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

9. The Consequences of the Deportation of Lemkos and the process of Polish-Ukrainian Reconciliation
Michal Wawrzonek
Jagiellonian University Cracow, Poland
The thesis of this paper is that reconciliation between nations is a process which, first of all, needs to develop in the mental processes of a population and is not to be found only in the political sphere. This process can be supported not only by historical study but also by pointing out concrete ways to resolve actual social problems especially if they are connected with the concrete occurrences with which reconciliation must deal.
We can speak of reconciliation if we can find a common language and a common place from which we can look at past mutual relations and deal with those questions for which there are different points of view, in order to come to a compromise.
The process of reconciliation deals with neighbors who have an historical past and who have mutually injured each other. In regard to the extreme occurrences with which we must deal, we have to take into account the mass extermination of members of the neighboring nation, ethnic cleansing and plunder. We also have to take into account the very latest historical occurrences which have influence until today and those episodes of the past which have a purely historic interest today, both of these have an influence and form the current reality because they are based on social memory with its myths and stereotypes that have an influence on current interpretations of reality. These problems must be overcome, that is, problems coming from multiple centuries of cultural and social history. Problems, which generate all sorts of conflicts, are questions of language, literature, the development and explanation of culture, the notion of nationality and social structure, which every nation has.
A very important characteristic of reconciliation is that it is something that cannot be decreed from above, the best that a government can do is open the correct doors, construct a basis on which an initiative from below can be taken. The process of reconciliation has a broad geopolitical context which goes beyond the limits of bilateral relations.
The France-German model of reconciliation or the analogical process between Germans and Poles was based upon the climate in international relations, which was found after the end of the Cold War and the collapse of East-West ideological barrier. The current climate allows for international cooperation, democratization, pluralism, and freedom of word, free market economy, and the recognition of human rights.
There is one more element, perhaps the most important, which lies in the popular basis of the idea of reconciliation of peoples. This refers to Christian values and ethics, on which is built fundamental European identification, spirituality, and culture. Through the
last decades, even though a little to the side, they were important despite totalitarianism and ideological confrontation.
In these Christian ethical values we see the sources and inspiration for reconciliation not only of Polish-Ukrainian reconciliation. We must remember what sort of consequences come from this. It is not enough to be sorry for past sins or to hope for future rectification. In that area both sides have already gone quite far. There are certainly many important words already spoken. They are, however, empty if the next steps on the road to reconciliation are not taken and if past wrongs are not righted. In this spirit the Senate of the Polish Republic in 1990 passed a resolution condemning the Vistula action, in which we read, "in three months about 150,000 people were forced out of their homes, deprived of their property, their houses and their sacred places. For many years they had no possibility of return and then later return was made difficult. The Senate of the Polish republic would like to correct this wrong as much as possible."1
Most of this wrong cannot be fixed. Nevertheless there is something that could be done about the Lemko situation in order to make the process of reconciliation believable and it's necessary to do it. First of all we have to get rid of the results of the Vistula action and myths and stereotypes have to be done away with. A change in mentality must take place and the legal - property questions settled.
As we know in 1947 the Lemkos were deported to what is called the Recovered Lands. The authorities tried to resettled the empty territory with Polish settlers from nearby regions, nonetheless the large majority of the property did not find new owners and was left as nothing. In connection with this in 1949 on the 27th of July the State Council issued a decree, "Concerning the state taking control of certain properties in certain counties in the provinces of Bialystok, Lublin, Rzeszow and Cracow."
2 On the basis of that decree the state took over property which it had taken from the owners who had been forcibly resettled... in that way they were deprived not only of their farms but also their forest lands.
Many of these so-called "repatriates", without success, try to get their farmland back. Particularly difficult is the recovery of forests which came under the control of the state. This question is not resolved to this very day. Also the way local authorities act concerning these problems shows a deep difficulty with the actual status of social relations in Poland today.
We are waiting for the return of property in some 800 Lemko villages.
3 The most difficult question is the return of forests which cover about 2,000 hectares.4 The basis of the Lemko problem is the fact that the decision of the Polish authorities to take away the property of the resettlers in the Vistula action was, in fact, a violation of the law in those years. Thus, representatives of the former owners who are organized in the Lemko Union [the Ukrainian oriented Lemko organization, there are other Lemko organizations not so oriented] feel that it would be enough to get local government units to revoke decisions made in error. They feel that these incorrect actions can be taken care of administratively. According to the letter of the decree of 1949 the taking of real property as property of the state occurred on the basis of county government decisions. These county government units made many basic mistakes5 and they did not carry out decisions according to the decree and therefore these decisions were not legal.6 In connection with this, according to them, all they have to do is follow the law and they do not need a particular reprivatization statute.
Even during the existence of the Polish People's Republic the Lemkos tried to correct the results of the deportation. New hopes were built upon the changes which took place in Poland in 1989 and especially after the above cited resolution of the Senate of August 3, 1990. While it is true that this was an important step forward, the action taken by the Senate was not legally binding and the Polish House of Representatives, the Sejm, would have to do a similar action. In one version of the project put before the Sejm its author, Wlodzimierz Mokry, a member of the Union of Ukrainians in Poland, wrote that the Sejm, wishing to recognize that all citizens of the Polish state are equal without regard to their national origin or their religious belief recognizes that the Vistula action as illegal, and from that it follows that:

