CHAPTER IX

 

The Short Years of Independence

 

Although the First World War officially ended on November 11, 1918, peace was still in the distance for the people of Jazlowiec and for all of Poland. As the three powers of Austria, Russia and Germany crumbled, new states rose in their former territorial acquisitions, and many local conflicts had to be settled militarily in the peripheral areas of the new Polish nation.

One that affected Podole and Jazlowiec was the dispute between the Poles and Ukrainians over the land claimed by both.

The Ukrainians, armed by the retreating Austrians, began a military action against the light Polish forces in the area, beginning a war between the two that lasted from 1918 to 1919. One of the most courageous and important actions of this conflict was the heroic defense of Lwow by Polish boys, whose fathers were fighting to secure Polish borders in other areas. This successful action, assisted by Polish units from Poznan, ended in complete Polish victory. Another victorious action also took place at the gates of Jazlowiec between Ukrainian forces and the 14th Polish Lancers Regiment.

Prior to that, other actions against Ukrainian forces took place at Jazlowiec. In December, 1918, Ukrainians took over the town and instantly closed the convent school, requisitioned all furniture and supplies and interned in one of the convent's wings some prominent Poles from the town. The number of internees reached about 100, plus the nuns and seventeen students who chose to stay in the school. By May 23, 1919, the convent was filled to capacity with internees, which included fourteen Polish priests and four monks from Russia.

On Saturday, just before Whitsunday, a small Polish unit appeared from nowhere, disarmed the Ukrainian guards and freed about three hundred internees. For some reason, this Polish unit then withdrew, leaving only twenty-five of their number for the convent's protection. This platoon-size group was too small to hold out against the larger Ukrainian unit that attacked them later. Jazlowiec was again occupied by the Ukrainians, who for the entire month of June terrorized the nuns and the town's populace.

Within this short lasting war the chronicler of the convent registered one small but chivalrous episode which took place on the outskirts and within the convent of Jazlowiec. This incident pertained to the later Polish hero of World War Two, Gen. Stanislaw Maczek, who at the time in the rank of lieutenant commanded an infantry platoon. His personal heroism in this care preceded his greater days in Normandy, France, Belgium and Holland by more than a quarter century. A Polish commander dispatched him to intervene in Jazlowiec where the convent with nuns and teenage female students inside was besieged by a Ukrainian force.

The enemy unit proved to be numerical superior and better armed for the young lieutenant to any direct action against them to rescue the nuns and girls. He decided to take his positions on the hill of Ksiezyna from which he had good insight into the convent's grounds. From this vantagepoint he kept a watch to make a sally at a most convenient moment.

Then, as the chronicler wrote "on the 6th of July, 1919, a miracle happened".

The young lieutenant under the cover of the night made a quick foray through the surrounding woods into the convent's grounds. Attacking the unprotected side he entered the premises unnoticed by the Ukrainian guards. He and his men picked five girls and two nuns and disappeared with them in the darkness of the night. The rescued group was moved under a protective escort to a safer territory, west of Jazlowiec, held by the Polish forces.

Lieutenant Maczek and his platoon remained on the hill for the next five days, keeping watch on enemy movement and occasionally exchanging fire. On July 11th the Polish cavalry unit, l4th Lancers, entered the town bringing relief to the besieged convent and the small but brave unit of Lt. Maczek. This little story became a legend among the Polish people of Jazlowiec, in which the unit's commander grew to be a hero, known to them only as brave and chivalrous Polish officer from Lwow.

The early history of the 14th Lancers and the account of its first major battle was preserved by one of its young soldiers, Antoni Grudzinski, who actively participated in the attack on the Ukrainian positions at Jazlowiec. This man distinguished himself in World War Two as the commander of the 10th Armored Division in the West while serving under the above mentioned Gen. Maczek.

Here in the walls of Jazlowiec the two heroes of the next war came together as of then unspoken heroes of World War One.

