The Five Stages Of Belief In Lviv: #1 Obsession – Antoni Schneider & The Encyclopedia Of Everything

A good argument could be made that obsession is little more than ambition taken to extremes, ambition to do something way beyond what has ever been done before. Obsessions by their very nature are all consuming. Thus obsessives find their lives for better or worse (usually worse) ruled by a person or goal they have become fixated upon. The obsession rules the person rather than the other way around. In effect they become a slave to their obsession. At some point they usually come to regret their obsession, wishing they could eradicate it from their thoughts and memory. This is impossible until the obsession has run its course. Obsessives are capable of doing great things, achieving the impossible. Conversely, they are more often than not, defeated by the impossible. The problem with obsessives is that they believe less in themselves, than they believe in their obsession. One of the greatest obsessives in the history of Lviv was a man by the name of Antoni Schneider. He imagined a project of such scale that it scarcely seemed possible. That did not stop Schneider from trying to create and eventually be defeated by The Encyclopedia of Expertise On Galicia.

An Exhaustive Encyclopedia of a Make Believe Province
The Austrian administered province known as the Kingdom of Galicia and Lodomeria was just short of a hundred years old when Schneider announced his project in 1868. While the land that made up the province had existed since time immemorial, the idea of the Kingdom was created from an old and obscure claim made new. The Austrians took the name from a medieval title held by King Andrew II of Hungary who had conquered the region during the 12th century. Though the Hungarian crown lost the land in rather short order, the title came in handy for the Austrians over 500 years later. They felt the need to show a legitimate historical claim to the region. This was in response to the fact that they had taken the region in the first partition of Poland. To rule the inhabitants, they needed legitimacy. Since Austria also ruled Hungary, they decided to excavate the old Hungarian claim to the kingdom from the dustbin of history. The Austrians spent a considerable amount of time and effort recreating Galicia in their own image. In this way they made history and also made it up.

Antoni Schneider

Antoni Schneider – An excessive man with an obsessive mind

A multi-volume encyclopedia cataloging in exhaustive detail every aspect of the province would further legitimize Galicia. Schneider’s idea was his own, but it was certainly informed by this process. The encyclopedia would be a mammoth undertaking. Schneider was to shoulder nearly all of a superhuman workload. It would provide holistic coverage of the province, with everything from history to statistics to scientific topics receiving in-depth coverage. He professed that the encyclopedia was his way of paying homage to his “fatherland”. This seeming labor of imperial love came from a man who two decades before had been part of open rebellion against the Habsburgs. Oddly enough, Schneider was ethnically half-German and half-Polish, but the encyclopedia was to be a Polish language work. This made sense from both a political and readership stand point. Political, since the province had just gained autonomous status. Poles would heretofore be the ruling and administrative class in Galicia. To gain a wide readership it would be written in Polish, since that was now going to be the lingua franca of the province.

A Most Ambitious Madness
One can only speculate to the degree that manic imagination and frenetic energy played a role in Schneider’s conception of the project. He was largely self-taught. Due to family financial woes he was unable to complete high school. For a time he worked as a clerk for a literary journal, gaining some valuable real world experience in the writing profession. Schneider then became caught up in the 1848 Hungarian Revolution fighting on the side of rebellion. This landed him in jail, but it turned into a fortuitous stroke of luck. He shared a prison cell with a Hungarian historian, Joseph Teleki. Their conversations must have encouraged him to do research and learn more about the past. After he was freed, Schneider toured the countryside around Lviv taking an interest in among other things, castles and ruins. Then in the 1860’s he started publishing articles of stories about places in Galicia. This all led up to the encyclopedia that was to provide a one stop resource for detailed knowledge of almost any subject pertaining to Galicia. The fact that one man conceived and then attempted to carry out this idea speaks volumes about Schneider’s mindset.

Cover to Antoni Schenider's Guide to Lwów - published in 1871

Cover to Antoni Schenider’s Guide to Lwów – published in 1871

Unfortunately even the most enduring obsession has its limits.  Schneider openly stated that the project would take thirty years to complete. That turned out to be a low estimate as the actual production of the first two volumes would show. The volume dealing with letter A took three years to write and was published in 1871. In the same year Schneider also published a Guide to Lwów (Polish name for Lviv). The letter B volume appeared in 1874. At this rate the entire project would take another 72 years to complete. In 1874 Schneider was already 49 years old. Sometime during these years it must have dawned on him that there was no way he would ever complete the encyclopedia. The euphoria he had first experienced with his grandiose dream abated. Subscriptions to the encyclopedia lagged. There was a decided lack of public interest. It turned into an all or nothing enterprise. Sure volumes A and B had been completed, but this was only equivalent to less than ten percent of the entire project. What was the use of doing a volume C? It was just another drop of knowledge in an unfathomable ocean of information.