1. the decree of the Presidium of the Council of Ministers of April 24th 1947 which ordere'd the resettlement of Ukrainians from Podlasie, Chelm, Nadsanie, the Boyko and Lemko Regions is null; 2. decrees of 1947, 1949 and 1958 taking into the state treasury the property of Ukrainian institutions and of resettled people are annulled.

The cancellation of these acts would create a basis for attempts to recover property by resettlers for themselves or their descendants. The conditions for return should be regulated by a special instructions which would insure the current status of people living in the territory which was included in the Vistula action. This project of a law was sent to the Commission of National Minorities. However, under pressure of the circumstances surrounding the text, the text itself was so edited that nothing concrete came out of it.
9 Regardless of how the project was stated, it remained only on paper. At the same time a group of Representatives in 1991 prepared a project "Concerning the return of property taken by the state as a result of the Vistula action". In that project we read "this project will annul the decree of the 27th of July 1949 and will return real property to former owners or their descendants in so far as that property remains in the treasuries of the state, communities, cooperatives, or social organizations. In circumstances where the property is owned by an individual then the former owners could ask for compensation. The way to compensate these people would have to be regulated under reprivatization law."10 This initiative also remained only a project. In the following years nothing happened and nothing changed in regard to the forest lands.
The problem came up again in the Sejm in 1995 on the occasion of the debate about the report concerning reprivatization laws. These projects were not accepted by the Lemkos, because the returned of property was not foreseen. In any case the deportees or their successors were not guaranteed a just repayment for their losses. The representative of the Ukrainian minority in the Sejm, Miroslaw Czech, stated that the project, if accepted, would finally "satisfy the hopes raised by the resolution of the Senate on the 3rd of August 19, 1990."
n The hopes for a positive resolution of the problem of the illegal seizure of property were again raised in 1997 when the 50th anniversary of the Vistula action was commemorated. On April 5th and 6th in Warsaw there was a conference of Ukrainians in Poland, again the Sejm, the government and the President appealed for a resolution of the problems caused by the 50 year-old deportation, The Congress appealed to the Polish nation with a request for reconciliation and forgiveness. But this was not to change the Ukrainian and Lemko situation. The Vice Marshal of the Sejm, Marek Borowski, stated that "We don't see any chance that the Sejm will condemn the Vistula action, the action was the consequence not the cause of the Stalinist policy of denationalization when a whole people was resettled. You Ukrainians were not silent and peaceful and the authorities at that time had to do something."12
It seemed to the Lemko representatives that there were better prospects in connection with the September parliamentary elections in Poland and a change of the political situation. The third meeting of the Lemko Union turned to the new authorities in Warsaw: the parliament, the Treasury Ministry, the Ministry of Farming, Agriculture, Natural Resources, Environmental Protection and Forestry, as well as to political leaders who were part of the ruling coalition, in which they had expressed the hope that the question about the return of property would find a "fair and just resolution".
13 At the same time the signatories of this document indicated that they had no pretensions to people who "in good faith received or purchased our property".14 Nevertheless against the will of the Lemkos neither the government nor the parliament want to take on the task of the illegal nationalization of property during the Vistula action separate from the general problem of reprivatisation in Poland.
In 1998 during the Lemko culture days festival in the village of Zdynia near the city of Gorlice there was a visit by the Marshall of the Sejm, Maciej Plazynski. In his speech the Marshall discussed several questions about the return of real property. He did this in the context of, "all the problems which we see occurring after many decades of Communist power."
15 It is difficult to interpret that visit as an example of some sort of special interest of the authorities in Warsaw concerning the property of the Lemkos. The words of Plazynski reinforce of the fact that this problem is only one of the many elements of the debate concerning reprivatization in Poland.
It would seem that the climate created by the official declarations on the highest levels the government about reconciliation would help resolve the question of the victims of the Vistula action. It appears however that in all the questions about Ukrainians who were repressed in the years 1945 to 1947 that there is a lack of a political will to settle the issues. Among the Polish political elite and in-groups which are making decisions one meets the certainty that the Vistula action, despite its brutality, was nevertheless necessary and just. The proof of this can be cited in the speech of the Vice Marshal of the Sejm, M. Borowski, and the comments related to it by the representative of the Ukrainian minority, M. Czech, who said that "in the meetings of the various comrnissions one can hear the comment that the Lemkos want to get back their forests and that Ukrainians are demanding too much."
