Friday, August 22, 2014

Living on a battle field: Katherine’s World War I Story

Village in Galicia destroyed early in World War One.

Katherine Pylatiuk was ten years old when the Russian Army invaded her village, Bila, just outside of Ternopil, in Eastern Galicia.  She was 18 when the World War One finally ended in 1921.  When the war started in 1914, Katherine, my great aunt, lived in the Austrian-Hungarian Empire, when all the associated conflicts ended in 1921, she lived in Poland.  Between 1918 and 1921, when the wars ended, her village was ruled by the Germans, then by the Ukrainians and finally, the Poles.

Katherine’s father, Sylvester Rychly had immigrated to the United States and lived in Minneapolis, Minnesota.  Her mother, Marya Bryniak Rychly and her six brothers and sisters lived in Bila.  It was difficult being a single mother, but more difficult when you are living in a battle zone.  She and her family shared their one room house with Russian soldiers for a good part of the war.  The village was often shelled by the armies, food was scarce.  The armies took whatever they wanted from the villagers, and never reimbursed them for anything.

Russian Soldiers in a  village on the outskirts of Ternopil'.

Diadko (Uncle) Panko Bryniak, Marya Rychly’s brother, was drafted into the Austrian army and left a mare and foal in Marya’s keeping.  Katherine and her cousin took the animals to a pasture to graze, thinking it was a safe place to take the horses, since horses were very valuable to the villagers. While they were there, Russian soldiers rode up, took the mare and the foal followed its mother.  The family was upset about the loss, but there was nothing they could do about it.

Russian Soldiers in Galicia

One Christmas, probably in 1914 or 1915, the family had Russian soldiers in their house and yard, chosing the location because it was close to a village well.  They brought their “magazyn” (supply wagon) and set up a kitchen in the yard.  The villagers put straw on the floor of their houses at Christmas to remind them of the stable in Bethlehem where Jesus was born.  Since the Russian soldiers slept on the floor, the straw became dirty and matted down.  Marya had asthma, and the layers of straw made her sick, confining her to bed for several weeks. 

The good thing about having the “magazyn” was that the soldiers shared their food with the family.  Food was scarce during the war, and for a short while, the family had enough to eat.

Cattle being Driven to the Russian Army in Galicia, World War One.

In 1917, when the Russian army retreated back to Russia, the soldiers ordered the villagers to bring all the cattle to a special enclosed field.  Since Marya had only one cow and six children to feed, she didn’t want to give it up.  As Marya and the other villagers herded the cattle down the street, she passed her brother’s yard, and quickly pushed the cow through the gate and hid it.  Fortunately the fence was high and the Russian soldiers didn’t see anything.  The cow was saved, and the family had food.  Since Marya was both mother and father to her family, so she did what she thought was right.  She took a great risk, because if the soldiers discovered her actions, the punishment would have been a beating or death.  The family would lose both the cow and its mother.

This bridge is not in Galicia, but it may be similar to the one built by Russian soldiers over the Syret River.

On Sundays, the village young people walked to the woods, and crossed the river Syret to get to there.  They used a rickety wooden plank bridge that was built by the Russian soldiers, The bridge was considered dangerous, but they used anyway.  One Sunday, Katherine and friends went swimming in the lake, and Russian soldiers stole their clothes.  They did return the clothing, but it was the last time she went swimming during the war.

As the war years passed, old customs changed. In early summer, before the war, the villagers went to their fields on ”Green Sunday” to bless the grain fields and to ask for a good harvest.  The young men and women carried crosses and banners, and people sang hymns.  During the war this happened only at night.  The soldiers would shoot at anything that they thought was a threat, cultural events and speaking the Ukrainian language were considered threats.  Even though the events were conducted at night, it was very dangerous.

Living on a battlefield was dangerous. A person never knew what to expect, life was always changing, and not for the better.

Source:Katerzina(Kaska), Autobiography by Katherine Pylatuik Lymar as told to her Daughter, Julie in 1988. 

Friday, August 15, 2014

World War One in Galicia, The Russian Occupation, 1914-1916.

Easter in Galicia during World War One.  Notice the Easter breads and eggs. Austrian soldiers wore gray, Russians brown. It is had to decide the color of these uniforms.  Painting by S. Kolesnikov.

