Saturday, July 25, 2015

Living in Ukraine 100 Years Ago: The Prosvita Society

Cover of a Prosvita Publication

There was a house in the village of Biala where nobody lived.  It was owned by Painko Bryniak, my 2Xtigreat uncle.  My great aunt Katherine Rychly Pylatiuk called it the chytalnia, which means reading house in Ukrainian. Monthly meetings were held in the house called Veedchyty (means reading in Ukrainian). These meetings were for the enlightenment of the men, where the more educated shared their knowledge with the less educated.

Prosvita reading House in a village. Source: Encyclopedia of Ukraine

Katherine explains in her autobiography how valuable the veedchyty were to the people of the village. Since her grandmother lived next door to the chytalnia, (Painko Bryniak owned that house as well) she could look through the window and see a bust of the Ukrainian poet an artist, Taras Shevchenko. She heard the men recite Shevchenko's poems and sing patriotic Ukrainian songs.  Sometimes one of the men would read an article and then lead a discussion about it.  She also saw shelves of books and magazines and portraits of famous Ukrainian s on the wall of the house.

Statue of Taras Shevchenko on the Mall, Washington D.C.


What was the Prosvita Society?

This reading house in Biala was a part of the Prosvita Society.  Prosvita means enlightenment in Ukrainian,  founded in 1868 in Lviv by Ukrainian students  in order to "know and edify the people." Until 1914, Prosvita was the most important Ukrainian mass organization in Galicia.  Its activities included almost all aspects of Ukrainian life, and it created many cultural, political, economic, farming and sports societies and organizations which eventually became independent organizations.

Founders of the Prosvita Society, 1868. Source: Encyclopedia of Ukraine.

Why did this group of young people feel that it was necessary  to edify the people when free public education was available for children in Galicia up to the age of twelve?
This is a question is hard to answer because it involves both politics and history.  Biala, Ternopil' and Eastern Galicia were part of the Austrian-Hungarian Empire which was made up of many countries and many ethnic groups. The Austrians kept control of its various peoples by encouraging discord between ethnic groups.  This policy worked for a time, but in 1861 Austria became a constitutional monarchy when it recognized the Hungary as an equal partner and changed its name to the Austrian-Hungarian Empire. Both Austria and Hungary had their own legislatures and capitals, Vienna for Austria and Budapest for Hungary. The Austrians had their hands full dealing the demands of the various ethnic groups, and left the governing of Galicia to the Poles. In the 1860's, the Poles controlled the both local and provincial government in Eastern Galicia. The Ukrainians wanted instruction in the Ukrainian language in the schools, more Ukrainian high schools,  more representation in government and recognition of their culture. There were many conflicts between the Ukrainians and Poles, but since the Poles held all the positions of power, decisions almost always favored Polish interests.   The founders of Prosvita realized that if the Ukrainian people of were to achieve economic and political power, they would have to do it on their own.

Map of Eastern and Western Galicia.

 Prosvita's Three Goals

Increasing Literacy 

Increasing literacy was Prosvita's  first goal. A network of libraries and reading rooms were established in Eastern Galicia. Most villages had schools with trained teachers, and lessons were in both Ukrainian and Polish. One of the first actions of Prosvita  was to publish basic textbook in the Ukrainian language to be used in schools. The society started a network of chytalnias (reading rooms) in the Lviv area, where books and other reading materials were available. These reading rooms spread quickly and within a few years, reading rooms were established all over Eastern Galicia.

Higher education was a concern, elementary schools, run by the government were available, but secondary education was not. To raise the cultural level of the Ukrainian people, access to higher education was a necessity. In 1897, 30 high schools were Polish, two were Ukrainian. in Galicia.  By 1914, four more Ukrainian high schools were added by the government. Acting on the idea of self  help and knowing that no more high schools would be funded by the government, contributions by the Ukrainian community established eight more private high schools. Private dormitories were built in Lviv so students from rural areas could attend high school and university.  Few Ukrainian students attended Lviv University; about 500 students out of a student body of 1700, which had eight Ukrainian professors in of a faculty of eighty.   Ukrainian professorships gradually increased and the government promised a Ukrainian university, but this did not happen because of the outbreak of World War One.