According to Grudzinski's account the 14th Lancers Regiment was organized in the region of Kuban of the Poles whom the Czar's regime threw into the depth of Russian territory. As the Soviet Revolution started the young Poles joined together to form a unit with a goal to fight for freedom of Poland. When the unit reached the regiment strength, it moved west to join another Polish unit, known as the division of General Zeligowski, then organizing in Odessa. This combined force, after a long march through Bessarabia and Bukowina in Rumania, reached the Polish border at the town of Sniatyn in the later Stanislawow Voivodship. After crossing the Dniestr at Jezupol in June, 1919, the unit undertook offensive action against Ukrainian elements, with the objective of reaching the Zbrucz River and clearing the territory of plundering enemy groups.

Working within this plan, the 14th Lancers, supported by one company of the 6th Cavalry Regiment and some artillery, moved towards the main Ukrainian defense line. The Ukrainian force consisted of two brigades, some 2,500 men strong, backed with ten batteries of artillery and were well-dug in around the village of Kadlubiska and the Gleboka estate, both located a mere two miles from Jazlowiec.

After engaging the enemy at the Strypa River and destroying the forward Ukrainian elements at the village of Sokulec, the Polish force reached the village of Beremiany on July the 10th. In their next thrust, the Poles captured the villages of Chmielowa and Duliby, and almost reached the main Ukrainian positions.

On July 11, the regiment commanded by Maj. Konstanty Plisowski, in a typical day-long cavalry attack, completely wiped out the enemy forces, taking 652 prisoners and much of their artillery and equipment. The remainder of the Ukrainians fled, leaving 151 dead men on the battlefield. Polish losses amounted to 25 dead and some wounded.

The same day the Polish unit entered the besieged town of Jazlowiec, liberating the convents, its nuns and some Poles that had been held as hostages. They also joined with the platoon of Lt. Maczek, which as described earlier held the hill outside the town. The chronicler of the convent describes this eventful day as follows:

 

"Finally arrived the beautiful day of July the 11th, 1919, when Jazlowiec welcomed the victorious soldiers of the Polish Commonwealth, still letting blood in the fight for freedom. On the courtyard of the convent Mother Superior welcomed the Polish Commander, Gen. Aleksandrowicz and his staff. The song of gratitude joined the sound of the shimmering trees to thank God and Holy Mother of the Immaculate Conception for miraculous salvation from Ukrainian oppression."

 

The citizens of the town welcomed the arrival of the Polish forces with relief and gratitude. The Ukrainian terror left some bitter memories, which caused much antagonistic feelings between the two national groups in Jazlowiec, and which never really healed. During the short Ukrainian rule, two young Piwowarski brothers were executed for no other reason than that of being the sons of a prominent Polish citizen. Several people were taken hostage and severely beaten - one of them lost his sight because of it - and much Polish property was confiscated and destroyed.

Soon after the victory at Jazlowiec, the 14th Lancers Regiment adopted the town's name for its own and after that was known as the 14th Lancers Regiment of Jazlowiec. The day of their victory also became the Regimental Memorial Day, celebrated every year to commemorate those who fell in the battle.

Ever since the victory, the 14th Lancers, although stationed some distance from Jazlowiec at Lwow, maintained close ties with the town, mainly through the Order of the Immaculate Conception. In due course, Saint Mary, the Lady of Jazlowiec, became the main motif on their standard insignia, and her name was incorporated into the regimental song. By adopting her as their patron saint, the Lancers brought her cult into their own traditions. This was best expressed by their regimental song, which was sung by the men at every public occasion and as a church hymn at Holy Masses. The first strophe of the song (in translation) sounds as follows:

Give happiness and peace to this land, O Lady,

which has been soaked with blood in the fire of wars;

To you we soldiers send our sincere prayers

that you change our fate, cruel fate,

and make life radiant as a baby's smile;

Grant us this grace, Holiest Virgin of Jazlowiec!

 

For their bravery on the battlefield, the Regiment was decorated by the head of the Polish state, Marshall Jozef Pilsudski, with the highest honors that could be bestowed upon a fighting unit. On March 21 the next year, the Marshall personally decorated the standard of the Regiment with the cross of Virtuti Militari.

The end of the Ukrainian conflict did not resolve the remaining problems of the new Polish state. Another and far more perilous threat came from the east, this time from the newly created communist state in the Soviet Union. Counting on the popularity of the communist movement in the west, the Red Army invaded the territories of Poland in August, 1920. This was meant as a first step in their goal to "liberate the working class from the oppression of capitalism."