The Russian Grand Duke Nicholas, commander of the Russian Army, stated in a 1914 manifesto that the people of Galicia were “brothers who had languished for centuries under a foreign yoke.”  He urged the people of Galicia to unite with  Russia under the rule of the Tsar.  This idea, Pan-Slavism, called for all people who spoke Slavic languages and shared culture to be united under the rule of Russia, which they considered to be the center of Slavic culture and religion. This was reflected by Russian support of Serbia after the assassination of the Austrian Archduke Franz Ferdinand by a group of Serbian nationalists.  Russia declared war on Austria-Hungary, shortly after Austria-Hungary declared war on Serbia in June of 1914.  Although Russia had never ruled Galicia or Serbia, it considered the people of Galicia, like the Serbs, to be fellow Slavs, and should be united under Russian rule.

Grand Duke Nicholas of Russia, in Lviv, 1914

When the Russian Army invaded Eastern Galicia in August of 1914,  Austrian schools were closed immediately, and eventually replaced with Russian language schools.  Greek Catholic Churches, which served the Ukrainian population, were closed, the priests arrested and replaced by priests from the Russian Orthodox Church.  The head of the Greek Catholic Church, Metropolitan Sheptysky, was arrested and exiled to Russia. Ukrainian political and cultural leaders in Galicia also were arrested and/or deported.

Jews made up 10% population in Galicia, and had been living there for centuries. At the outbreak of the War, the population of the city of Ternopil was about half Jewish, half Polish, and 10% Ukrainian. Most of the Jews were tradesmen or craftsmen. Jews were better educated than the Ukrainians and Poles, as a result, most of the professional people in Galicia were Jewish. Since the Austrian government encouraged education of its people, it provided schools for all their subject people in their own language. The Austrian government also encouraged participation of the people in government, so many Jews, Poles and Ukrainians were elected to local and regional assemblies. Jews were allowed to own property in the Austrian-Hungarian Empire, which was not allowed in Russia.  When the war broke out, most Galician Jews and Ukrainians favored the Austrians, since they believed that their government had treated them well. Both Ukrainians and Jews supported the Austrians, and because of this, when the war started, many Jews and Ukrainians, including at least two of my uncles, served in the Austrian army.

Emperor Franz Joseph of Austria-Hungary visiting Ternopil. He is with Rabbis and a Priest.

When the Russian Army invaded Eastern Galicia in August 1914, many Jews decided to leave Galicia, relocating to other parts of the Empire, especially to Vienna. Those who remained lost personal property and had their movements limited, some were expelled. In February 1915, the Russian governor of Galicia banned all correspondence and publications in the Yiddish language. This was tragic, as Galicia was a center of Yiddish culture and literature.  There were several newspapers published in Yiddish and a thriving Yiddish theater, as well as many book publishers in the larger cities of Galicia.

In the village of Bila, just east of Ternopil, home of my ancestors, all Christian households were required to display icons on the gates of their houses, which made identifying Jewish households easy, and made them subject to punishment. My aunt Katherine said that Jews were beaten unmercifully because the Russians considered them to be crooked and unjust.  they also accused Jews of espionage or collaboration with the enemy.  Katherine witnessed the Russians closing saloons run by Jews and the beer and liquor was poured into the village street. 
In 1916, when the Austrian Emperor Franz Joseph died, Katherine said that a picture was sold in the village of the emperor in his casket, surrounded by his family. The villagers honored him by displaying the picture in their homes. At that time, The Russians ruled the area, It was illegal to display the picture.  If it wasn't destroyed immediately, people would pay with their lives. 

Picture of Emperor Franz Joseph in his coffin, similar to the picture the villagers displayed in Bila
Katherine said that "The Russians were never sympathetic to the Ukrainians as the Austrians were.  The Jews of Galicia also honored the Emperor, and he was mourned by Jewish communities all over Austria. Many Jews believed that the death of Franz Joseph was the end of the freedom they enjoyed to practice their religion and way of life. They didn't think that Austria-Hungary would survive the death of the Emperor.  It did survive, but not for long.