Even more complicated is the situation on, the lowest level of local government. Stefan Hladyk of the Lemko Union has stated that the indifference of local government officials to the question of the Lemko forests and fields is a consequence of the general feeling amongst Poles "that collective responsibility is carried from generation to generation."
This "governmental conservatism" was the source of local conflicts. Thus at the end of 1986 the situation in the Lemko region became more inflamed. One can find this in a letter, which Lemko representatives sent to the Sejm in 1989. They wrote in it, among other things, "that legal owners have initiated a movement to regain their forests, finding boundary markers and marking off their forested lands. Communal self-help groups have arisen and they will not allow the state forestry workers into those parts of the forest, which they consider their own property until the question is resolved by competent authorities. Based upon this, incidents have occurred and it is possible that legal owners might come into direct conflict" [with the state].
At the beginning 1990's, despite a lack of the resolution of these problems, the Lemkos did gain a few successes. In the January 1990 representatives of the Lemko Committee, (which later changed into the Lemko Union), negotiated an agreement with the district state forest organization in which it was indicated which forested lands were in contention and there was a temporary ceasing of cutting trees in those areas. It was successively prolonged until the and of 1992.
In the following years the situation continued to be complicated. In the middle 1990's on part of the territory in contention the Magura National Park was opened which, besides excluding farming, is also a natural preserve. The sanction for this is a decision made 50 years ago on the basis of which the Lemkos lost their property rights. The establishment of that park was a clear sign that the chance of regaining their forests was getting smaller. It seems clear that the main opponent now is the state forestry division. In 1998 another park was established in the same region. A project for a reprivatization law, which at that time was being looked at in the Sejm, did not foresee the direct return of property rather it dealt with payments for losses during the Vistula action.
In July 1998 there was a meeting between representatives of the Lemkos and the Minister of Environmental Protection Natural Resources and Forestry, J. Szyszko. He excluded the possibility of the return of forest land and suggested a compensation in the form of government bonds.
21 The proposition of the Minister, in general, was not well-received by those interested.
The problem of the return of property which Ukrainian society lost as a result of the Vistula action was not, only connected with farming, farmland, and forest land. There's also the question of the Greek Catholic Church. Because officially in 1946 that church ceased to exist all its properties became without owners because the vast majority of the believers had been deported in the years 1945 to 1947. Some of the churches fell into ruins, part were used for purposes far from religious ones. In the former province of Rzeszow alone the state took control of the 11,000 hectares of fields and forests.
About 245 former Greek Catholic churches were taken over by the Roman Catholic Church.
23 Some of them began to be used by the Roman Catholic Rite Poles which the Communist authorities brought into the South Eastern Polish territories.
The Polish Roman Catholic Church never recognized the Lviv "synod" of 1946 [which attached the Greek Catholic Church to the Russian Orthodox Church]. During the whole period of the PRL (the People's Republic of Poland) the Greek Catholic Church was directly or indirectly supported by the Roman Catholic church.
After 1956, when the former inhabitants, Ukrainians and Lemkos, began to return, their sacred buildings, in many cases, were in the control of the Roman Catholic Church. In connection with this there were local agreements in which a given church was used by both Rites, the eastern Greek Catholic and the western Roman Catholic.
On the one hand this shows a high level of tolerance represented by a believers of different rites that is Poles and Ukrainians, in their common use of one sacred place. That doesn't mean, however, that Catholics of the Eastern Rite didn't feel injured. De facto they were guests in their own church. This can be shown when Greek Catholics from the county of Gorlice where sent a letter to the Roman Catholic episcopate of Poland in 1997 in which it was stated "the authorities of the PRL nationalized the churches and the property of the Greek Catholic parishes... Our brother Roman Catholics received these gifts with open arms, (this refers to real property given them by the authorities) without any scruples, for religious activities. On the other hand Greek Catholics lost everything homes, property and churches and received only humiliation.
Thus the confessional difference was added to the nationality difference. Of course this caused conflicts which in the beginning were only occasional. Nevertheless in 1991 the Greek Catholic Church came out from the underground and the problem of the restitution of its property became actual. Based upon an agreement of the" leaders of both communities, the Roman and the Greek Catholic, there were established conditions on which the Eastern Catholics could try to recover their sacred places which after 1947 were found in the possession of the Roman Catholics, that is. Poles.
