Sunday, September 30, 2012

Polonna (Полонна): Once a Lemko Village

by Corinna Wengryn Caudill

Polonna/Полонна (Polish: Płonna) is a village in the Sanok powiat (county/administrative district) of southeastern Poland. For centuries, it was a village mostly inhabited by eastern Slavic Greek Catholics (Rusyny/Ruthenians) who were driven out of the area in post-World War II ethnic cleansing operations that culminated in "Akcja Wisla," or "Operation Vistula" (1947.) According to a placard posted outside the ruins of its Greek Catholic church, the village of Polonna was named in 1699 (previously known as Plone - 1433, Plona - 1437, Plonna - 1508.) It is a village with documented medieval origin, and its name derives from the Slavic word “plonina” meaning “treeless mountain valley” or “pastureland.” Its current name is Płonna, the Polish name for the village.

Drawing from O. Iwanusiw's "Church in Ruins."
Settlement, Population and Migration: According to the placard displayed outside the church ruins, "...the origin of the village of Polonna is connected with the wave of Arumun (Vlach) settlement. (See this link for more information on Vlach/Arumun linkage.) Arumuns/Vlachs were a pastoral people who came from the Balkan peninsula, from where they gradually spread to the north, reaching territory that is now within the modern borders of Poland. The colonists assimilated with the local Ruthenian people, a process that led to the existence of several regional ethnic groups; including Lemkos, Boykos, Dolinians, and Hutsuls." [Note: This theory is disputable. There are conflicting theories about the extent to which Vlach influence and mixing extended to this region.]

Over the next two centuries, the village was continuing to develop. The 1787 Austrian cadastral (census) records enumerated 67 households in Polonna, mainly Greek Catholics (Rusyny/Ruthenians), whereas the minority of Roman Catholics (Poles) were the dwellers of the "dvir" or manor house. In 1816, the census in Polonna recorded 116 houses and more than 750 inhabitants. The biggest boom of population, however, took place during the interwar period (1919-1939), and the census takers who came to Polonna in 1931 counted 170 buildings and 1,069 inhabitants. At the turn of the 20th century, the process of emigration escalated as land became scarce (families got larger and divided land over generations) and opportunities became more abundant, particularly in North America (farming in Canada, and steel mills, coal mining and factory work in the United States.)

Church History: The first wooden church was built in the village of Polonna in 1488. According to documents, at the turn of the 15th century and in the 16th century, there was a manor house surrounded by moats and embankments. According to Oleh Iwanusiw’s book Church in Ruins “...the legend says that the previous tserkva in this village was burned down together with worshipers and the parish priest by the Tatars.” The "new" church, called the "Patronage of the Blessed Virgin Mary," was established in 1790 in the vicinity of the manor house grounds. It was founded by the Truskolaski family (a Polish noble family.) Not far away from the stream was a small cemetery and oratory situated in the place of the old wooden church, which had been burned down during the Tatar raid. Polonna's Greek Catholic parish was a multi-village congregation, and included the villages of Kamienne, Wysoczany and Kozuszne (filial parishes.) It operated liturgies until 1947, when all of the remaining inhabitants (who had not been deported to Ukraine) were forcibly deported to former German territories acquired by Poland as a provision of the Yalta Agreement.

Schools and Educational Facilities. In 1836, Polonna's diocese register records (for the first time) Polonna's parish school, noting that the school had 7 pupils that year. Thirty-five years later, a second school was built in the village, where the Ruthenian language was spoken in both schools. The educational system in Polonna, as well as in neighboring villages, was developed as the result of the efforts of a social education organization called "Prosvita." During the German occupation, the Polish language was struck from the curriculum and Ukrainian and German were taught in the schools. By the fall of 1944, the schools effectively closed down in the chaos of the German-Soviet front, and were not reopened.

German Occupation (1939-1944): At the beginning of September 1939, Polonna was invaded by German troops. In 1942, a temporary assembly point for Jews was established in or near Polonna where the Jewish residents of the area were collected, divided and transported to labor camps, such as Zwangsarbeitslager Zaslaw in nearby Zahiria (Zagorz) and later, to the Belzec extermination camp, where most perished. In the summer of 1944, the 96th Wehrmacht Infantry Division deployed in the village. The Nazis transformed the village school, the church and the manor house into field hospitals. Approximately 200 German soldiers were buried near the church. As a result of the front's activities in the fall of 1944, more than 40 houses were set on fire. Throughout the occupation and the Soviet-German fighting in 1944, over a dozen of Polonna's inhabitants were killed. During that period, the Ukrainian underground's [including the Organization of Ukrainian Nationalists (OUN) and the Ukrainian Insurgent Army (UPA)] activities were developing in and around the village, as they prepared to focus their underground activities in "Zakerzonnia" - lands east of the so-called Curzon line, which was the demarcation point between Poland and the Soviet Union as established through a secret "Lublin pact" in July 1944 between the Polish provisional government and the Soviet Union (represented by Nikita Khrushchev) in Lublin.

The End of the War and the Post-War Period (1944-1947): In the fall of 1944, after the Red Army effectively occupied Poland, Polish communists collaborated with Soviet authorities to develop a plan to evict all Ukrainians from Polish territory, and the plan came into action almost immediately, with pressure on locals to "voluntarily" emigrate to Ukraine. At first, 6 families from Polonna and some local Romanies (Tsigani/Roma/Gypsies) who had survived the Holocaust were convinced to desert the village and relocate to Ukraine, but most of Polonna's residents did not agree to go. The violence escalated, and the Polish People's Army, along with Polish bandits and later ORMO (Ochotnicza Rezerwa Milicji Obywatelskiej, Polish reserve militia) from Bukowsko and other Polish towns and villages perpetrated raids and acts of brutality throughout the region, most notably in the nearby village of Zavadka Morokhivska (Pol: Zawadka Morochowska), where they brutally murdered approximately more than 120 residents in the early winter of 1946. Being afraid for their lives, another desperate group of Polonna's residents decided to leave the village. By the summer of 1946, all pretense of "voluntary movement" was dropped and Polish authorities began rounding people up in the whole of the Lemko region, but UPA was successful in significantly disrupting their efforts. As a result, many Lemkos remained (including in Polonna) until Akcja Wisla in 1947, when the Polish authorities quintipled their efforts and effectively suppressed underground activities. The remainder of the residents of Polonna and the rest of the Lemko region were taken to "ziemie odzyskane" or the so-called "recovered territories" (former German territories including Silesia, Prussia and Pomerania) that Poland had received as a provision of the Yalta Agreement in 1945.

The church as it was in the interwar period.

Polonna: Then and Now: Today, all that remains in Polonna are the ruins of the church and its bell tower, as well as the collective farm buildings that were constructed after World War II. Through the restoration efforts of Andrzej Skrawan, the Lemko diaspora from the United States and Canada have helped to preserve Polonna’s ruins by erecting displays and historical plaques on the outside of the ruins. The displays include photos of the village’s former residents and depictions of the iconography that once graced the interior of the church.

The photos below shows the current ruins of the church and bell tower.

Church Ruins, Photo by C. Caudill, 2011
Bell Tower, Photo by C. Caudill, 2011

Icon reproduction hanging outside church wall.
Photo by C. Caudill, 2011

Collective farm buildings in Polonna - Located across the road from the church ruins
Photo by C. Caudill, 2011


  1. For more photos of the village, see this website:

  2. One of our oral history project participants told us that people (including her family) were hiding in the "dvir" to avoid capture and deportation by Polish authorities.