Friday, August 8, 2014

World War One in Galicia: Katherine's Story

Russian Soldiers on the outskirts of Ternopil

Katherine Rychly, my aunt was ten years old when World War One started.  The war continued until 1917, when the Russian Revolution began, and the Russian army retreated from the Ternopil area and the village of Bila.  The end of the war did not bring peace to Galicia, since various groups occupied the area as a result of wars between the Russians, Poles and Germans for control of the area.  Calm returned in 1920, when Eastern Galicia became part of Poland.  A good part of Katherine’s early life took place on the front lines of war.  She details her life in the village of Bila, just outside the city of Ternopol, in her memoir/autobiography: Katheryna (Kashka) Autobiography by Katherine Pylatiuk Lymar, as told to her daughter, Julia, 1988.

Russian Soldiers entering Przemysl in Galicia on March 22, 1915.  (see map below)

Although the Russian Army did not have great success in World War One, losing battles and territory in Northern Poland; they were very successful in Galicia. On August 18, 1914, the Russian Eighth army commanded by General Brusilov, invaded and captured most of Eastern Galicia by the middle of September. The Russians controlled this area until the end of 1915, when the Austrian-German Army pushed them back to the”Riga-Jakobstadt-Dunaburg-Baranovichi-Pinsk-Dubno-Ternopil” line. In 1916, the Russian Army retook much of Eastern Galicia, holding it for several months. The city of Ternopil, and the areas to the east, remained under Russian control from 1914 until 1917, after the Bolshevik October Revolution. From that time until the end of the war in 1918, the easternmost areas of Galicia returned to Austria.

Galicia in 1915, showing the "Riga...Ternopil" line.

The Russian policy in Galicia was very different than that of the Austrians.  The Austrians were tolerant of  ethnic minority people, including the Ruthenians (Ukrainians) and Jews.  They had some representation in the government, as well as schools taught in their language and were allowed religious freedom. For the most part, these groups remained loyal to the Austrian during the Russian occupation. 

Map of Galicia, Eastern Galicia is shown in pink. 

Katherine relates a story of how the War affected her family. Her uncle, Kassian Bryiak, immigrated to Minneapolis in 1913.  Nooshka, wife and son Paul remained in Bila.  The Russians were fighting the Austrians, so this story probably took place in 1915. The village of Bila was in their crossfire, the villagers hid in the fields to avoid the shelling.  Nooshka and Paul were hiding in a hole.  Paul was hungry and started crying, Nooshka decided to go to the barn and get some milk from a cow.  As she entered the barn, it was hit by a shell, it exploded, killing her and all the animals.  According to custom, her body was washed and dressed and put on a board in her house. Nooska’s father and brother were sitting next to her body, receiving visitors paying their respects. They decided to go outside for a few minutes to smoke.  As they sat smoking their pipes, a shell came through the window of the house, exploded in the room where Nooshka was laid out, destroying everything in the room including her body.  What was left of her remains was buried in the village cemetery.  Kassian, her husband, sent money from Minnesota for a stone memorial, which was unusual, since most village people could afford only wooden crosses.   Not long after it was installed, a shell hit her grave and exploded, destroyed the gravestone and left a large hole. Village gossip swirled around Nooshka’s unfortunate end.  People in the village said that she was having an affair with a Russian soldier who often came to the village.  His wife came to see Nooshka and “put a curse on her”.  The villagers believed that the curse led to her horrible death and the destruction of her grave.
Cemetery in Chernobyl, Ukraine, 1998. Photo: David McMillan

Nooshka’s demise continued to affect Katherine’s family.  The family decided that her mother, Marya, and her children should move into Nooshka’s house, since it was much larger and better than theirs. They moved in, but were never comfortable, because the family found that living there was frightening.  When the shell hit the house, Nooshka’s body was blown to bits, staining the walls and ceiling.  Even though it was scrubbed and painted many times, the stains always reappeared, reminding them of her horrific end.

Katherine experienced the shelling first hand again when she visited her grandmother’s house in the village.  A shell landed on the straw roof of her house, but it didn’t explode, and the house wasn’t damaged.

From June of 1915 until 1916, things in Bila were relatively calm.  The Russian soldiers continued to live in the village houses, but life returned to a sort of normal.  People worked in their fields and at their trades.  Adjustments were made, since no one knew when the shooting would start up again.

