by Maria Buriak

This article titled "Wilsznia" appeared in a small magazine published in Poland in 1982. It was written for an audience of Lemkos still living in Poland and the author, Maria Buriak is the mother-in-law of Teodor Goc, proprietor of the Lemko skansen in Zyndranova - featured on this website.

Special thanks to Michael Metrinko for contributing this article. Michael's Mudryk ancestry is from Wilsznia.

Not far away from a road which goes to Dukla Pass, about seven kilometers to the southwest of Tylawa, in a picturesque mountain valley on Wilsznia Stream, was Wilsznia village. It was surrounded by the following mountains: on the east, Byrdziawa, Dyrwyska and Studenyi Werch; on the south, Kurij Wierch and Zaruby; on the west, Kyjasz. To the south of the village was the border with Czechoslovakia and to the west was Olchowiec village. Smreczne was not far from Wilsznia.

It is hard to tell how long the village existed. The old people said that highland robbers, who had a hiding place in Dyrwyska and buried their treasures there quartered during the winter time in Wilsznia. The alder trees which covered the surrounding area gave their name to the village and to the stream.

The village had about thirty farms. The farmers had a lot of land - between twenty to thirty hectares - but most of it was not fertile. Most of the land was good only for pastures on which sheep and cattle grazed. Wool was sheared from the sheep, carded and then woolen cloth was made. Such cloth was taken to a fuller, and there made into a dark beautiful Lemko cloth, from which "humki", "cholosznice" and "czuchy" were sewn. Out of the sheeps' milk a delicious bitter-tasting cheese was made. Farmers also cultivated flax, then dressed it, spun it and wove a beautiful linen cloth which was good for underclothes and outer clothing.

The people who lived in Wilsznia had such names as Sywulycz, Buriak, Romanczak, Duleba, Chawk, Krupej, Fedak and Hawrylak. All of them lived in peace and harmony and helped each other. Before World War I, many of the inhabitants of the village left for the United States for economical reasons - someone left from nearly every household. Many of the Lemkos settled in the United States for good. They married, set up families, and if they were well paid, helped their families in the "old country". After World War I, people were not allowed to go to the States. There was a possibility of leaving for Argentina or Canada but the salaries there were low and it was difficult to earn enough to return.

Such a situation forced everyone to practice good management in the house, but it was hard to provide food for the family on this stony and infertile soil. So they looked for additional ways to earn money. Apart from the land, the villagers of Wilsznia had beech forests from which they cut trees, and then cut them into smaller pieces. With such prepared wood they went to market. Usually they would go together in one day. They would leave in the afternoon and would get to Dukla, which is 21 kilometers from Wilsznia, the same day. There they would rest, feed their horses, and move on again towards the neighboring villages to Krosno. They would return after 24 hours, making a journey of about 80 kilometers long. It was a hard way to make money, because for a cart filled with wood they would get 10 zloty. Though the money came hard, there was always some for different expenses.

The citizens of Wilsznia belonged to the Uniate [Greek Catholic] parish, for which the church and rectory were located in Olchowiec, 3 kilometers away from Wilsznia. In 1927 the whole village turned to the Orthodox church in Mszana, 8 kilometers away. In Wilsznia there was no school, so the children went to school in Smreczne. In 1935 the people of Wilsznia built their own Orthodox church. It was not hard to construct, because they owned woods from which they took fir trees for the walls and boards, and there was enough stone around. They only needed craftsmen. The church roof was covered with metal sheets. Every second Sunday the priest from Mszana came to say mass. The local deacon, although self-taught, performed his duties very well.

The people of Wilsznia were good craftsmen, and they made themselves such items as carts, sledges, etc. Among the residents of the village, there was one named Hawrylak. Whenever someone was bit by a snake, he could help him with his witchcraft. The person who got bit was not given anything to eat or drink. Hawrylak would only take a knife, go to the garden, stick the knife in the ground, and then he would use his magic witchcraft. Afterwards the sickness would go away. The sick person did not need to be present in Hawrylak's place....it was enough that someone else went there. The story with witchcraft is unbelievable, but I learned the truth of it myself; some of the people bewitched by Hawrylak recovered quickly. Hawrylak never took any money for his services. It was believed that otherwise the witchcraft would not work. He also never told anyone the secret of his cures.

This way the years passed. The people lived poorly, but they managed somehow. Then World War II came, and the Nazi occupation, contingents and deportations to the labor camps in Germany. At last, 1944 came and with it the the war front. In September Wilsznia found itself under German artillery fire because of the presence of General Baranow's army. The Soviet soldiers somehow managed to break the encirclements and escape into the woods, but the German artillery was still aimed at Wilsznia. A few houses were burned, and in one of them Wanio Buriak was burned alive because he was very lame and could not run out of the house. Out of fear, people escaped into the forest and some of them even went over the Czech border. Many of them were injured and killed. The same thing happened to their livestock.

After the front moved away, people returned to their villages, but life was harder now. Apart from a few houses, nothing else was left. In the beginning of 1945 all the villagers from Wilsznia were taken [forcibly] to Soviet Ukraine [by Soviet troops] and settled in the Dniepropetrovsk region (known as Jekaterynoslaw until 1926). After some time they all moved to the L'vov region and settled down there.

The place where Wilsznia had been once upon a time became grown over with alders again. The Orthodox church and the houses which had survived were taken apart and taken to different villages. People from Wilsznia still come back from Ukraine to see their "hometown" as tourists, but Wilsznia as a village does not exist any more. Everything has changed so much that they cannot recognize where each other's houses were. Only the Byrdziawa mountain has not changed at all, and old villagers from Wilsznia say goodbye sadly singing:

"Byrdziawa, Byrdziawa, zostawaj mi zdrawa,

Juz ja tam ne budu, woly nawertala...."

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