Operation Vistula 1947

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Operation Vistula - 1944-1947 A brief history of how the Lemkos are driven out of their native lands by the Polish soldiers (in Stalin communist-controlled Poland)

Akcja Wisla (in Polish) Operation Vistula (in English) - Ukrainians just called themselves chased or pushed.

Map showing where people were re-distributed when they were chased out of their ancesteral homes in the years surrounding 1946- 1947.

Losie (Nowy Sacz County, Poland) by Nancy nsrevak@aol.com
During Akcja Visla, my own Lemko family was deported from the village of Losie (Nowy Sacz County) to the devastated, former German Prussian lands in western Poland (near Wroclaw, which used to be Breslau, Germany). And yes, it was truly a horrid, gut-wrenching experience that no one should ever have to endure.

It was a beautiful, sunny summer day in peaceful Losie in June of 1947. The hills and pastures were green, the forests lush, and the flowers, a burst of every color in the rainbow. Then out of nowhere, and withoutany warning, soldiers invaded the village, running from house to house, pounding on doors with their rifle butts and shouting orders for everyone to pack up what they could carry and be ready to evacuate the village -- in just 30 minutes. The Lemko villagers had no ideawhat was happening or why, and no explanations were given.

After the villagers were all together, they were surrounded by armed soldiers and led to a train station quite a distance away. Young and old,the villagers walked, sat on a wagon, or rode in trucks for many miles and hours.

At the train station, villagers were split up -- a few this way, a few over there -- and directed by the soldiers to waiting cattle cars, where they were packed in with other families,like sardines. Any livestock they happened to bring along was loaded in as well. People on one side of thecar, animals on the other.

It was all very efficient. Some time later, the car doors were slammed and bolted shut. They would remain that way for the rest of the journey. For many, this would be the last time they would ever see theirbeautiful homeland again.

The boxcar had no windows, no toilet facilities, and no food or water (except what people brought with them). There was nowhere to sit or sleep except the floor. It was sweltering hot. No breeze. No fresh air. No cooling off in the evenings. There was no privacy to do the normal things a body needs to do. And the people went days and sometimes a week or more without seeing daylight.

It wasn't long before the closed-in air became unbearably foul with the stench of farm animals, sweating people, animal and human excrement, people vomiting. Illness and disease soon became rampant. But there was no medicine. The attitude of those in charge was simply "if they die, they die "-- which many did.

Pregnant women lost their babies or died in childbirth. With nofood or water, new mothers couldn't produce enough milk to feed their babies, and the babies died. Other mothers starved themselves to death in order to feed their children. The days, nights, weeks, months were filled with the agonizing cries of hungry children and babies, the moans of the sick and dying, and the sobs of the  family members who lost them.  To  make things even worse, dead  bodies stayed in the closed boxcar until the next stop--which  could be as long as a week. During the stop, the people would scurry to look for anything that might be edible or a drop of water.

The trains carrying the Lemkos were in no hurry.  Any time another train a distance away might need access to a crossing along the Lemko train's path, the Lemko train would stop and wait until the other train passed by. And when the Lemko train needed to change tracks, the  engineers took their good old time while the people sat sweltering  inside the boxcars.  

It's reported that some engineers played games with their Lemko  passengers.  One game was to repeatedly speed up the train and suddenly put on the brakes, which would toss the people and animals in  the cars around and on top of each other.  If you suffered a broken bone, too bad.  Another game was to stop at the Auschwitz concentration  camp and open the doors to scare the passengers into thinking they were  going there to be gassed.  This frightened the people inside the  cars so much that, in their frenzy to move to the back of the car,  they actually trampled other people in the car to death.  

Some Lemkos tried to escape but were usually captured, beaten, or shot.  In the end, a journey that might normally take four to  five hours took up to three months.  Imagine three months locked up with all that.  

My family finally reached it's resettlement village in September.  The  area was pretty devastated by thebombing and fierce fighting that had taken place there during the war.  And the landscape was barren and flat -- not anything like beautiful Lemkovyna.

The father was given the choice of three houses for his family of  seven.  He picked the best one -- a two-room house with no roof, no windows, no stove, no electricity, no furniture, no heat -- nothing. But  it did have four walls.  Since most of the floorboards had been torn up, the family slept on floorboards or the dirt floor until they could scrape together enough remnants or money to start fixing things.

The parents and older children tried to find work.  But, at  first, no one would hire them.  This wasn't because the Poles were bad people.  It was because of what else had been happening at the time.

You see, Western Poland was where the Eastern Poles (whose lands ended up  being attached to Ukraine) were resettled when they were permitted to return to Poland.  But when the Lemkos were deported from Lemkovyna and being sent to Western Poland, these same Eastern Poles got  uprooted again -- this time to resettle in Lemko villages that were now vacant.  Imagine how the Poles must have felt.  It wasn't  fair either way. Unfortunately, some of the Eastern Poles were so angry, they burned down their houses before they left so that the Lemkos couldn't have them.

