A VILLAGE MUSEUM AND THE PROBLEMS OF LEMKO CULTURE IN CONTEMPORARY POLAND - (Part 2)
The following article, authored by Antoni Kroh, first appeared in Carpatho-Rusyn
American, Volume 10 #2, 1987
copyright © 1987 and is used here with permission
But how can one help the museum in Zyndranowa? How can one solve the question of this institution's further development? I assume it is not necessary to prove that help is indeed necessary. The Lemkos are fellow citizens of Poland and they contribute to the creation of the country's wealth; hence they obviously have the right to benefit from this wealth and to watch over their own culture as do all of us. However, the help which is essential will only make sense if it does not disturb the very nature of the museum, that is, its social character.
It seems that the best solution would be the creation of a Society of Friends of the Lemko Museum of Zyndranowa, an organization that would enjoy legal status. Such an organization, which would become the formal owner of the museum (up to now the question of ownership has not been completely resolved), would hire the necessary employees: guides for the tourist season, specialists for conservation work, etc. The activity of such a society should be subsidized by the state, as is usually the case with other cultural establishments. The proposed society of friends should also institute a scientific council and a publishing division. Operating this way would not disturb the social character of the museum and would place it on a professional level by running it in accordance with the principles of modern museology.
Many precedents for such a solution have existed in the past as well as the present. For example, the Jan Kasprowicz Museum at Harenda in Zakopane belongs to the Jan Kasprowicz Society. The Fryderyk Chopin Society in Warsaw also owns a museum (aside from other activities), naturally benefiting from state financial aid. As is well-known, the museums founded by the Polish Sightseeing Society, the Polish Tatra Society, and next their successor, the Polish Tourist-Sightseeing Association, have played a considerable role in the history of Polish collectorship. One can multiply the number of such examples in fact, the Zyndranowa Museum has since 1968 had an advisory board formed with the consent of the local authorities but not recognized as an official body. It seems obvious that in order for the museum in Zyndranowa to develop, it must obtain a statute and legal status in order to benefit from, among other things, systematic state subsidies. Yet at the same time it must continue to be itself, that is, to preserve its social character and autonomy as a center of information about the past and present Lemko Region, thereby satisfying the cultural needs of the Lemko community in Poland.
If such decisions were made, one could expect that right away the museum collections would increase significantly. News of the birth of a representative Lemko institution would certainly induce the many Lemkos scattered throughout Poland and beyond its boundaries to be generous. We would then be able to see mementos now kept in private homes and shown only to family and close friends - mementos often possessing great historical and emotional value. Our country, ravaged by so many wars and not rich in relics, would have one more active cultural institution to fill that painful gap in Poland's consciousness, at the same time that it would be a source of proper and long overdue satisfaction to the Lemkos.
At present the museum operates under very modest conditions. It is located on an old, though well-preserved small farm, very few of which remain in the area (The small farm is entered in the registry of historical monuments by the Custodian of Historical Monuments for the district of Rzeszow, now in Krosno ). The main building, which houses under one roof the living quarters, cow barn, and stable, Dates from 1860. An ethnographic exhibition consisting of more than 1,500 items is set up there. These include a recreated traditional Lemko living room with relics mainly from the turn of the twentieth century. Originally it was a chimneyless cabin; in 1901, a stove with a hood was built in it. Furniture, pictures, utensils, small kitchenware and other elements of old interior furnishings are displayed with respect for their original function, and they create a natural impression that speaks volumes about the life of Lemko farmers several decades ago. One of the chromolithographs, the Heart of the Blessed Mother, has some bullet holes in a few places, providing thereby a discreet and at the same time very expressive symbol of the fate of the Lemkos.
Beyond the living room is a second, smaller room, the so-called "second chyza". It once served as the chief villager's office during the Dukla campaign in World War II. A Soviet general in command of this section of the front was stationed in it. At present one finds there a modest exhibit of costumes, publications on the Lemko Region (including some very rare and valuable printed materials), and a few photographs among which is a youthful portrait of the painter Nykyfor (See his biography in the Lemko Index). There are also coins, documents, and amateur pictures portraying churches, some no longer in existence, painted by Fedir Kuzjak of Bartne.
