The small, private Museum of Lemko Culture in Zyndranowa is situated on the far periphery of southeastern Poland, yet it is a destination for many travelers, mainly from western and northern Poland, but also from other parts of the country and from abroad. For many, a visit here is connected with questions of identity and with the search for traces of family history. At the open-air museum, visitors can experience, among other things, the farm of the Gocz family and learn a great deal about the life of the villagers.
deu. Zyndranowa, ukr. Zindranova, ukr. Зиндранова

Zyndranowa (Ukrainian: Зиндранова) is a municipality in Podkarpacie Voivodeship in southeastern Poland. About 120 people live in the village. Zyndranowa is located in the Low Beskids Mountains in the municipality of Dukla.

is a small village, but a hundred years ago no one would have called it small. In 1938, around one thousand people lived here. To be exact, there were 178 families, mostly Ukrainians and Lemkos, as well as three Jewish families and four Roma households. In the center of the village stood a large wooden Greek Catholic church with five domes, a beautiful iconostasis and a richly decorated interior. Today the village has 126 inhabitants in 30 mostly Polish households. Only two families identify as Lemkos. The Ukrainians, Jews and Roma have gone. Nature has the upper hand – beautiful forests grow here instead of fields and meadows. There are hundreds of villages like this in the region. An area that was once so shaped by people and their activities has now become synonymous with wilderness. What can possibly have happened here that the region still has not recovered from the consequences of the Second World War? What happened to the locals who were uprooted? And who lives in the village today?
"Lemkos" (German Lemken; Polish Łemko, plural Łemkowie; Solvakian Lemkovia; Ukrainian Лемки / Lemky) is a foreign term with a somewhat mocking undertone. Until the 20th century, the Lemkos called themselves “Rusnáci” (singular Rusnak). The Lemkos belong to the subgroup of Ruthenians Ruthenians (often also called, among other terms, Russins, Rusniaks, Russyns, Carpatho-Ukrainians, and Carpatho-Russians) are an Eastern Slavic population group whose ancestral settlement area lies in present-day Carpatho-Ukraine and in the Polish-Slovakian border region. Their ethnonym is Rusin or Rusyn, and they are divided into numerous local subgroups of Lemkos and Boykos, Doljans and Verkhovins, and Hutsuls. Although Ruthenians are recognized by some states as a distinct nationality, for others it remains disputed whether they are a separate ethnic group or a part of the Ukrainian nation. Accordingly, the Ruthenian language is considered by some linguists to be a dialect of Ukrainian, while others see it as an independent language. , who are also called Gorals, i.e., mountain tribes of the Carpathians. Their settlement area extends beyond the present state borders and is located in the mountain valleys of the Lower Beskids (Polish: Beskid Niski), between the San and Poprad rivers. Lemkovyna (Polish: Łemkowszczyzna, Ukrainian: Лемківщина Lemkiwschtschyna) is the most westward-lying settlement area of the Ruthenians. 
There are several theories about the ethnogenesis of this group, which dates back to the 14th century. After the annexation of the principality of Galicia-Volhynia by the Kingdom of Poland in 1349, a settlement and colonization movement began in the Western Carpathian highlands. According to some researchers, the ancestors of the Lemkos came from the Kievan Rus Kievan Rus Kievan Rus came into being when in the 9th century Scandinavian long-distance merchants and warriors, the Varangians, established bases along the river systems of Eastern Europe and subsequently mixed with the elites of the resident East Slavic population. It was a union of (partial) principalities with Kiev at its head. In the 11th and 12th centuries, Kievan Rus encompassed an area between Galicia and Volhynia to the southwest, Polock to the west, Novgorod to the northwest, Vladimir-Suzdal' to the northeast, and Kiev to the south. . Others, however, claim that they were "white Croats" by descent. The Lemko pastoralist population settled in the forested mountainous areas. In the valleys, however, were mainly settlers who assimilated into the Polish culture and language. Essential distinguishing characteristics of the Lemkos included their affiliation, first to the Orthodox Church, then to the Greek Catholic Church, as well as their East Slavic dialect. 
Before the First World War, about 100,000-150,000 Lemko people lived in this area, which was then called Western Galicia. In 1918 they proclaimed a Lemko-Rusyn Republic with its own autonomous administration (also called the Komańcza Republic). These endeavors should be seen in the context of the right of nations to self-determination, which was hotly debated in Europe during this period. Many nations succeeded in establishing an independent state after the First World War. Others, whose settlement areas were claimed by their neighbors (including the Ukrainians), were unsuccessful. The claims of the Lemkos for their own statehood were also ignored. A large area of Lemko land came under Polish control in 1920. The southern part fell to what was then Czechoslovakia. Thus, in addition to the awareness of their own culture and shared ethnic identity, towards the end of the First World War there was (at least among the Lemko elite) a desire to be recognized externally as a separate Lemko nation.
Since the Polish state undertook to respect minority rights, the Lemkos were able to continue cultivating their culture during the interwar period. Unlike parts of the Ukrainian minority in Poland, who continued to fight for an independent Ukraine and considered the minority rights granted to them insufficient, the Lemkos became more or less loyal citizens of the Polish Republic. The country came under German and Soviet occupation during World War Two, both of which were very brutal in character. The southeast was additionally shaken by the Polish-Ukrainian civil war, initiated in large part by Ukrainian nationalists. The Lemko community mostly stayed away from this conflict, distancing itself from both the collaboration of some Ukrainians with the Nazis and the extremely brutal methods of fighting among Ukrainian nationalists.1 In the face of terror on the part of the Ukrainian Insurgent Army (Ukrainian: Українська Повстанська Армія / Ukrajinska Powstanska Armija; UPA for short), most Polish politicians agreed that the solution to the conflict would lie only in the forced resettlement of Ukrainians. The Polish Communists, with the support of the
Soviet Union
deu. Sowjetunion, rus. Sovetskiy Soyuz, rus. Советский Союз