So it was already a hostile atmosphere before the Lemkos ever  arrived. The Western Poles had probably never seen a Lemko before  and didn't know anything about them--other than thinking the  Lemkos were to blame for the Eastern Poles being sent away and were  coming to take their place.  Lemkos were complete strangers--and  not one of their own.  (And we all know the attitude toward 'outsiders'  even in the U.S. at that time.)

When the Lemkos finally arrived and got off the train, they were dirty and stinking from their long journey -- and probably had few clean or untattered clothes to change into even later.  They had lice and were covered with sores.  And because the Lemkos had so little, they were  probably looked like beggars and thieves.  So besides being pre-disposed to not liking the Lemkos, the Poles didn't trust them either.  

To make matters worse, the Lemkos spoke a different language that  was certainly wasn't Polish.  So to the Poles, the Lemko weren't  even Polish.  But the language problem was short-lived because  the government had forbidden the Lemkos from speaking the Lemko  language.  So the Lemkos had to learn to speak Polish (or Russian)  very quickly.  

The government also singled out the Lemkos in other ways.  Lemkos were forbidden to identify themselves as Lemkos, to read Lemko literature, to practice their Lemko traditions, to wear anything that might identify them as Lemko.  Getting caught doing so meant punishment or even  death.  (Yet many brave families managed to secretly keep their 'Lemko-ism' alive behind the doors of their own homes.)

To the Poles, the Lemkos were also different because they were Greek Catholic -- not Roman Catholic like the rest of Poland.  (During Soviet times, in Poland, unlike Slovakia, the Roman Catholic Church was tolerated.) Since there were no Greek Catholic churches in  Western Poland when the Lemkos arrived, the Lemkos usually went to the local  Roman Catholic church -- or no church at all. They (like all poor Poles) couldn't afford a car or gasoline to travel to one of the few Orthodox churches a distance away.

But not all local Poles treated the Lemkos badly.  Some were very kind to their new neighbors and tried to help them out -- a chicken here, some eggs there, a few scraps of wood, an old mattress, some handyman work, etc. And the Lemkos quickly proved to be good workers.

Gradually, the ethnic Lemkos and ethnic Poles started getting along -- and a number eventually inter-married (which was not surprising given that many Lemkos attended Roman Catholic churches.)  But, unfortunately, there are still those who carry hard feelings from those days to the  present.

I first realized the importance of my Lemko traditions the first  time I stayed with my Lemko relatives in 1998. We were sitting around  the table, eating and drinking (what else?).  Then my relatives started singing Lemko songs I recalled from my childhood, and without  realizing it, I started singing along.  Suddenly, an older cousin (who resembles Archie Bunker) started to cry.  When I asked why, I learned that  he was so moved to learn that Lemkos who had emigrated to America had kept the Lemko traditions alive during all those years that the Lemkos in Poland were forbidden to do so.

Most of the Lemkos I've met in Poland consider themselves Polish citizens of Lemko extraction/ethnicity.  But the further east you go, I notice an increasing number of Lemkos with the  Ukrainian orientation.)  But ethnicity doesn't ever seem to come up except among Lemkos.  On the other hand, how often does the question of ethnicity comes up in the workplace or normal day-to-day  conversations?

To really understand how strong the Lemko identity is in Poland  today, you have to attend one of the Lemko Vatras held there every summer.  The one I've been to (and will be attending again this August as  part of the Lemko Tour) is held outside the town of Michalow in western  Poland.  It's called the Vatra of Lemkos in Exile. Its purpose  is to bring the Lemkos together to celebrate the ongoing survival of the Lemko people and their Lemko heritage.  (Another Lemko vatra of  Ukrainian orientation is held in Zdnya--in June, I believe.)

Throngs of Lemkos from all over Poland and other countries attend  this festive reunion -- young and old alike. There are on-going performances  by young school children, teenagers, and adults -- all singing, dancing and playing Lemko music.  One particularly well-known high-school-aged  group is called 'Lemkovyna,' (which practices in Gorlice.)  But  the most popular and well-known ensemble is 'Kychera', headquartered  in Legnica, which performs all over the world.    

There are several grammar schools starting up in Poland that teach the Lemko language and culture -- and more are coming.  There are Lemko  organizations and Lemko newspapers (written in the Lemko language, not  Polish.)  I could go on and on, but there is considerably more Lemko activism going on in Poland than you may think.  And I'm only aware of some  of it.

Now that isn't to say that all of Poland knows (or cares) about the Lemkos or considers them equals. Lemkos are still a minority in Poland, and they are generally looked upon the same way many minorities are looked upon here in the U.S.  But again, things are changing as Lemkos get  more publicity -- some good, some not. For example, a town in northwestern Poland (I can't recall the name)  recently dedicated the town or town tower to the Lemkos.  

While Akcja Visla [Operation Vistula] has finally been acknowledged by the Polish government,  it's still kind of hush-hush. Lemkos have been allowed to petition to have their land returned to them, or to be reimbursed for the land and  possessions taken away from them.  But there's a lot of red tape and it can be costly.  