Jazlowiec was almost immediately affected by this new threat. On the 4th of August, the Soviets entered the town and requisitioned the town for military purposes. On August 18, a Polish unit entered the town, scattering the panicked enemy just as they were about to take hostages whom they planned to transport deep into Soviet territory on September 21.

The sudden Soviet departure was the result of a decisive Polish victory at Warsaw at the end of August. It was the victory that shattered the communists' dream of conquering western Europe, which was then in great turmoil, especially in Germany. Peace was settled between the Poles and the Soviets in the Treaty of Brzesc, in which the Soviets renounced all claims to the land held by the Poles. This stabilized Polish eastern borders until the outbreak of World War Two.

After Poland gained its freedom, and after all military operations came to an end, the citizens of Jazlowiec returned to the business of rebuilding their town. In view of the enormous damage done by the Russian army and the Ukrainian occupation, the task seemed immense. In absence of any state program of reconstruction, the citizens had to do it all on their own, beginning with the election of a new town administration, with the office of mayor going to Wladyslaw Kurianski and executive power to the new city council. According to the old traditions, every ethnic group was equally represented in the council. This meant four Polish aldermen, four Jewish and four Ukrainian. Even though the Ukrainians represented the smallest of the three groups, they still qualified for an equal share on the city council.

When the new town government took office, the business section of Jazlowiec looked like a ghost town with roofless buildings and blackened, smoke-stained walls lining the streets. Above these towered naked chimneys, which added to the ghost-like scenery of destruction. Several hastily constructed temporary wooden barracks, built at random, cluttered the town's center, giving it an even more repulsive appearance. Reconstruction of the town seemed almost an impossible task.

The general post-war boom in Poland was a great assistance in the reconstruction of Jazlowiec. The stamina of the new nation, in the first flush of its newly won freedom, encouraged every citizen to sacrifice in helping both themselves and the country. The general spirit and enthusiasm turned their mental and physical energies towards the task of resurrecting the country, like the legendary Phoenix, out of the ashes.

In Jazlowiec, many new houses and public buildings were built in both the central and peripheral areas. The town received its new town hall, Polish and Ukrainian community halls appeared in once empty places, a new school to accommodate seven statutory grades was constructed, the old 15th century synagogue was restored to its former condition, street lights were introduced, several main streets received their first sidewalks and some drainage system was installed to channel the floodwater to the two streams passing the town. On top of all this, private homes were sprouting up all over the area, adding to the general belief that this was not only the period of reconstruction, but of general prosperity as well. The citizens of Jazlowiec, like the whole of Poland, worked hard not only to restore their town's former condition, but in many ways to surpass it as well.

On the business side of town's activities, reconstruction and revitalization equaled that of other sectors. Mainly the remaining members of the Jewish community opened many new private shops. Poles and Ukrainians organized new commercial cooperatives. A dairy processing plant was added to the Polish grain cooperative, which soon began to send dairy products for markets outside the town. A brick kiln was activated on the outskirts of the town, providing basic material for the building industry. Many craftsmen opened new shops, and traditional Tuesday markets were well attended by both locals and outsiders.

County and district governments also made their contributions to the general town's revival. Some new offices were introduced, like administrative center for the neighboring villages, the health clinic where three qualified physicians and the police force, which was increased and relocated to larger and more modern accommodation, provided services. Definite progress was also made in the educational field, with the construction of new and larger building for seven grades, bringing in more teachers to the town and upgrading the level of education, qualifying even more students for the high school in Buczacz.

The Convent of the Immaculate Conception had its own educational system, which also had gone through a radical process of modernization. Although primary education was mainly the function of the town government, the nuns still maintained as small school at the convent for the local girls. Their high school, however, strived to attain new heights, with the introduction of new programs, widened in scope to attract more students from affluent families. In addition they opened their high school enrollment to the local girls for a nominal fee, giving them chance to prepare themselves for higher studies, or to acquire a greater knowledge in the field of home economic and the development of disciplines useful for future wives and mothers.

In the field of welfare, due to generosity of a childless Polish family who returned from America with some saved funds, an orphanage was built on the grounds donated by the town. Its administration was entrusted to the secular nuns who took care of the orphaned children and also operated a day care center on the premises.

