Finding Rześniówka, the original Ukrainian village my great grandfather Michał Oko moved his family to sometime after the birth of my grandmother in September 1921, was no easy feat.
In searching for the village I had initially made the mistake of trying to find it within the current borders of Poland and not the borders of the Second Polish Republic which encompassed western Ukraine, parts of Lithuania, the Czech Republic, Slovakia and Belarus. It was only after researching and getting my head around the border changes that I established that the village had been somewhere in modern day Ukraine. But I was still none the wiser as I found no map I consulted, old or new, detailed enough to pinpoint the village. I was slowly coming to the conclusion that it no longer existed – there just was no trace of any ‘Rześniówka’. However, I naively had not taken into account an alternative spelling or a slight variation of pronunciation. It was, after all, a Ukrainian village.
above: section of a map in Polish showing Reszniówka (circled), Zarudzie to the left and Kornaczówka to the right.
This search took months, if not almost a year (back in the day before handy things like google maps). Meanwhile, my mother had been corresponding with my great aunt in Canada and in a letter she happened to mention her father going to meetings at a nearby town about 7 km away called Zarudzie. This gave me the impetus to start up the search again and it proved fruitful. The spelling was slightly different (Rześniówka was spelt different ways including Reshnivka, Rzeszniówka, Reszniówka and Zarudzie was Zaruddia) but the topography that my great aunt described (a creek running down the centre of the village) indicated that I had finally found the location of the village I was looking for. It was further confirmed once I started reading my grandmothers notebooks. In her account of the deportation she mentions the railway station the family was sent to: Karnaczówka (Karnachivka), 4km away.
This Ukrainian village some 350km away from Rzeszów where she was born became home to Kasia. But what had made her father leave the land his family had worked on for generations and move his wife, baby daughter, his mother and younger brother Józef eastwards?
Above image: Statute dated 17th December 1920 for land distribution to soldiers in the Polish Army.
Michał had been a soldier in the Austro-Hungarian and subsequent Polish army, fighting in both the First World War and the Polish-Soviet War of 1919-1920. He was sent home before the end of the war after being injured in combat and married Maria Halat, my great grandmother.
By this time Western Ukraine had been ceded to the new Second Polish Republic after the Polish-Soviet Riga Peace Agreement of 1921 and Poland began implementing a policy of ‘Polonisation’ in the newly acquired regions. At the forefront of this Polonisation/Colonisation policy was the Polish state’s programme of providing plots of land to former soldiers. Soldiers who had shown ‘exemplary bravery and conduct’ or those who had been injured while fighting at the front were to receive land for free. Others were given the opportunity to purchase land which was paid for through a scheme whereby 30-100kg of rye per hectare per annum would be provided to the State over a thirty year period. As a means of aiding these demobilised soldiers in their undertaking the State was also to supply them (according to the Statute of December 1920 (pictured above)) with enough building material for an 80 metres squared building and two billion marek (Polish currency from 1918-1924) as credit or the equivalent in farming equipment, seeds etc. To what extent these provisions were received by the soldiers is debatable.
The land scheme proved popular, with almost 10,000 applications being made by 1923 according to Polish academic Andrzej Gawryszewski. However only 7,345 applicants received their land, Michał being one of them. He acquired 10 morg (approximately 10 acres) of land and was one of the early osadniks (settlers) who established the Polish settlement of Piłsudy which surrounded Rześniówka. Several hundred of these settlements had been planned in the voivodeship of Wołyn alone, but by 1923 Piłsudy was one of only three Polish settlements established in the province. This policy of Polonisation through what was essentially population transfer had differing degrees of success throughout the decades until the late 1930s. Piłsudy however continued to slowly expand with new osadniks settling in its vicinity. And it was here that Kasia would grow up, knowing this as home, knowing this as Poland.