As for Lemkos being 'hillbillies', actually, we are.  (But not  necessarily with the same connotation that we think of hillbillies here.)  After all, our people did come from remote areas of the mountains.  In fact, there's another breed of hillbillies practically next door to Lemkovyna called Podhale -- the area of the High Tatras in Poland (e.g. Zakopane) and Slovakia (e.g. Stara Lubovna) -- where  the Gorale live.  But the Gorale call themselves Highlanders.  So maybe we Lemkos should call ourselves Lowlanders!

As for Lemkos being poor and uneducated, that has changed.   The one good thing the Soviets did for our people was to give them a good education -- including University.

Yes, it's still hard for many people in  Poland to make a good living these days -- particularly if they live in small, out-of-the-way villages.  And people on pensions have a tough time.  But we've got the same thing here.  And since becoming a  member of the EU, things in Poland have gotten much better.

Some Lemkos have already become very successful.  For example, about 10 or so years ago, a young Lemko couple, Jan and Janina Kopcza, bought an old, rundown villa in Legnica that used to house Russian military officers when Russians lived in Legnica.  The Kopcza's completely restored the  place to its original elegance--and received Poland's top architectural award.  The villa is now an inn and four-star restaurant where you can sit outside on the patio and dine surrounded by magnificent gardens.

Halina and Andrezj Malecky are Lemkos from central Lemkovyna  (Gorlice County.) During the year, they are school  teachers.  In the summer, they lead individual tours of Lemkovyna  (which are usually booked well in advance.)  

As far as the languages Lemkos speak, I guess it depends on which part  of Poland  they lived in.  The Lemko adults I know who would have  been attending school during the Soviet era have spoke Polish since Akcja Visla.  But they probably learned Russian in school.  In Western Poland, they also speak German -- and in eastern Lemkovyna, Ukrainian.  There's an increasing number of Lemkos who speak English -- particularly in the cities and in the younger generations.  

So, hopefully, if you've had the patience or interest to have read all  of his, you will have a greater appreciation of and increased pride in what our people have suffered, what they overcame, and  the strength it took to climb up from minus 0 to where they are  today.  That's the sort of spirit that's represented by the bear in the Rusyn emblem.
Nancy nsrevak@aol.com

Polish Home Army - Operation Vistula
Beria reported to Stalin on 17th May 1945 (Hastings, 2005) that twenty AK units compromising of 6,000 men and women were in a desperate battle of survival against the communist regime’s armed forces in eastern parts of Poland. In the melee of active former partisans were 4,000 men of the Ukrainian Patriotic Army (UPA) operating in the remote Bieszczady Mountains on the new border between Poland and the Ukraine. Stalin used the opportunity to send 5 NKVD regiments and in addition 3 regiments of NKVD Frontier Guards to ‘liberate’ the countryside from the ‘bandits’. The UPA was eventually crushed in 1947 by a coalition of the newly formed Polish Communist Army, Soviet and Czechoslovak units. About 0.5m survivors of Operation Wisla were forced to migrate to the artificially re-created provinces of Warmia and Mazury. This oppressive action has remained a ‘dark’ episode in Poland’s recent history.

In effect the region was fighting a civil war (Davies, 2001; 2003) from 1944 until 1947. The ‘West’ knew little of it and had abandoned its ally Poland to concentrate on rebuilding their war shattered economies and hanging onto shrinking empires. However, the term ‘civil war’ masked the true objective and that was to use brute force to subjugate those who dreamed of freedom and democracy. Davies (2001; 2003) estimated there might have been up to 40 to 50,000 underground fighters in the field with the Soviet backed security forces losing 18,000 men.

Submitted by Laurence Krupnak lkrupnak@verizon.net

Researching People Lost in Operation Vistula (Akcja Wisla)
Witam Villagers,
Some time ago, some of you were interested in contact information in regards to Operation Vistula.  I have written to the Instytut Pamieci Narodowej (The Institute of National Remembrance - The Commission For The Prosecution of Crimes Against the Polish Nation) and have received a reply.

So, if anyone is interested in receiving information on your loved ones that were part of Operation Vistula, this is where to write.   You may e-mail them directly and in English - does not have to be in the Polish Language. Office of the President: sekretariat.ipn@ipn.gov.pl or http://ipn.gov.pl/en/contact and they will respond by registered letter within two to three months.

Hello Danuta,
Perhaps you can shed some light on a subject for me.  I remember as a child (in the 1940's) my father receiving a (smuggled) letter from his sister in Poland (who had stayed in Dudynce, Poland and was given the family farm).  She later married.  They were Greek Catholics.  She stated in the letter that the Russians "came in the night" and loaded the elderly (and some not that old) into trucks.  They (including my relatives) were taken to Siberia and "dumped in the snow" to fend for themselves.  In later years, contact was made between my grandfather here in the US and my aunt in Siberia and they corresponded.  Upon my grandfather's death nobody evidently thought it important to keep my aunt's address and so that branch of the family is now a mystery to me.  Is this part of being "resettled" that you spoke of?  Where would I find further information regarding my family's location in Siberia?