The continuation of the ethnographic exhibition is found in neighboring rooms once used for farming (a stable, threshing-floor, and coach-house). Implements for soil cultivation and cattle raising, and processing of farm and livestock products characteristic of old mountain farms are there. A small exhibit of liturgical utensils and religious objects, at times rescued in dramatic circumstances, also exists. The visitor is particularly impressed by the gripping beauty of an Eastern Christian cross beautifully wrought in iron. The work of peasant artistry, it is bent as if in pain. having fallen from the roof of a burning church in the village of Czeremcha; Ceremcha (Krosno district).
In 1969, on the occasion of the 25th anniversary of the battle for the Dukla Pass, the museum director Goc installed an exhibit of war souvenirs in the barn on the other side of the yard. This is the second section of the museum in Zyndranowa, where there are Polish, Soviet. and Czechoslovak uniforms (in each of which armies Lemkos fought), rusted arms found to this day in the fields nearby, a few publications, and some pictures. It should be mentioned that the village of Zyndranowa was decorated by President Ludvik Svoboda (Czechoslovak general during World War II) with the Order of the Czechoslovak Red Star for aiding Czechoslovak soldiers during the Dukla campaign.
Objects that once belonged to I. R. Plechov, a soldier in the Soviet Army who, dying from his wounds on Suchanja Mountain near Polany, left a letter to his family in a bottle create a particularly strong impression on visitors. The letter was found 25 years later in some brush and brought to the museum. Director Goc sent it to Plechov's widow in the Soviet Union who in this way discovered only in 1969 where and how her husband had died.
A large plot of land next to the small farm also belongs to the museum. A willow with three trunks grows there. Goc perceived the symbolism, called this place the "corner of brotherhood" (the inscription being in Polish and Lemko), placed a bench under the tree, and on the three branches which join together right near the ground, he mounted tablets which read: Lech, Rus', Czech. About a dozen steps from the "corner of brotherhood~ - a monument several meters in height to the Soviet soldiers fallen in the battles for the Dukla Pass was built by a group of combatants from Poland, the Soviet Union, and Czechoslovakia with the cooperation of the local museum committee and circle of the Society for Polish-Soviet Friendship War veterans from nearby Slovakia presented carefully chiseled granite tablets in Russian, Polish, and Slovak. This monument no longer exists, and all that remains are the partially damaged tablets and a folder of correspondence. At present. another, much more modest monument is found in this place.
A small obelisk raised in honor of the victims of the Talerhof camp (a place of internment for the Lemkos during World War I) stands between the small farm housing the museum and the monument to the Soviet soldiers. It was first raised in 1936 at Banica near Bartne, a village which ceased to exist after 1947. When a road was built there a few years ago the monument was in danger, so Goc transferred it to Zyndranowa.
A few dozen meters from the museum buildings stands the magnificent new home of the Goc family, pleasing to the eye with its fresh red brick. The home itself is a symbol of the Lemko's moral strength, their attachment to their native land, their resilience, and their victorious battle with the adversities of fate.
To found a museum, to gather mementos, and to take care of them is a lot of work. However, an even greater task is the arduous welcoming for the last seventeen years of more and more guests - and always with a smile, graciously, unselfishly. The guests vary, from those who only in Zyndranowa discover to their amazement that national minorities actually exist in contemporary Poland, to those who have come from the other side of the globe with tears in their eyes. People who are not free of anti-Lemko attitudes come as well. It is necessary to know how to respond to all of them quietly and with dignity. Many visitors (especially Lemkos from the Soviet Union, Czechoslovakia, the United States, Canada) wish to sit around and talk. Director Goc must find the time and patience for this, precisely at the period - the tourist season - when there is most urgent harvest work in the fields.
Maintenance of the museum costs not only much time and nerves but money as well. Apparently, in 1985, the museum in Zyndranowa is to receive a subsidy from the Ministry of Culture (for the moment. however, this is only a noncommittal rumor). If this becomes reality, it would be the first concrete aid on the part of the government in seventeen years. In the meantime, the museum survives under the self-sacrificing leadership of its director Fedir Goc, who in his ..spare time, also sews the folk costumes for the Lemkovyna Ensemble. For all his efforts, Goc is universally recognized by Lemkos throughout Poland, and he has received many official awards and congratulatory letters (ironically more from Czechoslovakia and the Soviet Union than Poland) for his activity.
Nowy Sacz, Poland
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