Super Nowości 13-15 March 1998,
by Krzysztof Potaczala.
(for Polish version)
Translated by Walter Maksimovich.
Permission granted by Krzysztof Potaczala
of Ustrzyki Dolne, Poland.
Former Ukrainian name of each locality is shown
in brackets [ ], latin transliteration.
They were buried to hide them. Against the invader - the Germans, the Soviets. To prevent the enemy from melting these holy bells, converting them to weapons, pipes, or monuments to the communist heroes.
What happened to over 400 ["tserkva"] bells, which prior to WW II, announced the time for prayers or warned the local residents of impending danger? The answer to this question is unlikely to come from historians, or from those elders, who somehow managed to remain on the land of their ancestors, and avoid forced deportation to the East [to soviet Ukraine].
"A serious subject, and still very provocative" tells me an acquaintance - a local historian, one of the best experts on the subject of the pre-WW II Beskid range in the Carpathian Mountains. He promptly adds that he "will not disclose his last name for publication".
"There was a time when each "tserkva" had a bell, often several. A bell increased the prestige of a given parish, and a lot of attention was paid to it. When during WW I, [the Austrian] authorities started to confiscate bells on a massive scale, local citizens learned their lesson. They knew that in the event of another large armed conflict, the bells would meet a similar fate, that the Soviets or Germans would remain insensitive to requests that the bells be left alone. When in 1939 another war seemed imminent the locals did not waste time and hid most of the bells, to keep them from being stolen.
When the south-east peripheries of Poland were engulfed in 1947 by the military operation code-named "Vistula", the local population again buried the bells, expecting to eventually return to the area. But events turned out differently, and many witnesses to these events took this knowledge with them to their graves. When four years later the western Beskids were returned to Poland, the government "of the People" [Polish communist authorities] started to sniff around, and every bell they found was confiscated.
It is most likely that at this time the bells belonging to the tserkva in Ustzhyki Dolneh were dug out, but all traces of them disappear from here on" recalls our friendly historian. "Nobody saw anything, nobody heard anything, one might as well conclude that they were taken to an unknown destination by the Ministry of Internal Security [the UB]".
There are many similar secrets. It is unknown where the bells from Rabeh were taken, which thanks to the firm stance of the local parishioners served them a relatively long time. But the UB remained inflexible and subsequently in 1953 confiscated these bells. Whatever happened to the bell that was still hanging in the 1960's in the bell tower of the M.S. Virgin Mary tserkva in Ustrzyki Dolne [Ustriky Dolishni], a bell with an illegible inscription on it in Ukrainian. One can almost be certain that a fate similar to what happened to tens of other bells throughout the Beskid range, which the government "of the people" took to a destination known only to them. How many statues of the "RED heroes" of those days were cast from these bells? These facts are indisputable, as can be seen for example by the statue of general Karol Swierczewski (pr. Svierchevski) in Przemysl [Peremyshl], made mostly from the melted bells of the Beskids. "To this day there are people alive who participated in the confiscation of these bells, but not one of them will open his mouth on this subject" - intones the relentless researcher of the history of this region. What he tells us is confirmed by Bohdan Augustyn, VP of the Beskid Society for the Preservation of Antiquities, located in Ustrzyki Dolne, who himself has attempted several times to reach the high functionaries of the Ministry of Internal Security and the local police of those days, but has never had much success. "I believe that despite everything, more bells disappeared between 1946-47, than after 1951", theorizes Bohdan Augustyn. Undoubtedly many of them remain buried, so there still is a chance that one day they will see the light of day.