Since it happened over 60 years ago and I was a small child at the time...I really don't know exactly what year this occurred. I do remember that the family discussed that the letter had been smuggled into the US (by whom I don't know) and didn't come via regular mail. The Russians referred to evidently were the Russian soldiers that occupied the Dudynce, PL area during that era. Thank you for any information you might have.
Have a great day, Mary-Ann

The period of time that your relatives cruelly where deported was the beginning of the Holocaust, shortly after the 1939 September Campaign (Defence War).  The Defence War lasted from September 1, 1939 to October, 1939.  The Nazis and Soviets were in joint control of that area, where your relatives lived.

Prior to the Defence War, Hitler made it clear the Poles (inhabitants of Poland - all Polish citizens) were Untermenschen (subhumans), who occupied a land, which was part of the Lebensraum (living space) that belonged to the superior German race.  The Poles were subjected to a program of extermination and enslavement.  As Hitler stated, "Be merciless! Be brutal... it is necessary to proceed with maximum severity.... The war is to be a war of annihilation."

Deportation started,  around February 1940 in the cold of winter, and they came knocking in the middle of the night. Some Poles were sent to Forced Labour Camps, under the newly formed German General Government and some Poles were sent East by the Soviets to the Gulag.

To make contact with your family try:
Centralne Biuro Adresowe
Sekcja Zapytan Zagranicznych
ul. Kazimierzowska 60
02-543 Warszawa

"You can write your letter in English. They will reply in Polish. Give them as much information as you can. A must is the village or town in which they lived and the province. Give as much information as you can, i. e. your ancestors full name (using maiden names, also), dates of birth, siblings names and where they were from. In other words, you are giving them all the data they need for you to connect with the known relative you wish to contact. Give them that person's full name and their ancestors.

They will not let you know where your relatives are.  They will contact them, and if they wish to reach you, they will. Send a letter to your relative in another envelope for them to mail it to them. Tell them the relationship to this person you wish to contact and how you connect with them as a relative.
Danuta - Daughter of Non Jewish Holocaust Survivors

In 1945 Stalin wanted Poles in Poland, and Rusyns in USSR (according to Yalta agreement).  The Ukrainian partisans (UPA) were still running around the Carpathians.  The posters and agents claiming that Ukraine (dominated by Stalin) was better, weren't working.  

Military units went into villages to persuade the people to "voluntarily" get out.  Everything from a single hanging to get the message out to huge massacres and burning of the villages occurred.

The priest gathered up a hundred families in my village in 1946, and took them to Ukraine, where most of them still remain.  The mother of a friend said, "We had to go, or they would have shot us."  Another hundred or so families who didn't go, got sent to Silesia in 1947, as part of Operation Visla.

Many people were intimidated (executed) to leave before Operation Vistula began. Jim

On 11/15/11 John Magyari jmagyari@gmail.com wrote:
I'm going through the data in the Polish Version of E. Misilo Akcja Wisla.

Unfortunately I do not have a scan of the whole book, but I do have scans of 2 areas the first which shows ~774 Village Names pages 404-423; the second which shows # people, # cows, # horses, # goats, Loading Station, Departure Date, Unloading Station, Date Of Arrival number displaced and the trains they were placed on pages 428-449.

The Ukrainian Version has 561 pages the Polish Version has 524 pages

1) data for Nowy Sacz District this appears to be missing from my Polish version maybe it's on pages prior to 428 or after page 423, could anyone who has the Polish and Ukrainian Version of this book check and see if they have Nowy Sacz District info?

2) I noticed that the nearby Lemko villages of Pulawy (1936 population 692) , Tarnawka (pop. 424), and Zawoje (pop. 302) are not listed on pages 417-419 Sanok Area. Although in 1946 many probably went to Ukraine, I would assume there were some that were displaced via Vistula.

Could someone check and see if they are listed in the Ukrainian Version?

3) I assume that on page 419 Sanok region, Wislok refers to both these Lemko villages together Wislok Gorny and Wislok Dolny?

Population Exchanges Between Poland and the U.S.S.R.: A Prelude to Akcja Wisla (Operation Vistula)
When faced with the opportunity to participate in the transfer of minority populations with the Soviet Union in 1944, the Polish government agreed in the hope of solving its nationality conflict. Feeling betrayed and angered by the violent reaction of the Ukrainian population, the leadership adopted a resettlement campaign. Ukrainians were deported voluntarily and then forcibly, as the Polish government set out to retrieve its nationals and to achieve its goal of a homogeneous state. Poland's frustrating loss of land at the end of World War II only further exacerbated the government's negative attitude towards its national minorities. Thus, the population transfers that took place between Poland and the U.S.S.R. from 1944 to 1946 marked only the beginning of the evacuation of Ukrainians from southeastern Poland.

