Podolia - General Information


Any account of Jazlowiec and its history cannot be completely or effectively presented without portraying its image against the background of the area surrounding it. Geographically and historically, this area is the land of Podolia, the far southeast corner of pre-World War Two Poland. It is also an integral part

of a vast plateau, extending as far east as the Azow Sea and running along the territories adjacent to the north shore of the Black Sea. The furthest west region of these plains is Podolia.

This immense plateau has been known under different names throughout its long and volatile history. The Greek historian Herodotus around 500 BCE With subsequent political changes recorded it first known name, the Pontic Steppe, this ancient name disappeared, giving way to names such a Russian Plains and the Black Sea plateau. Within the area so designated there were many minor divisions, of which Podolia was the most westerly.

The borders of the land had never been clearly defined. Some historians extend Podolia as Far East as the Black Sea and the Dniepr (Dnipro) River. Others confine it to a smaller area. The most consistent geography appears to be the description of the 18th century Polish chronicler, K. Stadnicki. According to his detailed account, the name of Podolia was designated to the territories enclosed between the Dniestr River in the south, the land of Vohlynia in the north, the rivers Murchwa in the east and Zlota Lipa in the west. These borders were substantially reduced to benefit the adjacent Ukraine at the time of the partition of Poland in 1772. In the short period between World War One and World War Two, its Polish borders were congruent with the Voivodship of Tarnopol.

Historians or geographers have never resolved the origin of the name "Podolia." There is not even a legend that would lend assistance to the solution of this mystery. As its meaning may indicate, "the land of depressions," some Eastern Slavs of Polish family must have conceived it. The fact that Ruthenians and later the Ukrainians did not show affinity for the name indicates that the Poles alone were its originators.

Contrary to what the term "plateau" may imply, Podolia is not a land of flat, endless plain. Its geography provided Poland with the country's most beautiful pre-war scenery. Deep valleys cut by rivers running through rich soil created panoramic mountainous view compatible to those in Switzerland or Colorado in the United States. Its comparison to Switzerland was often quoted in tourist publications and has remained its basic description when referring to the beautiful valley of the Dniestr River. Its tributaries flowing from the north, almost parallel to one another, created in their long erosive process perpendicularly running valleys rich in beauty and spectacular scenery. These periodic elongated depressions brought additional attractions to the land and its wonderful picturesque landscapes. In the Polish times the tourist industry was at first not sufficiently developed to profile its beauty to the general public, but given some time it would have become one of the main attractions in the country.

One of the most beautiful panoramas follows the breach of the fast-flowing Zbrucz River through the plateau towards the mighty Dniestr. The steep slopes of the valley, rich in trees and vegetation, create the impression of a wonderful virgin territory, where undisturbed wildlife and unspoiled nature are still dominant. Whoever has seen this view can never forget its enchanted beauty and the peaceful scenery of undisturbed countryside.

This valley's depth may in itself be the explanation for the disappearance of Podolia's greatest wonder, the Sarmatian Sea. A lake of sizable proportions must have been in existence in the region of upper Zbrucz through the time of the Sarmatian Empire (3rd century AD), or even later. Arabian travelers confirmed its presence, but its disappearance remains a mystery to this day. One logical explanation might have been gradual or sudden deepening of the river's canyon, allowing the lake's eventual drainage to the Black Sea via Zbrucz and the Dniestr.

The Arabian descriptions are only one indication of the sea's historical presence. Nature provided another proof, by leaving coral reefs that run as a range of hills at the upper region of Zbrucz River, as well as a long line of ponds and small lakes in the depressions left by the vanished sea. In addition, rare black swans, known for their fondness of water, made a periodic pilgrimage to their ancient grounds. Apparently the last one was seen in that area in 1939, just before the outbreak of World War Two.

At its northern edge, the plateau slowly descends towards the neighboring Vohlynia, creating another mountainous landscape in Podolia. Here, its most striking beauty is a range of hills called Miodobory. Their low rounded peaks and deep depressions between offer a pleasing sight for the visitor, and it is also referred to as another Switzerland.

Further south, another wonder of the past, the Pantalicha Steppe, extends for miles on the plateau's endless plain. It is the last residual form of the terrain that once was common throughout Podolia; the Ukraine and lands further east. With the increase of population, the steppes were gradually put under cultivation, their virgin beauty decreased, as it became a strictly agricultural area.

The geography of this land is also responsible for its unusual and varied climate. Its north and south regions seem to be in complete contrast to one another. In the south the deep valley of the Dniestr River, which allows for the warm Black Sea air current to penetrate deep into the land, made this area the warmest in the pre-war Poland. This climatic condition favored development of a high standard of agriculture, the most varies and productive in the country. Nowhere else in Poland was the farm produce as rich or as bountiful; nowhere else vegetable and fruit growing conditions better. Because of this exceptional climate, fertile soil, and bountiful crop, this part of Podolia was often compared to the Turkish mystic gardens of Meran.