All these factors contributed to a rapid increase in the population of Jazlowiec, which, at the outbreak of World War Two stood at 5,000. In the time between the World Wars, Jazlowiec showed enormous vitality, which unfortunately began to succumb to impending crisis as the war began to loom on the horizon, hindering further progress planned by the town mayor, Wladyslaw Kurianski. He envisioned bringing a military unit into the town as a new source of funds, to start some small industries and build an electrical plant to bring a new source of energy into the town. Economic conditions improved to some extent in the second half of the 1930's, and most likely a new period of prosperity would have begun if not for World War Two.

A prestigious religious event took place in May of 1939 when, by special permission of Pope Pious XII, the holy statue of the Lady of Jazlowiec was crowned by the Primate of Poland, August Cardinal Hlond. The Ceremony was attended by many church and government dignitaries, among them the future primate of the country, Stefan Cardinal Wyszynski. Delegations from different cities and organizations from across the country participated in the event, and many faithful from the Archdiocese of Lwow made pilgrimages to Jazlowiec. The 14th Lancers, with their top regimental staff, took part in the ceremony, adding military splendor to the event.

To commemorate the crowning, the citizens of Jazlowiec provided funds for the erection of memorial chapel on the hill facing the castle and the convent, called "Szance" (Ramparts).

Local artisans created a small altar, in which the centerpiece was a stone carving of the Lady of Jazlowiec. A tradition was then begun in which candles would be burned at the altar on a certain day of the week. It did not last long, because the outbreak of the war halted it.

In 1936, the Recreation Home for theology students from the Archdiocese of Lwow was opened in the village of Rzepince in the Jazlowiec parish. The idea had originated during Archbishop Eugene Baziak's visit to the nearby village of Trybuchowce. Countess Natalie Wolanski, who offered her sumptuous residence to the Archdiocese, and also sold some twenty acres of land to the church for a nominal sum of money, approached him.

The old residence in Rzepince, originally constructed as a palace in 1818, was furnished with rare and valuable art objects and a rich library, which got great use from the students spending their vacation there. After World War Two, one of the seminary students, Rev. Waclaw Szetelnicki, wrote an account of the Recreation Home and included it in his book about his teacher, Rev. Stanislaw Frankl. Although enchanted by everything he saw, he was most taken with the beautifully kept park and an old artistically finished chapel. This seminary center was cared for by local nuns, who, in addition to that obligation, also kept orphanage for approximately eighty local children, provided first aid for the villagers and primary education for other children in the village.

As stated earlier, one of the most interesting and admired aspects of the recreation center was its chapel. The Wolanski family first built it in 1696, then after the subsequent fire it was rebuilt and substantially increased in size in 1892. The reconstruction was done under the supervision of the master artist Sandecki of Jazlowiec. To add a more artistic touch, he used the design of the Wilno Cathedral, in northern Poland, and for the altar inside he used a design taken from the Resurrection Church in Lwow. The parish priest held Holy masses there twice a week from Jazlowiec.

An incident gives testimony to how popular the cult of the Lady of Jazlowiec was. It again involves the military - men of the 9th Cavalry Regiment, who were about to go in to the front line against the Germans. Their commander, Col. Klemens Rudnicki, later the hero of the Battle at Monte Cassino and Bologna in Italy, and the last commander of the lst Polish Armored Division in the west, committed the men of his unit into the care of the Lady of Jazlowiec. After the war, in his book "Na Polskim Szlaku" (On the Polish Trail), he stated he believed that his regiment suffered small losses in action against the Germans because they had been committed into the care of the Lady of Jazlowiec.

When the first bombs of World War Two exploded on September lst, 1939, on the western borders of Poland, they were too far away to be heard in the small Podolian town of Jazlowiec. But the sound of church bells echoing their warnings through the valley made the people aware that something unusual and perhaps tragic was unfolding in other areas of Poland. The bells, tolled by Mayor Wladyslaw Kurianski, tried the patience of the church pastor, Rev. Andrzej Krasnicki. He ran out of parsonage, saw the mayor using the church property, and strongly objected to this act of interference by the civil authority. When the mayor explained the reason of his ringing the bells, the good reverend joined hands with the public official to help in sending the message to the people of Jazlowiec. Little did the two men know at the time that neither would survive the war. And little did they know what terrible things were held in store for their town and their people.

 


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