The Soviet Union (SU or USSR, Russian: Союз Советских Социалистических Республик (СССР) was a state in Eastern Europe, Central and Northern Asia existing from 1922 to 1991. The USSR was inhabited by about 290 million people and formed the largest territorial state in the world, with about 22.5 million square km. The Soviet Union was a socialist soviet republic with a one-party system.

, claimed power over the country. In July 1944, they established a provisional government called the Lublin Committee. Defining the border claimed by Stalin and solving the minority issue were among the first decisions made. In the agreement with the Ukrainian Soviet Republic of September 9, 1944, a decision was reached concerning the exchange of the Polish and Ukrainian population. Although the document speaks of voluntary resettlement, there is no doubt that this was a front for forced migrations under international law. On the one hand, no distinction had been made between responsible radical nationalists and Ukrainian civilians, and at the same time other Ruthenian ethnic groups had been sweepingly assigned to the Ukrainian population and expelled.
What occurred in this context in the above-mentioned village of Zyndranowa, we learn from the biography of Teodor Gocz. Officers of the Polish Army came to the village for the first time on October 2, 1945. The Lemko families were instructed to prepare for the journey to the 
Ukrainische Sozialistische Sowjetrepublik
ukr. Українська Соціалістична Радянська Республіка, rus. Ukrainskaya Sovetskaya Sotsialisticheskaya Respublika, rus. Украинская Советская Социалистическая Республика, ukr. Українська Радянська Соціалістична Республіка

The Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic (Ukranian SSR, also UkrSSR, Ukrainian: Українська Радянська Соціалістична Республіка) was a union republic of the Soviet Union from 1922 to 1991. Founded in 1919, Kharkov was the capital of the USSR from its establishment until 1934, when it was replaced by Kiev until the demise (1991) of the USSR. About 51 million inhabitants lived in the USSR.

