crushing German resistance in a few days couldn't be accomplished. Thus a second attack through Rudawka Rymanowska-Lubatowa-Krolowa Polska, and Kamionka took place. As a result on September 20
th Dukla (town) was taken and on September 24th the 14th Tank brigade under colonel A.E. Skidanov went through Mszana but that was not the end of military activity in the area. The battle for Smereczne began. Steel reinforced bunkers protected the Germans and on September 26 the decision to break through the Arpad defensive line was made. In Mszana and neighboring areas, three infantry divisions were concentrated and. three tank corps of the 38th Army. There were 900 artillery tubes concentrated at 160 per kilometer and air support. That concentration attracted German counter battery fire on Mszana.
The Dukla Pass itself was forced after heavy battle on October 6, 1944 but Mszana was completely destroyed. Returning villagers couldn't recognize anything. The same destruction visited the villages of Hyrowa, Tylawa, Olchowiec, Ropianka, Wilsznia, and Smereczne - they simply ceased to exist.
Battle for the Carpathian crests lasted until the end of October when the Soviet Army went over to defense which lasted until January 1945. That meant that the Germans and Soviets held their positions and bombarded each other. Mszana lay in the near front area - 4 kilometers to where the front stopped and daily had to deal with artillery duels and bombing.
Villagers who returned from the forests couldn't find a place to stay or peace. They had to dig ditches and to sleep in them with their children during bombardments.
There was a way out. On September 9, 1944, the Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic and the PKWN signed an agreement for a population exchange. Mszana was one of the first Lemko villages from which people left to be redistributed around the world. The village destroyed by war ceased to exist.
Evacuation began in the prefrontal zone on November 25, 1944. The Soltys, A. Sydoryk, and the senior Lieutenant military commandant (illegible signature) signed a list of families who were to be evacuated from the village of Deszno, "for further evacuation to the USSR." That was it! All villagers got the same information and they took whatever they could to the station and were taken away the next day by military transport. Two weeks later they still hadn't arrived Deszno as indicated in the evacuation order but in Besko (?). On December 9 they gave us further information. Beside the family members a family could take one cow and three bags of household items and some food... anything else had to be thrown down. Then we went to the railroad station in Wroblik Królewski, loaded our goods onto a wagon and left.
Several families were in each wagon - adults, children, old folks. Iron stoves heated the wagons.... The train often stopped but people were afraid to get off because they feared being left behind.
Despite the fact that the evacuation letter said people weren't to bring food we didn't get any help to the end of November. We were in that condition for months.
We arrived at the Mechetna station, the end point of our journey, at the beginning of January 1945, just before Christmas [old style, Jan. 7]. We were now in Pokrov county of Dnipropetrovsk province (oblast).
We, three families from Mszana and one from Smereczne were sent to the village of Oleksandrivka and put into the homes of local people.
We had come from mountains and forests, to open steppe, burnt by the sun blown by wind. We found...the well water was bitter and salty, not sweet like at home and the stream water rarely flowed and sometimes there was no water at all. We couldn't get used to corn and sunflowers. The walls of houses were differently made and we didn't know what to do and they began to disintegrate.
We thought about home all the time. We knew that others of our village had to be sent to the Dnipropetrovsk area and we were able to contact a few families. We found out despite a prohibition, many had gone to Western Ukraine, thus we decided to leave, too.
In July 1946 we climbed into a freight wagon in Mechetna station, which was filled with iron ore, and we went to Lviv. By good luck nobody bothered us but no one awaited us in Lviv either. Since we were evacuated without a listing of lost property we had no right to compensation.... The local resettlement commission sent us to the village of Honyatychi, Shchyrets (now Mykolaiv) county.... We lived in collective farm buildings. Two other families from Mszana were with us and some people from Wilsznia and the Tomaszów region.
After a while we learned of the Vistula Action in 1947.
After the war some people returned to Mszana from German forced labor, mainly boys and girls. A few families remained, escaping evacuation. Some people came in from neighboring villages. Altogether there were 150 people in Mszana in 1947.
15 They rebuilt buildings that could be reconstructed and tried to reestablish their lives. In Spring 1947 fields were sowed and potatoes planted but no peace was to be found. Polish chauvinist groups occasionally showed up in Mszana seeking to force people out.
On the Sunday of the Green Holiday (Pentecost) in 1947 the villagers were in the National Home but on Monday the village was surrounded by troops. Everyone was ordered to bring themselves and their things to the village center. A convoy was formed up and everyone was evacuated to Western Poland to be distributed among the Poles.
Thus Mszana, a large Lemko village with a 700-year written history, was gone. Villages were exiled to various corners of Poland and Ukraine. Its fields are now unsown and used as pasturage. It's nothing like it was a hundred years ago.
It is true the name Mszana remains on Polish maps and there are a few new settlers, but not one with ancient roots there.
1 Akta Grodzkie i Ziemskie. — Lwów, 1872. — T. 3. — S. 36, 37.
2 Kodeks dyplomatyczny Małopolski. 1178—1386 / Wyd. Fr. Piekosiński. — Kraków, 1876.— T. 3. —S. 359, 360.
3 Istoria sela Mszana u kn.: Starczak-Wawryczyn M. "Selo Mszana na Lemkivshchyni". — Lviv, 2000.
4 Pawiński A. Polska XVI pod względem geograficzno-statystycznym. — Warszawa, 1886.—T. 3. —S. 116(1581 r.).
5 TsDIA u Lvovi, f. 19, str. 103
6 Słownik geograficzny Królestwa Polskiego. — Warszawa, 1885. — T. VI. — S. 785.
7 Sharanevich Y. Cherty yz ystoryi tserkovnykh benefitsiy y mirskoho dukhovenstva v Halytskoi Rusi —Lvov, 1987. — st. 51—55.
8 Status personalis universi venerabilis Cleri Dioceseos gr.-cathol. Premisliensis pro A. D. 1830. — Premisliae, 1830.—P. 156, 157.
9 Selo Mshana na Duklenshchyni//Illiustrovaniy narodniy kalendar na na 1933 r. — Lviv. — 1932. —st. 88.
10 Dokumenty pro zaprovadzhynia u Mshani domovoho navchania div.: TsDIA Ukrainy u Lvovi, f. 179, op. 2., spr. 2124, ark. l—46.
11 TsDIA Ukrainy u Lvovi, f. 182, op. 1, spr. 290, ark. 1—25.
12 Statystychni dani podano za materialamy Shematism Peremyshskoi yeparchi.
lj Lemkivshchyna: zemlia-liudy-istoria-kultura. T.. L — Niu-York; Paryzh; Sidney, 1988. — C. 202; Antoniuk N. V. Ukrainske kulturne zhytia "Generalniy Gubernii" (1939—1944 rr.) —Lviv, 1997. — st. 11—17; Sych M. Ykrainska kooperatsia v Halychyni pid chas II svitovoi viyny. —Lviv, 2000. — C. 59—62.
14 Moskalenko K. S. V boiakh za Duklu // Chekhoslovakia: 1945. Put' k osvobodzheniu). — MocKsa, 1985. — C. 134—185.
15 Za danymy Generalnohp shtabu Viyska Polskoho, u kintsi travnia: (25—31) 1947r. z Mshany depotovano 147 osib. Dyv.; Aktsia "Visla". Dokumenty / Vporiadk.
Misila, Lviv; New York, 1997. — C. 443.


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Date Posted: February 2nd, 2003
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