It's necessary, nevertheless, to indicate that in the majority of the cases this was strictly a formality, the right of the Uniate Church to take possession of a building, which nevertheless continued to be used by believers of both rites as it was up to that time.
Nevertheless, resistance from the Roman Catholic side to the return of property was in many cases very strong. Greek Catholics on the territory were now a minority and they didn't have enough strength and not enough numbers to force the return of their sacred buildings.
Even if the activities ended in success for the Greek Catholics as, for example, occurred in Snietnica and Uscie Gorlickie the recovery of the title to a church did not necessarily resolve the problem but increased the tensions and conflicts between Poles and Lemkos in the local area. Thus in Uscie as well as in Snietnica the Polish community, which in both cases was now the majority, left the jointly used churches. In Uscie it was decided to build a new Roman Catholic church. They decided to place that church on property which once upon a time had been the property of the Greek Catholic Church."
We might give another example of the difficulty concerning the recovery of property and church buildings from the town of Krynica. The local parish tried for five years to get back its property. The case was dragged out for so long not only because of local resistance, and the delay of the authorities but also because of objective circumstances [?].
What ever the case, local Ukrainian communities felt discriminated against as we may read from a letter sent to the Property Commission of the Council of Ministers; "we are unhappy with the years upon years of legal process which we need to do in order to get back all Greek Catholic buildings, lands and forests. The property commission certainly knows about the return of property to other churches. We would like to indicate our deep unhappiness that the property of the Greek Catholic Church has such a delayed return to its legal owner. We appeal to the head of the Property Commission to quickly intervene and return the property, as has been the case concerning other churches."
The problem of the return of property belonging to the Ukrainian Uniate church before the Vistula action became widely known due to the 1990 problem in the city of Przemysł where there broke out a conflict over the decision to give the Roman Catholic Church the Greek Catholic Cathedral of St. Teresa. In this particular case there were two problems. First, the Przemysł cathedral was part of the larger problem of the restitution of the property of the Greek Catholic Church which has not been completely resolved to this very day. Secondly, the recovery of property by the Uniate Church has led to conflicts which doesn't mean they are not resolvable or that they are something which has to carry-on for a long period of time, antagonizing both Poles, Ukrainians or Lemkos. On the other hand one could suppose that the resolution of these problems would have a very
positive effect on the reconciliation of Poles and Ukrainians, especially on the lowest level.
The return of church property as well as the private property of victims of the Vistula action is not enough. It is not only the question of making the proper decision but also of preparing the ground for carrying such a decision out. The occurrences in Przemysł, Uscie Gorlickie, and Snietnica as a consequence of the Vistula action still remains in the mentality despite the loud rhetoric of the reconciliation between Poles and Ukrainians. This is the main reason why the reality in the Lemko region is as it is, despite decisions made by the central authorities or between the highest authorities of both churches. They are not being carried out on the local level and to a certain extent the local mentality has stood still based upon the 1945-1947 situation. There is much more to be done. Secondly, this mentality is based upon stereotypes, myths and commonly misinformation which to certain extent flows from the decisions made by a local government bodies that the Lemkos have been fighting against for years without success, for the return of their property, the protection of cemeteries, and cultural objects. Thirdly, the battle with the material consequences of the Vistula action is made difficult by the fact that this question has been thrown into the same bag with the general question of reprivatization in Poland, despite the fact that part of the Lemko property was taken by the state in contradiction to the law even as it occurred in the 1940's. In connection with these incorrect decisions there's the possibility, based upon the current in force Code of Administrative Law, without any new regulations, and without the necessity to have a reprivatization war, to resolve all issues. It seems that in this situation the return of forests and property could occur based upon the reconciliation between Poles and Ukrainians. If this was taken into account, a climate could be constructed which would resolve the questions concerning the victims of the Vistula action. Fourth, it's necessary to look at the Vistula action in a very broad perspective. Deportation and resettlement was a basic element of the post-war reality. It also includes Poles who lost their property in Ukraine. Naturally this has nothing to do with the Lemkos but undoubtedly it is connected in the broader context of reconciliation between Poles and Ukrainians and we cannot ignore it.
Undoubtedly, the current situation in the Lemko Region has deepened feeling amongst the Ukrainian minority in Poland about being unjustly maltreated, which does not help the process of reconciliation.