. They were allowed to take only the most important things – quilts, clothes, food, tools for work. Forced to leave their farms, they then had to remain at the train station for several days until the train took them east. Despite the rigor of the measures, a number of Lemkos managed to successfully evade expulsion. Some fled to the surrounding forest and swamp areas, others sought refuge in the already evacuated villages. Some managed to escape from the resettlement transports. Only 32 of the 170 families living in the village remained after the expulsion. As a result of the Polish-Ukrainian agreement of September 9, 1944, a total of 500,000 people had been forced to leave their homes by the end of 1946, including about 100,000 Lemkos.2 
However, this exchange did not entirely resolve the long-standing Polish-Ukrainian conflict. The Ukrainian insurgent army, although significantly weakened, continued the partisan struggle. Raids and killings continued to occur on both sides, and often such incidents involved entire villages. The Polish government decided to solve the problem in a radical way and, in 1947, ordered a mass resettlement operation within a short period of time. It was given the code name "Operation Vistula" (Polish: Akcja Wisła) and was carried out between April and the end of July 1947. In this case, too, no distinction was made between Ukrainians and other Ruthenian ethnic groups. A total of 140,662 people were forcibly resettled (of which about 60,000 were Lemkos) and sent to various localities in the northern and western parts of the country annexed to Poland in 1945.3  With the westward shift of Poland’s borders, forced migrations also took place in this area after the end of the war. The German population was forced to leave their homeland. The Polish resettlement lasted for several years, however, for the latecomers as well as those resettled as part of "Operation Vistula", mostly only plundered farms remained.4
By the end of 1947 there were almost no Lemkos living in Zyndranowa. Ten farms were inhabited by newly arrived Poles. Most of the empty buildings were gutted and left to ruin, but some were also demolished or burned down. Two years later, two families returned to the village, and another eight Lemko families arrived in 1956-1957. The old village scribe Teodor Kukieła remained in the village with his granddaughter and her two children. Her husband had emigrated to Canada before the Second World War; only in 1948 did she get permission to follow her husband. One of the great-grandchildren of the village scribe, Teodor Gocz, was arrested by Polish authorities in June 1947 for allegedly possessing weapons and ammunition and collaborating with Ukrainian partisans. Despite his young age of 17 and unproven guilt, he was sentenced to eight years in prison. When he returned in 1954, he hardly recognized his village, which had been depopulated and ravaged, but he decided to stay there, nonetheless. He started a family and began building a new house. After the death of his great-grandfather in 1955, Gocz continued to work on his collection of preserved artifacts of Lemko culture. When the Gocz family moved to a new house in 1968, there was already a large collection of exhibits in the old house as well as in the stable. In the same year, a museum chamber for Lemko culture was able to be established. 
For a long time, Teodor Gocz remained almost alone in his efforts. The local and regional authorities showed no understanding for his activities. The traces of Ukrainian and Lemko life were, it seemed, to be erased rather than maintained. Millions of migrants had crossed the Polish state at the end of World War II; by the 1950s, most of them had found a place to stay. But the region of the Carpathian foothills, devastated by the war and then severely depopulated, remained almost uninhabited. There was no state plan to bring new settlers to the area. Only the original inhabitants, who had been forcibly resettled in northern and western Poland in 1947, were interested in the area. However, they were strictly forbidden to return to their old homeland, at least until the political thaw of 1956. After that, it became easier to obtain the appropriate permission to move. Nevertheless, the returnees often met with hostility and rejection on the part of the small newly settled population. A very memorable literary picture of what remained of Lemkivshchyna (Lemko country) in the 1990s was painted by Andrzej Stasiuk in his famous book "Tales of Galicia."  
In northern and western Poland, too, the resettled Lemkos were rather hindered in their efforts to establish a new homeland. State assistance was very limited. The new neighbors were mostly hostile and considered them – according to the principle of collective responsibility – as accomplices in the crimes of the Ukrainian nationalists. In most cases, they were also denied the right to practice their religion. At first, the Catholic Church was reluctant to share the church buildings taken over from the Germans. When all religious groups were opposed by Polish communists, the small Greek Catholic community was further weakened and ultimately unable to properly survive.
For many years, the members of the scattered Lemko community maintained contact with each other. In the 1980s they finally managed to establish their first magazine (the Голос Ватры / Galos Watry, published in 1984-1989), and organized the inaugural festival of Lemko culture in 1983. It is called Watra, a name associated with the tradition of the bonfire that the Lemkos have gathered around for generations to celebrate. The name was changed in 1990 to “Lemko Watra Abroad” (also translatable as “Lemko Watra in Foreign Lands”, ЛЕМКІВСКА ВАТРА НА ЧУЖЫНІ / Lemkische Watra na Tschuschini). This emphasizes that most Lemkos do not live in their ancestral homeland, but in a foreign country. The festival takes place every year in Michałów, a village in 
deu. Schlesien, ces. Slezsko, pol. Śląsk

