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.