Cover of "Lions" Ukrainian History Book published by Prosvita


Increasing the Economic Level of the People

Prosvita's second  goal was to raise the economic level of the Ukrainian farmers in Galicia. Ukrainians in the Austrian empire were among the Empire's poorest and under represented people. Self help was the key, since there was no help coming from the government.

Prosvita Vasyl Orynchuk cooperative members, Roztoky,  Lviv Region. Source:

Cooperatives, stores and warehouses were formed to improve the condition of the peasants.  Courses were organized to help the farmers modernize and improve farming methods. Itinerant farming instructors travel the region and taught local farmers how to use modern methods. It started a commercial school in Lviv, a farming school and a women's domestic school. Prosvita gave scholarship for students to study agronomy, dairying and domestic management.  Credit unions were started to enable peasants to save money  and to borrow it when necessary.  Books were published about farming and other subjects such as Ukrainian history and literature. In 1877 Prosvita started to print monthly booklets which were given to members free of charge and established a newspaper was in 1879.

Prosvita Dairy Store/Cooperative in Lviv. Source: Encyclopedia of Ukraine


Building Cultural Awareness and Patriotism

Choir organized by the Prosvita Reading House in Zahiria, 1931. Source: Encyclopedia of Ukraine

The third goal was to raise awareness of the Ukrainian language and culture among the Ukrainian people. To further awareness, Prosvita encouraged the Ukrainians to form choirs, bands and drama groups;  learn about Ukrainian history, read literature in the Ukrainian language and develop Ukrainian patriotism.  Prosvita started Sokil and Sich in 1894 to encourage youth appreciation for discipline, cooperation, patriotism and education. Sokil developed physical training and the goal of Sich was to develop patriotic and cultural activities.

Drama Group, Prosvita Mohyntsa, Ternopil' Source: ebay.


Prosvita's Support

Prosvita's support came from membership dues, individual donations, subsidies  from the provincial and cnetral government.  Government support was small and was often cut off by Polish opposition. Profits from Prosvita's printing and its other operations also funded its activities.  Between 1869 and 1906, Prosvita made a small profit, of 2000 Kronen.iProsvita's Success
By 1900, the Prosvita chytalnia reading houses became the center of village life, displacing the church and tavern. In 1914, Prosvita had  77 regional branches, 3000 reading rooms and over 200,000 members. 75% of the villages cities and towns of Galicia had reading rooms, thelargest number of were in the Ternopil' area.  It published over three million copies of  495 books, supported 45 scholarships for high school and university students.  Prosvita owned its own headquarters building in Lviv and sponsored a large celebration of the 100th anniversary of Taras Shevchenko's birth there in 1914. It spread out  from Eastern Galicia to other parts of the Austrian empire with large numbers of Ukrainians.  It also was established in Eastern Ukraine, which was ruled by Russia.
Prosvita played a critical role in the growth of national consciousness among Ukrainians and in the improvement of their standard of living.

Wilhem Feldman said in 1907, "The 20th century has seen many nations rise from the ashes, but there are very few cases of rebirth so rapid and energetic as that of the Ukrainians of Austria... their unexpected and vigorous growth is mostly the result of self-help and hard fought gains." Subtelny, p. 329.

The Prosvita Building in Lviv. Source: Encyclopedia of Ukraine.

Encyclopedia of Ukraine,
Lawryk, Julia, Kateryna (Kasha) Autobiography by Katherine Pylatiuk Lymar as told to her Daughter, Julie Lawryk in 1988. copyright 1988
Subtely, Orest, Ukraine, A History,  University of Toronto Press, Toronto, Canada, 1988
Yaremko, Michael, Galicia-Halachyn: From Separation to Unity, Shevchenko Scientific Society,  Toronto, 1967.