The negative Polish sentiment towards its minorities manifested itself in the signing of an agreement regarding population transfers between Poland and the U.S.S.R. on September 9, 1944. It should, therefore, be noted that the idea to relocate Poland's Ukrainian population originated, not in 1947, but before World War II had even ended. The agreement stipulated that "people of Ukrainian, Belorussian, Russian, and Rusyn nationality" living in Poland should be "evacuated" to Soviet Ukraine and Belorussia, while Poles and Jews in Soviet Ukraine and Soviet Belorussia should be repatriated to Poland.

The view that national minorities had been one of the major causes of World War II was a predominant notion among many European countries at the time; thus, Misilo explains that both sides saw this agreement as the solution to their painful nationalities conflict. The relocation of Ukrainians from Poland to the U.S.S.R. began on October 15, 1944. The terms of the agreement stated that"evacuation is voluntary, therefore coercion can not be applied either indirectly, or directly," and, indeed, during the first few months after the signing of the agreement, many people who werelandless or whose property had been destroyed during the war left Poland. However, in the following year, contrary to the terms of the agreement, the Polish authorities began to apply pressure and to use violence in order to persuade Ukrainians to leave Poland.

The redrawing of Poland's eastern border after World War II constituted a major blow to the Polish state that further worsened relations with the Ukrainian population. Stalin dominated the decision-making process regarding the Polish-Ukrainian border, or the so-called Curzon Line. Officially, he refused to give up the lands which he had annexed during the war, and which the Polish government considered historically Polish territories, because he stated that Western Ukraine should be united with its brothers in Soviet Ukraine.

In reality, Stalin faced no real opposition because, first, Poland remained militarily incapable of challenging him and, second, at the Yalta conference, the Western powers permitted Stalin to include the Eastern European countries within the Soviet Union's sphere of influence.

Thus, the Polish government had no real choice but to accept its new eastern border, which expanded the Ukrainian republic westward, but which left Ukrainian ethnolinguistic territories, such as the Lemko, San River, Chelm, and Podlesia regions within Poland. Although it is difficult to evaluate to what degree Poland's loss of its eastern borderlands and particularly the loss of historic Lviv impacted the Polish community's frame of mind, the realization of a new territorial border in the east must have caused unpleasant disillusionment, which in turn promoted a radical attitude towards the Ukrainian question.

Misilo explains that the Polish communists took up the banner of the building of a Polish nation-state and used anti-Ukrainian propaganda, just as it used anti-German propaganda, as a way to consolidate support. The leadership used the idea of an "enemy," or the Ukrainian population, in order to unite the Polish community and rebuild the country. With the memory of the wartime period of Polish-Ukrainian conflict fresh in their minds, the Polish authorities were not very sympathetic to the Ukrainian minority. Because Poland experienced a major territorial shift, factors other than concern over national minorities may have also contributed to the government's decision to participate in the population exchanges. For example, Misilo adds that the September 1944 Polish-Soviet agreement was signed for economic reasons as well. While Ukraine had lost over 5 million of its citizens during the [Olga's comment: this is grossly underestimated, other research shows Ukraine lost 10 million] war and needed people to work in its collective farms, Poland needed to populate its newly acquired German lands.

Furthermore, given that the agreement included the repatriation of Poles in Ukraine, another significant motive may have been the government's concern for ethnic Poles. In his book. Gross explains how 1.25 million Poles found themselves on the Soviet side of the border between 1939 and 1941 because of various waves of deportation. For example, some Poles went to Poland voluntarily to look for work; some were drafted into the Red Army; some were kept in POW camps after 1939; and about half (about 900,000) were transported as prisoners to labor camps. Therefore, the notion that the Polish government remained concerned for its nationals and wanted to secure their return is valid.

While about 1 million Poles moved to Poland between 1944 and 1946, close to 520,000 Ukrainians were relocated from Poland to the U.S.S.R. One difference regarding these statistics, however, is the argument that many Poles wanted to escape from the harsh conditions under which they suffered in the Soviet Union, whereas many Ukrainians in Poland were forced to leave their ancestral homes. Notwithstanding its concern for its Polish nationals, the brutality to which the Polish government resorted in order to remove Ukrainians testifies to its eagerness to resolve its minority conflict. Before discussing the Polish government's initial steps towards the complete resettlement of its Ukrainian minority, some attention should also be given to the make-up of the Polish leadership and to who held authority in the immediate post-war years. Just as the question of Poland's borders remained confining after World War II, the question of Poland's government caused even more chaos.

At Yalta, Stalin argued with the United States and Great Britain over whether the Lublin committee that the U.S.S.R. had formed and recognized as the"Provisional Polish Government" would play a larger role than the London government-in-exile that was established in Paris in 1939. The communists consolidated their hold over Poland as the Western powers acquiesced and permitted the Lublin Poles (later called the Warsaw Poles) to essentially continue to govern, albeit under the stipulation that the government "be reorganized on a broader democratic basis with the inclusion of democratic leaders from Poland itself and Poland abroad. However, because opposition to the Soviet-controlled Lublin government remained widespread after the Yalta conference, the Polish People's Army acquired a key role in the postwar government.