While the south enjoyed a warm, mild climate, the regions further north had to bear with the coldest temperatures in the entire country. Persistent cold winds from the boundless Russian plains gave this area the cold grip of a continental winter. In summer, however, the weather compensated with highest temperature, common to this type of climate.

Podolia, for its fertile blacktop soil and its favorable climatic conditions was, through the entire of its Polish history, recognized as the main producer of such agricultural products as wheat, rye, and barley. It was also the main exporter of these commodities to the eastern markets through the Black Sea ports and to the west by the way of Gdansk, the Baltic Sea port. This productivity contributed greatly to the prosperity of its people, and gave cause for many laudatory comments by visitors to Podolia. One of them, Jan Dlugosz, the first Polish historian, describes it in his work as "the land flowing with milk and honey." Similar praise was voiced a century later by the visiting Papal Nuncio, Kommandoni, when he witnessed the abundance of the crops.

Various civilizations left their marks on Podolia throughout its long history, beginning with the earliest times known to the man, leaving vestiges of nations and great empires. Testimony to this fact is evidenced in rich archeological discoveries all over the region; the excavations at Koszylowce, Zielencze, Sassow and other revealed many artifacts of the Neolithic era. In other places, like Saporow and Czarnokonce, the finds disclosed the presence of the Scythes, famous for the "Pax Scythia" praised by Roman historians. One of the richest and most important excavations was at Michalkowa, consisting of gold items of the Celtic era. Treasures of Marynian culture were uncovered at Zalesie by Czortkow. A site at Trembowla became famous for its discoveries relating to the once-powerful Sarmatians. In many places Roman gold coins, medallions, ceramics and tools of various time periods were unearthed. Also, in some places, the outlines of ancient Slavic sites had been brought out of the earth and some settlements are still visible to the naked eyes. Whatever has been discovered, however, may be only a fraction of what remains in the ground.

The latter era of Podolia's history left and even greater number of relics and monuments, which are still present, some in use, some in ruin. This includes almost all artifacts belonging to the Polish period, beginning in the 14th century and lasting until World War Two. The earliest, a chain of stone castles, were constructed out of necessity to protect the country against Tartar, Cossack and Turkish invasions from the east and south. The same period also left for posterity many churches, monasteries of various Christian denominations, as well as synagogues, palaces, town halls and many lesser structures built as time progressed.

The constant threat of invasion from the east began with the first incursion of Genghis Khan hordes (1237-1241) into Ruthenian principalities and southern regions of Poland. For some time this was, with a lesser degree of success, checked by the princes of Kiev, Halicz and Wlodzimierz through open military confrontation, or by accepting the sovereignty of the Tartars khans and paying them tribute. Another form of protection amounted to building of castles and fortifications around cities and towns. These originally were built of wood and seldom proven to be a fully effective means of defense. In general, with each consecutive invasion, these were burned and razed by the Tartars.

With the return of the southeast territories to Poland in the early years of the 14th century, through inheritance and the Polish-Hungarian Treaty, the Polish king Casimir the Great introduced a more effective system of protection for his eastern lands. Its basic theme was to build several stone castles around the borders of the most threatened province. Thus, Podolia became a strongly fortified region with a great number of castles, stretching from Kamieniec Podolski in the south, to the city of Lwow in the north. The effectiveness of this type of defense against all eastern invaders was proven several times until the fall of Poland at the end of the 18th century.

These monuments of the past, often shrouded in mystery, still stand on the hills, giving witness to man's past glories and their own ragged significance in protection of the country. But their purpose and importance transcended beyond their immediate area, to the rest of the Polish nation and to Western Europe. These stone walls were of greater consequence as life in the West, unaffected by invaders from the East, was free to mobilize its resources and ingenuity to develop art, industry, science and higher standards of living and culture. Contemporaries who recognized the importance of the Polish defense system in Podolia coined the name "The Ramparts of Christianity" to describe its significance in protecting Western Poland and Europe. Were it not for this system, we can be correct in an assumption that the achievements of the West would have been grossly compromised by the threat from the nation of lower civilization.

The walls now stand mute, no longer needed, obsolete in the face of modern warfare. They cannot aspire to the greatness of other world landmarks, such a the Great Wall of China, or the sophistication of the Maginot Line, but by their continued presence, they inspire images of a great and glorious history. When melancholy for past achievements and sentiments of the present situation fill the Polish soul, the old gates at the Ramparts of the Holy Trinity (Okopy Sw. Trojcy) open the long avenue of historic splendor for eager visitors. The extended range of castles, beginning at that point and stretching to the most northern tip of Podolia, display enchanted views, enhanced by a panoramic setting in nature's grandest splendor. They invite with their charm to make further tours of the historic ruins - from the oldest in Czerwonogrod, through the mightiest at Jazlowiec and the most impressive at Podhorce.