Sunday, July 12, 2015

Living in Ukraine 100 Years Ago: Crime and Punishment

The people who lived in the village of Biala,  on the outskirts of Ternopil', Ukraine handled  most conflicts on their own.  My great aunt, Katherine Rychly describes in her Autobiography how the people of the village dealt with issues of morality, petty crime and debt.
Old Polish map showing Tarnopol(Ternopil') and the village of Biala


There were 350 houses in the village of Bila.    Katherine explained that most of her family members lived in the village, her grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins.  Each person was aware of  everything that you did, as a child or as an adult.  If you did wrong, you hurt your entire family--that was the biggest hurt of all--it followed you for the rest of your life.  This encouraged children to behave, and made them aware that their actions represented not only themselves, but their parents and extended family as well.  However, this did not stop crime in the village.  Katherine said "We had to keep an eye on everything because the village had known thieves, and we had no recourse to justice.  If you caught the thief red-handed, you took the matter into your own hands at that moment and beat the living daylights our of him/her.  Stealing was a part of everyday life." So were beatings, which sounds so horrible to us today, but corporal punishment was the way to deal with wrongdoing.

"Our Easter Dinner Vanished!"

The week before Easter was a busy one in Bila, with everyone preparing for the holy day with a family dinner after church services.  On the day before Easter, everything was prepared for the big celebratory dinner the next day. Katherine's mother put all the food in a small storage room, adjacent to the kitchen and locked the door.  Katherine tells the story, "The next morning, we found that during the night, someone had cut a hole in the wall of the storage room from the outside and took all the food.  Why didn't we hear anything?" Katherine wondered, "Someone was always home."  Everybody in the village had a wonderful dinner, but they had nothing. 

The Veet

Every village in Eastern Galicia, where Biala was located, had a Veet.  He was the village headman, somewhat like a mayor.  His duties included collecting taxes and mediating disputes, he served as both judge and jury.

Taxes Not Paid?-We have a Solution for that.

Before World War One, when Bila and Ternopil' were a part of the Austrian-Hungarian  Empire, there was a tax on each house in the village.  The Veet was in charge of tax collection, which was a big job, seeing that there were 350 houses in the village.  If the tax wasn't paid, the Veet came to the house and took something of value as a payment. Most items were acceptable, chickens, lambs or just about anything that had value.  A person was able to buy the article back, plus interest.   The Rychly's were poor, and depended on their farm and on their father,  Sylvester, who was working in the United States for support. The Veet came to their house to collect the back taxes, and since there was no cash, he took Katherine's mother's fur lined coat.  It didn't matter if it was winter time and cold, and that she had nothing warm to wear, the coat was valuable, so he took it.

Don't Mess with Mother's Coat.

The Rychly children did not have many toys, and what they had was home-made.  Katherine had a doll made from corn husks.  One day, she decided to make her doll look nicer, so she cut a leather braided fastener off her mother's coat.  Katherine thought that it would make nice hair for the doll.
When her mother saw what had happened to her coat, Katherine got a beating, and the doll lost her braid.  It was quickly sewn back on the coat.

In the picture of the Koshuba family, the men are wearing fur lined coats with braided leather fasteners, like the one worn by Katherine's mother.  Picture from the collection of Ed Wons.

Katherine is Sued

Stephen Langish lived next door to the Rychly family and recently planted five fruit trees in his yard.  Katherine was seven years old, and wanted them in her yard, so she dug them up and replanted them outside the Rychly's house.  When this was discovered, Langish sued.  Mother went to the Veet with  Katherine's younger sister, Helen, who was just five years old. Mother knew that Katherine was the culprit, but she thought that a younger child would elicit more sympathy from the Veet.  Helen didn't cooperate, and when asked by the Veet if she took the trees, she answered "No, Kasha (Katherine) did!"  The Veet didn't believe her.  He thought that she was afraid to own up to the crime, but that she actually did it.  He took pity on her.  His verdict: return the trees and replant them.  Mother dealt with Katherine in the usual way later.

Just Give Me the Change, Please

 In 1922, Katherine and Helen were ready to immigrate to the United States.  Their father, Sylvester saved enough money to pay for their passage from Bila to Minneapolis, Minnesota. In order to immigrate, they had to get their birth certificates so they could apply for passports. In Poland, vital records were kept by  the religious organizations of the community, the Roman Catholic Church, the Greek Catholic Church or the Jewish Synagogue.  Since Katherine was the older sister, she was responsible for getting the documents for the trip.  She went to the village priest and requested her birth certificate and one for sister Helen.  The charge for both was 500 Markas (the Polish currency at that time).  Mother gave Katherine a 1000 Marka note and expected her to get a 500 Markas in change.
1000 Polish Marka note from 1919
The priest did not have change that day and asked Katherine to come back later and he would give her the 500 Markas.  She came back several times, he did not give her the change.  Mother was annoyed, so she decided to take care of the matter herself.  She went to the priest and asked for the 500 markas that he owed her daughter.  His response was to beat her with his cane.  The villagers working in the priest's garden heard the commotion and ran to get help from Mother's children.  Katherine and the others came quickly, but she couldn't remember what the outcome was.   She and Helen did leave Biala, so the matter must have been resolved.