Friday, August 1, 2014

August 1, 1914 World War I Comes to Galicia

Political cartoon showing the causes of World War I
  • On June 28, 1914, Archduke Franz Ferdinand, heir to the throne of Austria-Hungary, was killed in Sarajevo, Bosnia by a Serbian nationalist.  
  • One month later, on July 28, Austria-Hungary declared war on Serbia.
  •  On July 29, Russia, who considered itself the protector and leader of all the Slavic people,  and an ally of Serbia, declared war on Austria-Hungary .
  • On August 1, 1914, Germany, allied with Austria-Hungary, declares war on Russia.
    • Great Britain, allied with Russia, begins a blockade of Germany.
    • France,  also allied with Russia, refused to remain neutral, and begins to mobilize its army.
  • On August 4:
    •  Germany invades Belgium, a neutral county, in order knock France out of the war, according to their military strategy. 
    • Great Britain, allied with France, declares war on Germany
  • On August 10, Austria invaded Russian Poland.
  • On August 15, Russia invaded East Prussia (a part off Germany)
  • On August 18, Russia invaded Galicia (ruled by Austria-Hungary), and quickly took control of the entire area.
  • August 26-30, Germany defeated Russia in the Battle of Tannenburg.
  • September 7-14, Germany defeated Russia in the Battle of the Masurian Lakes.  

In a period of just over two months, the Continent of Europe was at war, ending a century of peace.  Secret mutual defense treaties, The Triple Alliance 
(Austria-Hungary, Germany and The Ottoman Empire), and the Triple Entente
(Great Britain, France and Russia), made war inevitable.  However, nobody thought that this war would last very long, most people assumed that it would be over by Christmas. It lasted four years, and destroyed the Empires of Russia, Germany, and the Ottomans), created new countries in Europe and the Middle East, and paved the way for revolution in Russia. U.S. President Wilson called it "The war to end all wars", yet it was followed by World War II twenty years later.
The human toll was catastrophic.  Millions died. My family, living near the border of the Austria-Hungarian Empire and Russia, lived in a battle zone, as the area changed hands seven times in six years.  Three of my uncles were drafted into the Austrian Army, and other relatives were killed.

My great grandmother, Marya Bryniak Rychly and her children lived in Bila, just outside Ternopil, near the border with Russia. Her husband, Sylvester and two of her daughters were in Minneapolis, Minnesota.  She had six children living with her in a one room house.  Although she had the support of her extended family and financial support from her husband, she was a single mother.

Katherine, her daughter told about the effects of the war on her family:
"WWI broke out on August  18, 1914.  Black day! No more school. No more happy days."
 The 8th Russian Army, commanded by General Brusilov, invaded Galicia on September 18, and by September 3, controlled all of Eastern Galicia.  They would control it until June, 1915.  The object of this invasion was to recapture Galicia, which the Russians considered part of their country and restore it to the Russian Empire.   

For the next year, there were five Russian soldiers living with the Rychly family, and all the other families in the village.  Ten people in a small, one room house.
Katherine recounted: 
"There would be four or five of them living in our house at all times, as well as in all the homes of our village,  The soldiers would come to rest and change their clothes, which I doubt very much that they did--they didn't have anything to change into. Their clothes were filthy, filled with lice, encrusted with the elements of living on the battlefield."
She continued"
"One day during the early days of WWI, a Russian soldier came to visit one of his friends that lived in our house with us. According to the custom,, he made deep reverences as he stood in the doorway, blessing himself and bowing three times.  When he straightened up after the third reverence, his head touched the overhead ledge--and it came falling to the ground, with all the precious bowls that were on it--breaking all of them.  My mother was sick about the loss--but there was nothing she could do.  The precious keepsakes were gone forever."
As the war continued the Rychly family lost more than their crockery and their privacy. 

Map showing the first battles on the Eastern Front.  Ternopil' (Tarnopol) is on the lower right side of the map.
This video, showing villagers in Eastern Galicia returning to their village after a battle,  It was made later in the war, sometime in 1916. (Pathe film from UTube)
Lawryk, Julia, Kateryna (Kaska): Autobiiography by Katherine Pylatiuk Lymar as told to
 her daughter, Julie in 1988.