1Ukraińcy w Polsce 1989-1993. Kalendarium. Dokumenty. Informacje, Warszawa 1993, s. 130-131.
2 Dz. U. Nr 46 z 1949 r., póz. 339
3 E. Krzemień, Naprawcie zło [w:] „Mizh Susidamy" nr 7, s. 171
4 Chcą zwrotu lasów, {w:] „Gazeta Wyborcza" z 11-12.07.1998 r,
5 Prezydium Powiatowej Rady Narodowej
6 Ekspertyza prawna w sprawie aktualnych możliwości prawnych indywidualnego zwrotu nieruchomości w trybie administracyjnym [w:] „Batpa" nr 4 z 1999 r.
7Dokumenty Zjednoczenia Łemków [w:] Problemy Ukraińców w Polsce po wysiedleńczej akcji „ Wisła" 1947 roku, pod red. W. Mokrego, Kraków 1997, s. 295-301.
8 Projekt Uchwały Sejmowej w sprawie potępienia wysiedleńczej akcji ,, Wisła" z 1947 roku [w:] Problemy Ukraińców w Polsce...op. cit., s. 254.
9 ibidem, s. 256
10 Dokumenty z Sejmu Rzeczpospolitej, [w:] Problemy Ukraińców..., op. cit., s. 246
11 Wypowiedzi posła Mirosława Czecha, [w:] Problemy Ukraińców.,., op. cit., s. 273.
12 E. Krzemień, Naprawcie zło, [w:] "Mizh Susidamy", nr 7, Kraków 1997, s. 171.
13 treść uchwały - zob. Problemy Ukraińców..., op. cit. s. 327-8.
14 tamże
15 pełny tekst przemówienia M. Płażyńskiego - zob. „Batpa", nr 4 z października 1998
roku, s. 8.
16 Wypowiedzi posła M. Czecha [w:] Problemy Ukraińców..., op. cit. s. 275.
17 Głos przedstawiciela Zjednoczenia Łemków S. Hładyka w dyskusji ogólnej na konferencji „Reprywatyzacja w systemie prawa" [w:] „Mizh Susidamy" nr 8, Kraków 1998, s. 239.
18 Wypowiedzi posła...., op. cit. s. 273.
19 Kalendarium łemkowskie, [w:] „Mizh Susidamy", nr 2, Kraków 1992, s. 53.
20 Głos przedstawiciela Zjednoczenia Łemków..., op. cit., s. 240.
21 Chcą zwrotu...op. cit,
22 Problemy Ukraińców...op. cit., s. 250
23 tamże
24 list wiernych parafii z miejscowości Łosie, Uście Gorlickie, Śnietnica, Wysowa z dnia 20.03.1997 roku do Episkopatu Polski, w posiadaniu autora.
25 list proboszcza grekokatolickiego z Uścia Gorlickiego V. Stoica do bpa T. Pieronka z 21.05.1997, w posiadaniu autora.
26 list Kurii Biskupiej obrządku bizantyjsko - ukraińskiego do Komisji Majątkowej z dnia 19.02.1996 r. -podaję za „Nasze Slowo" z 28.04.1996.


Document Information

Document URL:

Icon Return to Lemko Home Page

Date Posted: February 2nd, 2003
Last Revision:

LV Productions
c/o Walter Maksimovich
3923 Washington Street,
Kensington MD 20895-3934

© LV Productions, Ltd. All Rights Reserved.