Source: Kateryna (Kasha) Autobiography by Katherine Pylatiuk Lymar as told to her Daughter, Julie Lawryk in 1988. copyright 1988.

Wednesday, July 8, 2015

John Nyznyk: My Grandfather, an Enigma, The Story Ends

My grandfather, John Nyznyk has been the subject of my blog for the past two weeks. Researching his life has unearthed a lot of information about his life, but not everything that I was trying to find.
This week I will finish the story, but I do not have an satisfactory end to it.

Last week I finished my post with the 1930 United States Census.  John was 52 years old,  living at 533 East 6th Street in New York City, working as an upholsterer in the furniture industry.  He was living alone, and stated that he was a widower. He now was a naturalized citizen of the United States.

Michalina Nyznyk Immigrates to the United States.

Manifest from the SS Kosciuszko.  Michalina Nyznyk is listed on the first line.

Michalina Nyznyk, my father's half sister, arrived at Ellis Island, in New York on April 27, 1931.   She joined her father, John, in Belleville, New Jersey.  He was living at 52 Columbia Ave in Belleville.  Michalina was 20 years old, with brown hair, fair skin and grey eyes.  She was 5'4" tall and in  good health .  She left her brother Paul, her closest relative in Poland, who like Michalina was born  and raised in Pomorainy,  and now lived in Niszczuki, Zborov, Poland.  She obtained her passport in Warsaw on March 23, 1931, and left from Gdynia, Poland, on the SS Kosciuszko on April 15.  She came to the United States as a permanent resident. According to the ship's manifest, her occupation was farmer and she could read and write. From the records that I have, she had never met her father, since he left Pomorainy before she was born.

Second page of the SS Kosciuszko, showing Michalina's home information and her fathers address in New Jersey.

I have found no other information about her at all.  She was not listed in the 1940 Census, or in any existing  Belleville, N.J. directories.  I have found neither marriage nor death records for her.  As far as I know, she came to the United States and vanished.

John Nyznyk: The 1940 United States Census.

John Nyznyk was 58 years old and living alone in New York on April 8, 1940, the day the Census taker came to gather information. He lived at 205 East 4th Street in New York, a few blocks from his residence in 1930 and was paying $13 a month in rent. He was listed as single and was born in Austria and attended school for 5 years.  According the the Census, he lived at the same address in 1935, which is interesting, because four years earlier, in 1931, he was living in Belleville, N. J. with his daughter Michalina.
John had been unemployed for 50 weeks, and had worked only 12 weeks in 1939. However, he said he had a source of income, which was $240 per year or $20 a month.  When he last worked, he was a laborer in construction, unusual for a 58 year old man. He had previously worked as an upholsterer, never as a laborer.  He was still looking for work and did not do any public emergency work.  
This is the last record that I have about John Nyznyk.  I have searched again and again and have consistently found nothing.  I think that he died in the 1950's, but this information came from my parents, and they heard it from other relatives.

1940 United States Census.  John Nyznyk is on line 15.


I will continue to search for information about John and Michalina.  From the 1920, 1930 and 1940 Censuses, I found a lot of information about my grandfather.  I am also fortunate that his applications for US citizenship were available on line.  I am also glad that my father had a detailed marriage license for his parents.  His birth certificate was also detailed and provided me with a lot of information about his parents.
I would like to find out more about Michalina.  I wonder if she married and stayed in the US?  I wonder if she decided to return to her brother and family in Poland? There are many records of in coming ships to the US, but I have found no sources/manifests about outgoing ships. Perhaps a reader of this blog may remember a grandmother, great-grandmother or aunt by the name of Michalina.  If you do, please let me know.