Saturday, 27 March 2010

Railway history of former south-east Poland

To Warsaw's Railway Museum for the opening of the exhibition Dworce Kolejowe Galicji Wschodniej. (Now there's a word missing in English - wernisaż - 'private view', or 'opening of an exhibition'; OK it's a loanword from French, but still it's a Polish word that doesn't have a direct single-word equivalent in English.) The exhibition* is of photos taken by Marta Czerwieniec of stations in Western Ukraine, which were previously in Poland before WW2 and before WW1, in the Austro-Hungarian Empire**.

Above: Not just anoraks! I met a man in his early 80s (though you'd not believe it looking at him) who was staring at the photos of Sambor station. 'The last time I was here was 70 years ago - on my way to gimnazium (lower secondary school), just after the Soviets occupied us,' he told me. Galicja as a region was the southernmost part of Poland's Kresy or eastern borderlands, the rest being ruled by Russia during the Partitions. After independence, Poland gained large swathes of land from Austro-Hungary and Russia in which Poles were an ethnic minority.

My mother came from the Kresy, though further north than Galicja. And here's where she was from, on a 1939 railway map of Poland (click to enlarge). West of Sarny, there's a station called Antonówka. Just south of there, a place called Horodziec, some 70km (40 miles) from the Soviet border. When the Soviets invaded, my mother and her family were taken from Antonówka by train to Sarny, and then on to the far north of Russia, to a lumber camp.

Above: a map I've never seen before. Published in 1919/1920, before the Bolshevik invasion, it is a map of 'Polish lands' rather than of Poland. While the western borders are as they would be (give and take a few risings and plebiscites), the eastern and north-eastern borders have yet to be established by force of arms. The lady on the left was looking for where her family was from.

"Further east than on this map," she told me.

Below: The museum has some great models. All hand-made from metal, in the museum's own model-making workshop in Jelenia Góra which I visited with the children back in 2001. The museum is a subject I could go on for ages - how it's sited on prime real estate worth a fortune and the political battles to wrest control of the place, and how some priceless exhibits (unique examples of Polish rail technology from the inter-war years) are rusting away exposed to the elements, and how no one in authority seems to care. But I won't (I shall let Dyspozytor do it).

* The exhibition is open to general viewing from today. Click here for details. If this page is not about Dworce Kolejowe Galicji Wschodniej - too late, you've missed it.

** The Austrian Empire (from 1867 to 1918 the Austro-Hungarian Empire) was one of three powers that swallowed up Poland as a result of the Partitions of the late 18th Century. Unlike Russia and Prussia (Germany after 1871), Austro-Hungarian occupation of Poland was less repressive. The empire was exceeding bureaucratic and had 12 official languages.

And thanks to Tomek for getting me an invite!

1 comment:

Robert Hall said...

The Austro-Hungarian Empire and its twelve nationalities and official languages -- thoughts brought to mind, of the splendid novels by John Biggins, first thereof “A Sailor of Austria”: fictional memoirs of Ottokar Prohaska, career officer and submariner in the Austrian Navy in the Empire’s last 15 –20 years. Poignantly nostalgic for the days of the Empire – not because the supposed narrator was a fanatical devotee of the Habsburgs, just because he suspected that anything that replaced them would be no better, and quite likely worse.

In one of these novels, Prohaska recalls that for a while he commanded a submarine whose crew comprised “the full set” of the Empire’s twelve nationalities – plus, as no. 13, a Gypsy with the wonderful name of Attila Barabbas – IIRC Gypsies, having no written language, were not counted officially as a nationality.