Within sight of these ancient walls, many powerful stories, rich in human drama, potent with past legends, enter the visitor's imagination. The ruins at Krzywcze shout from the lofty towers heroic stories of numerous stands against Tartars and Cossacks, and send the message of the final fight when the defenders had to surrender to the Turks. Nearby an ancient site of the Sarmatian stronghold at Trembowla, replaced with even mightier walls of the Polish castle, is visible in the distance. Within these walls, the memory of Mrs. Chrzanowski, the wife of the commander at the time, still lingers. By threatening her own suicide, she spurred the garrison to fight until final victory. This success, however, caused the great tragedy that befell the defenders of Tarnopol castle. The Turkish sultan, enraged by the failure of his forces at Trembowla, sought revenge on the lesser castle, tearing it to the ground. Also, when the Turkish army was forced to withdraw from the city of Lwow, they unleashed their fury at smaller Polish strongholds, which were in no position to withstand the sultan's might.

During the period of Turkish invasions, there were some encouraging turns of events favoring the Poles in their struggle in avenging their earlier frustrations. They involved quite a few castles, wisely utilized by King Jan Sobieski. This great military leader adopted the strategy of locking his troops inside the walls of his castles during the winter, while the Turks on the outside had to bear the fury of the bitter cold. Further north, the castles of Brody and Zbaraz are the testimony to their successful stand against the Cossacks and the Tartars, frequent allies of the sultan. At very difficult situation their tied those forces up in battles until the main army of the Polish king arrived.

This, of course, is only a short list of historical events that took place within the defensive system of Podolia. In all, there were over fifty castles, each with its own stories and legends. The records of the Tartars threat account for over 200 of their incursions into the land. Then rebellions of Cossacks and three long Turkish wars; all of it taking place on the soil of Podolia. Not all events have been the subject to written documentation - the majority of them remain hidden in the oblivion, unlikely to be ever rescued from the forgotten past. They have perished in the wars of destruction, hidden like skeletons in the prehistoric kurgans of even further past.

Within the shadows of the decaying walls one will unavoidably encounter a great number of churches which, because of the human care, survived in useable condition until the recent times. The, World War Two which brought the radical and social changes caused the houses of God to also become the victims of neglect and decay. In the communist system, where religion was suppressed, these religious structures, with very few exceptions, were left to the mercy of time and the elements of nature. Some of their historical and cultural value was given museum status, some were utilized as state warehouses and most became abandoned.

Other houses of worship, in particular the synagogues, fared even worse. Being the temples of the people who perish in the Holocaust, they in most cases shared the fate of their faithful. The Ukrainians' destructive hand often razed these places for no better reason than to eliminate the memory of genocide committed on their former neighbors. Perhaps if someone one day unearths their foundations, he will be as mystified as we are today by the discoveries of ancient cultures of in South America and in Pacific.

Ethnologically, Podolia was inhabited by various nationalities, with Poles and Ukrainians being the major groups. These nationalities basically ran along lines of religious preferences: Polish Roman Catholics, Ukrainian Greek Orthodox Church, Christian Armenians and Jews. Where Ukrainians were concerned that was not always the case - some Ruthenians, although of Orthodox faith, did not consider themselves Ukrainians. Many of them moved with Poles in 1946 to the Western part of Poland, rather than stay in the newly created Ukraine. According to the last population census conducted by the Polish government in 1931, the ethnic population of Podolia broke down as follows:

Poles 47.3%

Ukrainians 45.3%

Others 7.4% (mainly Jews)

In the years between 1931 and 1939, this count increased to favor the Poles. This was due chiefly to the assimilation of Ruthenians with Poles, and Polish migration from the west to the lesser populated eastern regions of the country. Taking these factors into account, it would be safe to assume that the Poles in Podolia constituted an absolute majority.

As for Jazlowiec itself, no exact population numbers or estimates for that period are available. It is generally known that the town at the time was basically Polish and Jewish, with Ukrainians residing predominantly in the suburban areas of Browary and Przedmiescie. It is known from 1931 census that the district of Buczacz, which included Jazlowiec, had an absolute Polish majority. The villages around the town were of mixed ethnicity; some like Duliby, were totally Polish, while others like Rusilow were primarily Ukrainian. Tangible proof of the Polish majority can be found in the ratio of churches, which ran 6-2 in favor of Roman Catholic versus the Greek Orthodox.

The most recent attempts by Ukrainians in America to justify a reverse population ratio in Podolia, backed by evidence of new discoveries of documents doubtful origin cannot be accepted as anything else but pure fabrication.