After several decades of silence, it was not until the early nineties, that the mass media started to address the subject of the Beskid bells at a time when visits to this region by the former inhabitants were becoming more frequent. They continue to search for places where several decades earlier these bells had been buried. Many of these attempts failed as was the case in 1997 in the village of Dydiowa, where residents of the village back in 1945 buried their bells, in Lokcie [Lokot'] and Trzciansk [Terstiana?]. Conflicting reports about the bells come from the village of Lutowiska [Liutovyska]- some claim that they remain buried, while others claim that certain unknown individuals took them to an unknown destination. There are similar unconfirmed reports concerning the bells from Beniowa, which supposedly were removed by the Polish soldiers during the deportation operation, also about the bells of Sianki [Sianky] supposedly requisitioned by the Germans, or as some would prefer, buried in the well by the bell tower. The search for the bell in the village of Zurawin [Zhuravtsi]however was successful. In 1989 the former residents of the village, currently living near Kherson, Ukraine, located the hidden bell and took it back with them. By some miracle, the bell from Ruskie [Rus'ke] has survived till this day, it is by the church in Chmiel [Khmil'], along with the bells from Liskowate. In addition, although no one knows by what means, one of the bells from Hulskie [Hil's'ke] survived, and now serves the Roman-Catholic worshippers in Terka. But what has happened to dozens of other bells, about which there is even no scant information. Those from Smolnik [Smil'nyk], Stuposiany, Ustrzyki Gorne [Ustriky Horishni], Tarnawa Nizna [Ternava Dolishnia], Wolosacz [Volosate], Bukowiec [Bukovets], Carynskie [Tsaryns'ke] and many other such localities?
Some believe that the answer to this question will never be known. Former residents of Bystre near Charne [Chorneh] officially disclosed having buried the bell prior to being deported, when in 1993 they came to visit their village. But they were very naive and disclosed the site, under the floor of the tserkva, to the wrong individual. After the Ukrainians had left, the man in whom the Ukrainians placed their confidence, broke into the former place of worship, dug out the bell, and hid it in the forest with the intention of eventually selling it for a significant sum of money. "Fortunately, the man who to this day lives in Bystre, had too long a tongue and disclosed his nefarious plans to several passerby's, these in turn reported him to the local police" - recalls Bohdan Augustyn. "The bell, which was then dug out from the forest, and which dates back to 1920's, first wound up at the police precinct in Charna, then was taken to the HQ in Ustrzyki Dolne, then in turn it was taken to Michnowiec [Mykhnovets'], where at approximately the same time, another bell disappeared from the bell-tower".
To this day the story has a veil of secrecy about it. One February night in 1993, an eighty kilogram [176 lbs] bell disappeared and the trail of the criminals remains cold to this day. The first person who noticed it missing from the bell tower was the then head of the Society for the Preservation of Structures, Zdzislaw Kwasek. He promptly notified the police in nearby Charne, and the local parish priest, who however failed to file the report about the theft himself. During that fateful night nobody had noticed anything, even though people lived in close proximity to the former tserkva, which for years was being used as Roman-Catholic church. There is no doubt that there must have been at least two thieves - since no single individual would be strong enough to carry such a heavy bell down the very steep steps of the bell tower. The get-away vehicle must have also been standing nearby, since it is unlikely that the bell was transported on their backs.
Recently there has only been one incident in which a bell originating from the tserkva in Dzwiniacz Dolny [Dzvyniach Dolishniy] , but buried during the 1940's in Rymanowa Wola, Olszanica [Olshanytsia] district was located. It took place in September 1995. This time, unlike in the past, the entire operation was worked out ahead of time with the head of the preservation society and higher-level authorities, and the site where the bells were hidden was pinpointed by the then ninety five year old resident of Ustrzyki Dolne, Jozef Dawid. Besides him there were other local Ukrainians who knew the location of the site, but were afraid to disclose this secret to anybody.
"This is nothing unusual" - states Bohdan Augustyn, "the remaining local Greek-Catholics were persecuted for years, and these people were concerned that if located, the bells would wind up in the wrong hands. In other words, they kept quiet, because they were scared, which can be understood".
Today the bells dug out in Rymanowa Wola serve the tserkva in Ustrzyki Dolne. This is mainly due to the fact that there was a definite destination awaiting these bells. The remaining ones continue to rest underground, even though many people are still alive who know precisely where they are.
But as long as one can continue to count the Greek-Catholic places of worship on the fingers of one hand, as is currently the case, not one of those who had been taken into confidence by their fathers and grand-fathers, will whisper a word.
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