The Lublin government relied on the army to pacify anti-communist forces. Furthermore, in the January 1947 Sejm elections, the Polish Workers Party (the Polish communist party) used army officers "to supervise the vote count" and then later unleashed state terror with military tribunals in order to destroy the rival Polish Peasant Party. Hence, by 1947, a pro-Soviet communist government was solidly in place and the army, which later played a large role in the undertaking of Akcja Wisla, became an important asset to the Polish leadership. The Polish government found that the Ukrainians in southeastern Poland, who were attached to their land, could not be completely evacuated from their ancestral territories through peaceful means. While announcements were made encouraging the Ukrainians to return to their Fatherland, meaning greater Ukraine, the majority of these peoples had no desire to leave the lands which their forefathers had inhabited for centuries. The redrawing of the border held little significance for such Ukrainian ethnographic groups as the Lemkos, who had long been isolated in the Lemko region of the Carpathian Mountains.

The Polish government encountered even more difficulty in persuading the Ukrainian population to relocate to the Soviet Union after Ukrainians, who had voluntarily left, began to illegally return from the U.S.S.R. and to inform the others of the Stalinist repression in the republic of Ukraine. Therefore, the Polish government resorted to significant pressure. Initiatives that were used to compel the Ukrainians to leave included the deprivation of land rights and the liquidation of Ukrainian schools and Greek-Catholic churches. The Polish government even attempted to persuade the leaders of the Ukrainian community to help carry out the resettlement process. On August 24, 1945, the Ministry of Public Administration, on behalf of the Presidium of the Council of Ministers, organized a conference in Warsaw, to which it invited representatives of the Ukrainian population from the Rzeszow, Lublin, and Krakow palatinates. Misilo states that the government was surprised when the Ukrainian representatives came prepared with a statement, which demanded the end to discrimination against Ukrainians and the resolution to the issues of land, education, and religion.

Although a Councilman, by the name of Byeletski, at first responded positively by saying that the Ukrainian population had the right to enjoy the same privileges as the Poles, he recommended nonetheless that the Ukrainians resettle in the Soviet Union in order to eliminate the historical conflict between the Poles and the Ukrainians. Furthermore, the Ukrainian representatives were informed that if a significant portion of the Ukrainian population remained in Poland, it was possible that the Ukrainians would be relocated to other parts of Poland for economic considerations. This last statement holds importance because it shows that the tactic of relocating the Ukrainian population throughout Poland was discussed years before Akcja Wisla (Operation Vistula) began. Thus, during the conference in Warsaw, the Polish leaders expressed their belief that Poland would benefit only by finishing the relocation by any means.

Having failed to evacuate the Ukrainian population through voluntary relocation, the Polish government changed its tactics in August 1945 and adopted a policy of forcible deportation. In early August, the head representative of the Soviet government on the issue of Ukrainian resettlement, Mykola Pidhomyj, approached the Polish authorities with the offer of providing military assistance to speed up the population transfer. The Polish leadership quickly took advantage of the idea to use military force, calling an emergency meeting on August 22nd with the head of the General Staff of the Polish Army, the commanders of the 3rd, 8th. and 9th Infantry Divisions, and the head of the Palatinate (wojewodztwa) Command of Public Safety. With the orders to complete the resettlement plans, three divisions of the Polish Army began the process of forcibly relocating the Ukrainians from the Lesko, Lubaczow, Przemysl, and Sanok districts (powiaty) in September 1945. Misilo notes that the level of brutality used by the army reached extremely high levels. This can be partly explained by the large proportion of soldiers in these divisions that came from the Wolyn region, where OUN units had massacred thousands of Poles in 1943.

Hence, after August 1945, the tempo of the relocation campaign continued to speed up. For example, because divisions were under strict instructions to "completely, relocate the Ukrainian population," when General-colonel Stephan Mossor, Assistant to the Chief of the General Staff of the Polish Army, encountered statistics that listed the tens of thousands of Ukrainian families which still remained in the Krakow, Rzeszow, and Lublin palatinates, he ordered the 8th and 9th Infantry Divisions to increase the number of families being removed from 100 to a minimum of 500 a day per division. The increased tempo of campaign, thus, practically doubled the total number of Ukrainians that were relocated, given that 260,000 of the approximately 500,000 Ukrainians who were relocated from Poland to the U.S.S.R. from October 1944 to August 1946 were deported after September 1945, during the period of forced relocation.

