Part 2, Section 27 - Emigration

Lemkovina was the poorest region of Galicia. Lemkos had little land, because their plots were scattered and divided among individual family members. The plots up in the hills were stony and infertile, which in addition to making them hard to till, were not very productive. Even with the very primitive Lemko life style, the produce of the land could not meet their most basic requirements. There was almost no way to earn anything outside. A small cartload of brushwood for fuel required several days of work for the owner of the forest. But Lemkos are an enterprising people. He who had a horse would extricate himself from his misery by getting together with his neighbor, and with their carts they both earned a living. They would go to Cracow for their goods. This made for risky and strenuous earnings, but the tough Lemko character could overcome anything. Others would haul logs from the magnates' forests to the sawmill and then hauled the lumber to the city or the railroad.
People from Losyeh and Kunkova traded in grease and oils for lubricating wagons and machinery. They shipped their goods all over Europe and made good money at it. He who didn't have a horse because he couldn't afford one would try something else. This is how the production of various hinds of wooden items came about in Lemkovina. Still others went to Hungary or Germany for seasonal work. Everyone did what he could to somehow provide for his family and not let the specter of death come near it. And then one day he would hear that somewhere far beyond the ocean there is a rich country called America that needs working hands and where nice money can be made. So began the emigration to America, which increased from year to year. The beginning of Lemko emigration to America dates from around 1865.
The flow of emigrants to America and others overseas countries sprang up all over Galicia. The peak of this flow came between the end of the 19th and the beginning of the 20th century. Here are some statistics on emigrants to America: 1903-1904 -- 9,415 Rusyns and 20,243 Poles; 1904-1905 -- 14,250 Rusyns and 50,785 Poles; 1901-1905 -- 46,516 Rusyns and 173,997 Poles: 1907-1908 -- 12,298 Rusyns and 26,423 Poles. The statistics do not show how many of these were Lemkos. However, it can be taken for a fact that the highest percentage came from Lemkovina, and that in Lemkovina the emigration assumed mass proportions. However, no one went to America with the idea of staying there forever, but merely to earn some money and return to his native land to improve his material situation there. On the average, half of the emigrants returned after 3-4 years.
Prior to World War I, Lemko emigration to America, from both sides of the Carpathian Mountains, had grown to such proportions that out of 700 Lemko villages there was not a single Lemko family that had not sent abroad at least one of its members. There were cottages from which all the residents had gone to America. They locked up the house, boarded up the windows, and gave their plots of land to relatives or neighbors. Thanks to this emigration, the economic situation of the Lemkos improved. The emigrants sent dollars back to the old country, for which more land was purchased, cattle were added, and the whole situation was improved. Those who returned from abroad brought not only money but also new ideas about living. They knocked down their old smoke-blackened houses and built new ones that were nicer and more convenient. They also bought mineral fertilizers, and their land began to produce better. On the fertilized soil they sowed new species of grass, and thus their oxen grew fatter, their cows gave more milk, and their material situation and living conditions improved. Lemkos were so closely linked with America that some of them went there several times, always for just a short while, returning to their families and their mountains, which they loved above all.
Some Lemkos also went to Prussia and Hungary. This, however, was only a seasonal emigration, only for periods of intense agricultural labor, such as grain harvesting, for example.
Mikhail Bobrzhinskiy, governor of Galicia, stated that the export of human labor was the most important item in Galicia's balance of trade. In Lemkovina, this export of working hands was so significant that in some counties the population increased very little, and even decreased (For example, the counties of Gorlice, Krosno, Nowy Targ).
The emigration had a significant effect on the labor market. It brought about improvement in working conditions and wages. The peasant's character changed, his independence and self confidence grew, the scope of his thinking expanded. The money sent and brought back by the emigrants not only improved the working and living conditions of the people but also played a significant role in the region's balance of payments. It is impossible to determine the total amount of money sent back to the Old country by Lemko emigrants, because Lemkos rarely took advantage of the services of banks or post offices in sending money back. They often sent back cash in registered letters, but these moneys usually disappeared in the Galician post offices. (Translator's note: I have personally read letters from the old country, dating to about this period, in which the writer complained that money sent to her was stolen at the post office). Large amounts were carried by the emigrants themselves or were sent through friends or relatives. The total annual revenue from emigration to America has been estimated, at 20 million kronen. Postal money orders sent from the United States to Galicia in 1904 amounted to 5,922,663 kronen. The emigres were inhumanly exploited. The attitude toward them was one of extreme contempt. It was expressed in an unceasing debasement of their personal worth and complete disregard of their most basic needs.
Travel to Germany for seasonal work was a horrible journey in cram-packed, unheated railroad freight cars, standing or sitting on your own bundle all the way. From February to June, when seasonal workers were going out. and from November to January, when they were returning home, the travelers filled to overflowing the courtyards and compounds at Oswiecim, Myslowice, and Raciborg. It was even mentioned in the Sejm that these migrants are treated worse than cattle in cattle cars. Government officials introduced class IV cars for the migrants, to legalize the transfer of people as transfer of cattle or hogs. At the Oswiecim compound, a special police unit was organized, consisting of 4--5 police officials, 7--8 ordinary patrolmen, and 5 gendarmes. The migrant was controlled at every step, or rather he was exploited by a mob of all kinds of middlemen. These were special agents surrounded by a network of assistants. This role was often played by Jewish innkeepers in the villages. Hidden agents of the emigration and transportation firms were otherwise benevolent societies that were acting as protectors of the migrants, such as the societies of St. Rafael, Providence, Patrice, Columbus, and others. This was just ordinary trading in people.
No better and no less unscrupulous was the situation with the emigrant going abroad. If he had bought a ticket for a Dutch ship, the German border guards would not let him cross. They recognized only tickets for German firms. When in 1904, the government established its own shipping line "Austro-Americana", the village prefects began to compel emigrants to ship out through Trieste. Emigrant diaries describe a terrible picture of the suffering of Rusyn peasants and workers thrust into the virgin forests of Brazil, without a roof over their heads, starved and deceived at every step. "We are beginning to forget that we are people", wrote one of them.
Both the landholders and the authorities were displeased with the growing emigration. They were afraid that the wages of workers would go up, that there would be a shortage of cheap labor for the manors. Passport requirements were made more stringent, issuance of documents was dragged out, those leaving were terrorized. In a secret letter, Governor Andrei Potockiy issued an order to restrain the emigration of Russian peasants.
Intense propaganda against the emigration was carried on through newspapers and brochures, playing on religious and patriotic sentiments. Some bishops put out pastoral letters in which they cautioned against emigrating. All of the land holders organizations tried to influence government officials against the emigrants through resolutions and petitions.
Although the landholders made emigration more difficult, they nevertheless managed to gain from it. The savings our peasants managed to accumulate in a foreign country through hard labor he usually invested in land, buying it from the large estates. The owners of the land quadrupled the price above what it had been before this. According to a report of the Parcellation Bank in Lvov, the average price of a hectare of land rose from 700 to 1,150 kronen in 1901, and then jumped higher every year. It reached 4,000 - 5,000 kronen. The most expensive land was In western Galicia. Lemkos didn't gain much in buying land from the manors.
to be continued....

Originally appeared in newspaper "Karpatska Rus'". Yonkers NY. Permission was granted by the editor for it to appear on The Lemko Page.

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Date Posted: February 27th, 1998
Last Revision: May 29th, 1999

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