Silesia (Polish: Śląsk, Czech: Slezsko) is a historical landscape, which today is mainly located in the extreme southwest of Poland, but in parts also on the territory of Germany and the Czech Republic. By far the most significant river is the Oder. To the south, Silesia is bordered mainly by the Sudeten and Beskid mountain ranges. Today, almost 8 million people live in Silesia. The largest cities in the region are Wrocław, Opole and Katowice. Before 1945, most of the region was part of Prussia for two hundred years, and before the Silesian Wars (from 1740) it was part of the Habsburg Empire for almost as many years. Silesia is classified into Upper and Lower Silesia.

. In 1989, the Lemko Society (Стоваришыне Лемків) was founded along with a new magazine entitled БЕСІДА (in English “conversation”). Both exist to this day and have been instrumental in the development of a wide range of cultural activities. The society was divided into 13 regional departments and has its headquarters in
deu. Liegnitz

Legnica is a city inhabited by 99,000 people in the Polish voivodeship of Lower Silesia. The city is located in the west of the country not far from the capital of the voivodeship, Wroclaw. Legnica was part of the Prussian province of Silesia till 1945.

in Lower Silesia.
In the 1990s, a number of Lemkos moved back to their old homeland, bought an old house or built a new one. Here, too, the first festivals of Lemko culture were organized, starting in 1983. Since 1990, these have become major events and are held annually in the village of Zdynia. Many of the Lemko returnees are involved in numerous civic initiatives, for example restoring the remaining Greek-Catholic churches in Lemkivshchyna. As a result, there is now a large network of over 200 wooden churches, which is proudly presented as a tourist and architectural attraction by local municipalities in southeastern Poland. 
However, most Lemkos have remained in northern and western Poland. In their new homeland, they probably enjoy better living conditions and development opportunities and often only travel to Lemkivshchyna for the Watra Festival. They also maintain close contact with cultural institutions such as the Museum of Lemko Culture in Zyndranowa. In recent years, many such cultural institutions have been established – mostly in the form of private associations or foundations. In addition, in some towns museums with a regional focus devote sections of their exhibitions to Lemko culture. However, the Polish character of the area is always brought to the fore. In recent years, many people from different parts of Poland have been moving to the region, building new houses and establishing businesses and handicraft enterprises. The face of Lemkivshchyna is constantly changing: some traces of Lemko culture are being saved, while others will be lost.
The Lemkos remain a widely dispersed ethnic group in Poland and throughout the world. They have a broad range of views around the question of affiliation. Some Lemkos see themselves as Ukrainians, others as Carpatho-Ruthenians. A number also uphold claims of independence, maintaining that they are a nation with its own identity. In Poland they have the status of an ethnic minority. Ethnologists and historians often classify them as an ethnic minority of the Ukrainian nation.5  But, regardless of self or external attribution, it remains undisputed that the Lemkos have their own place on the cultural map of Europe and contribute to its enrichment. It is remarkable how attached the Lemkos are to their culture and how steadfastly they continue to nurture their identity, despite the fact that, for decades, they were prevented from doing so on all fronts.
English translation: William Connor