Keeping in mind the argument that the Soviet authorities in Moscow influenced Poland's treatment of its minorities, it is interesting to note that it was the Polish leadership, and not the U.S.S.R., which wished to prolong the agreement on population transfers in mid-1946. The Soviet-Polish agreement, which had already been modified to extend its original completion date, was supposed to end in June, 1946. However, because a portion of the Ukrainian minority still remained in Poland, the Polish leadership wanted to continue the relocation campaign. Nonetheless, as Misilo notes, ". . . in spite of the intensive diplomatic measures of the Polish side, the authorities of the U.S.S.R. did not agree," and the agreement regarding the exchange of minorities came to an end.

Why did the Soviet Union slam the door on continued Ukrainian resettlement? Although further research needs to be undertaken regarding this question, possible reasons can be suggested. For example, perhaps the Soviet reaction suggests that the U.S.S.R. also realized the need to reduce the number of Ukrainians who could give local support to the UPA that was active in the Soviet Union? Or perhaps Stalin decided that enough of the Ukrainian minority had been removed from southeastern Poland to prevent the UPA from gaining significant strength, but that it would be unwise to resettle the entire population because the Soviet Union would lose claim to the Polish border strip that its "brothers" inhabited? Finally, perhaps Stalin, who was a master at playing one group against the other, felt that a limited amount of Polish-Ukrainian tension would be to the U.S.S.R.'s benefit? Yet, regardless of the importance of these questions, as well as their answers, Poland realized in mid-1946 that, without the support of the U.S.S.R., it would have to find another way to solve its Ukrainian problem.

Laurence Krupnak wrote:
The following articles offer information about the 1944 transfer aggreement:

Advance of Eastern Front through Poland during 1944:

A population exchange agreement was signed by the communist "Polish Committee of National Liberation" and the Soviet government in September 1944, whereby Ukrainians were to move from Poland to Soviet Ukraine and Poles from the USSR to Poland. The transfers were to be voluntary, although Ukrainians were often moved to the USSR by force. As for local Poles [living in USSR], they had a "choice" to stay and undergo another forced collectivization and possibly renewed Stalinist terror -- or move to Poland. The vast majority "chose" the latter. These transfers took place in 1946-47. As mentioned above, most settled in the new western territories, previously in Germany [Prussia].

The first stage occurred at the end of the Second World War. Poland and Soviet Ukraine conducted population exchanges 1⁄2 Poles that resided east of the established Poland-Soviet border were deported to Poland and Ukrainians that resided west of the established Poland-Soviet Union border were deported to Soviet Ukraine. Bilateral agreements were signed between Poland and the USSR on 9 September 1944 and 16 August 1945. As a result of these treaties, some 400,000 Lemkos and Ukrainians were deported to the Ukraine, and some 300,000 managed to stay in their native regions, within the borders of Poland. They lived in such Rusyn former territories as Lemkowszczyzna, Chelmskie and Podlasie.

Poland and Soviet Ukraine conducted population exchanges - Poles that resided east of the established Poland-Soviet border were deported to Poland (c.a. 2,100,000 persons) and Ukrainians that resided west of the established Poland-Soviet Union border were deported to Soviet Ukraine Population transfer to Soviet Ukraine occurred from September 1944 to April 1946 (ca. 450,000 persons). Some Ukrainians (ca. 200,000 persons) left southeast Poland more or less voluntarily (between 1944 and 1945).

Diana Howansky Reilly's new book, Scattered: The Forced Relocation of Poland's Ukrainians after World War II is available for pre-order at Amazon.com and B (for delivery in May 2013.)

"Reilly's engaging book, a valuable historical source, is a homage to the Lemkos, whose world has disappeared forever." — Piotr J. Wróbel, Konstanty Reynert Chair of Polish History, University of Toronto

For those who have Lemko roots A film by Roman Kryk, now with English subtitles! for everyone to understand. Published on Jul 2, 2014.

Dedicated to the Lemkos, who through their extraordinary love for the country overcame the trauma of massive deportations during the "Operation Vistula" and managed to return to their homeland. This film is a story about the fate of people from the annihilated Dłlugie village, and it talks about Małlastóow village, where Lemkos, originally the dominant group, were transformed into a defenceless minority. Today, with admirable perseverance, they continue to fight for their rights. Above all, this is a film about love, which is the most precious thing. https://www.youtube.com

The successful ethnic cleaning: Few Lemkos who were shoved into northern Poland in 1947 admit they are Lemko nor Rusyn. They opted to adopt Polish because of biased laws and discrimination. They did not teach their children either Ukrainian nor Lemko.

Reply from Nancy: "The first time I visited Poland was a few years after the fall of communism. You could still see the blank, cautious expressions on the faces of people on the street. Inside their homes, they were outgoing, extremely generous, quick to laugh and with a great sense of humor.

"One of my Lemko cousins married a Pole. While they primarily celebrate in the Polish tradition, her grown children know of their Lemko heritage and can speak the language. When I first visited them in 1998, they drove me to my ancestral village of Losie (between Nowy Sacz and Krynica)--where my Lemko cousins were also born. The village is totally inhabited by Poles today, many of whom work in Krynica.

"Another cousin, whose wife is also Lemko, and their grown children speak and celebrate Lemko traditions in their own homes. In fact, when I visited them, they sang many Lemko songs that I remembered from my childhood. And they sang them with robust voices--a capella, and in perfect harmony. When I started to sing along, they were amazed and overcome with tears. When I asked why, they said they had assumed that the family members who moved to America had discarded the Lemko language and traditions in order to become Americanized. So they were overjoyed to find out that their American-born relatives had, in fact, kept alive the traditions and language that the Lemko people in Poland were prohibited from speaking or practicing for so many years. And that warranted yet another toast with a shot of vodka!!

"One of this cousin's sons is part of a small band that performs Lemko songs. He gave me a tape recording of some of them. Also, there are several Lemko festivals and reunions of displaced Operacja Visla victims held in Poland each year. In addition, I understand that the relocation records from Operacja Visla are now being released by the Polish government. So it appears that being a Lemko is gradually becoming more acceptable in Poland these days."

9 October 2001, Volume 3, Number 38

ETHNIC LEMKO WINS PRECEDENT CASE OVER NATIONALIZED PROPERTY. (Oct.2001) Poland's Supreme Administrative Court passed a precedent verdict in a case over property confiscated by the state in 1949 from Maria Hladyk, an ethnic Lemko who was compulsorily resettled in 1947 from her village in Beskid Niski (a region in southeastern Poland).

In 1999, Maria Hladyk's grandson, Stefan Hladyk, applied to the Polish authorities with a request to repel the 50-year-old decision by which some 11 hectares of land (including 7.55 hectares of forest) was confiscated from his grandmother. The Agriculture Ministry satisfied his request. In last week's decision, the Supreme Administrative Court rejected an appeal by Poland's State Forests, a state-run agency that manages the country's forested areas and which had owned Maria Hladyk's wooded plot for the past 50 years. The court simultaneously confirmed Stefan Hladyk's ownership right to the plot.

This precedent verdict by the Supreme Administrative Court actually admits that the nationalization of Lemko properties 50 years ago was illegal. The verdict paves the way for other Lemkos (or their heirs) to regain what was confiscated from them by the communist authorities. According to PAP, Polish courts are currently going over some 200 lawsuits by Lemkos seeking to have their properties in Beskid Niski returned to them.

[Ed. note: Some historical background to the case. In a bid to deprive the Ukrainian Insurgent Army (UPA) -- which fought the Polish communist government in 1944-47 -- of support among Ukrainians inhabiting their ethnic territories in southeastern Poland, the Polish authorities decided in 1947 on a mass resettlement of Ukrainians to the so-called Recovered Lands (Ziemie Odzyskane) -- the former territories of the Third Reich incorporated into post-World War II. The Polish army performed the drastic and violent Operation Vistula, which resettled some 150,000* (They save face by grossly understating the figure), an ethnic community with a vaguely defined ethnic identity: some Lemkos considered themselves to be Ukrainians, while some believed they were a group different from Ukrainians. Incidentally, support for the UPA among Poland's pre-1947 Lemko community was much weaker than among Polish Ukrainians.

The dispersion of Lemkos following the 1947 resettlement immensely accelerated the process of their assimilation. The Polish authorities did not give Lemkos the right to develop their ethnic identity until 1956, when Poland's Ukrainians, Belarusians, Lithuanians, and Jews were allowed to set up their own ethnic organizations to pursue some educational, cultural, and social activities. Some Lemko activists joined the Ukrainian movement but many others chose Polishness to avoid being identified with Ukrainians.

In 1949, the Polish government passed a decree on the nationalization of properties remaining after the resettlement of the Ukrainians and Lemkos. Following the decree, local authorities passed appropriation decisions with regard to resettled owners' land plots and belongings remaining on their administrative territories.

23 April 2002, Volume 4, Number 16 (http://www.rferl.org/pbureport/)
Polish President Aleksander Kwasniewski condems 'OPERATION VISTULA.'The peak of the deportation of Ukrainians to the Soviet Union occurred in the autumn of 1946, when some 200,000 people were relocated within four months. In total, according to official data, some 490,000 Ukrainians were expelled from Poland to the Ukrainian SSR.

Polish census

For more, see

Askold S. Lozynskyj articles on Operation Vistula / Akcja Wisla:
Zakerzonnia and Akcja Wisia

Deportations 1944-1951

Lemko Ukrainians in Ukraine, Polish history

Olga, do you think there would be someone out there that could find my mother's people? My grandmother was from Dolzyca and the village was apparently dispersed in Operation Vistula. Marija Medwid born in 1882. Her father: Basilus Medwid, her mother: Anna Boiwka Basilus Medwid's father was Michalis Medwid and his mother was Tekla Torhan. Anna Boiwka's parents were Theodore Boiwka and Katharina Karlicka. Related family names farther back are: Lewicki, Smolnickey, Kapustianick, Puhb araszcczak, Harhay, Szczawinski/a, Kapustanyka, Komanicka, Kuchyna, Hryahy Donna

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