The Darkest Side Of Obsession
Schneider’s dream descended into darkness. It was a failure made that much worse by obsession. His life had become the encyclopedia, without it he was nothing. He was unable to come close to finishing the project, even though he continued collecting information for every subject of note. His information gathering expanded to the history of the Bukovina province, adjacent to Galicia. All of this work has provided a rich archival source that is still used by researchers today, but what good did that do Schneider at the time? His thoughts of the future would have been aligned with the fact that his life’s work could never be completed. In 1880, he committed suicide by shooting himself. This was the final, mortal blow to a dream that had died long before. Schneider had not been able to finish his work, but it had finished him.

The Will To Control – The Austrians Reimagine Lviv’s Rynok Square (Lviv: The History of One City Part 34)

Austrian architecture and culture is often equated with magnificence. Anyone who visits Vienna cannot help but marvel at its many beautiful Baroque buildings, the grandeur of the Hofburg palace, the exquisite culture that gave the world Mozart and Strauss. An air of refinement is pervasive. Conversely, Austrian rule was something altogether different, especially on the empire’s fringes during the 18th and 19th centuries. There was a rage for standardization and control, the imposition of imperial culture, all in the name of civilization. Austrian officials believed it was their mission to bring order and structure to Eastern Europe, no matter the cost in human or financial terms. This was especially true in the newly acquired province of Galicia, which was annexed following the first partition of Poland in 1772. The Austrian rage for order can be understood in the changes that Habsburg rule brought to Lviv (Lemberg in German). This happened most prominently in Rynok Square during the decades after the Austrians took control of the city.

Zukhorovychivska Townhouse at 40 Rynok Square

Zukhorovychivska Townhouse at 40 Rynok Square (Credit: Aeou)

The Will To Create Versus The Will To Power
Today the buildings on the northern side of Rynok Square are lively and colorful, they add to the festive atmosphere of the square. It is hard to believe that by the mid-18th century most of these buildings were in various states of disrepair, with many abandoned and several on the verge of collapse. Then the Austrians took charge, bringing a much needed boost in new ideas. Slowly the northern side came to back life. An architectural rebirth with the Baroque style began to take hold. Take for instance the building at Rynok 40, known as the Zukhorovychivska Townhouse. In 1771, a year before the onset of Austrian rule, the house was bought by a postmaster named Anton Dejma. The following year, a reconstruction of the townhouse took place, updating it with Baroque architectural elements. Four doors down at the Boczkowiczowska Townhouse at Rynok 44, another Baroque restyling got under way in the early 1770’s. This took place after one of the richest men in Lviv, a physician by the name of Boczkowicz, bought the townhouse. These badly needed upgrades helped revive the square’s northern side, but it would be wrong to assume that the Austrian inspired architectural revival was always a shower of festive enlightenment.

The will to control was greater than the will to create when it came to Austrian power in Lviv. The tendency toward standardization influenced the very color of the buildings on Rynok Square. Those brightly painted facades that exist today on the northern side of the square are a throwback to medieval Lviv, when each building had its very own color. This trend was known as Lviv Polychromy. The Austrian administrators banned this aesthetic sensibility and required that all the facades be painted in a dull gray color. The point was to change the look and feel of the city from its former Polish dominated self to a “civilized” Austrian one. Today, this kind of domineering standardization is more associated with Lviv’s Soviet era, but though their ideologies greatly differed, both empires shared an urge to impose their will on many aspects of the city’s look and feel.

Adonis Statue at Rynok Square

Adonis Statue on the northwestern side of Rynok Square (Credit: Jan Mehlich)

It Is Nothing Special – The Austrian Rage For Order
Trends change and so do empires. Unlike the Soviet era which only lasted forty-nine years in Lviv, the Austrian period was three times as long. At nearly one-hundred and fifty years, this time span meant that the dynamic influences of changing artistic and architectural movements such as Neo-Classicism could take hold in the empire. Such trends made their way to Lviv and were showcased in Rynok Square. A series of sculptures featuring classical mythological figures and elegant fountains were installed there in 1815. They adorned the same exact places that the square’s wells had been located. The limestone sculptures allegorically portrayed Diana and Adonis representing earth, and Neptune and Amphitrite representing water. The Imperial Austrians were aligning themselves with the classical world. They saw themselves as the modern version of a higher form of western civilization. This was to be shared or some might say imposed upon the most far flung provincial cities of the empire such as Lviv.

The saying that every crisis is an opportunity aptly describes the cosmetic surgery Austrians did at the heart of Lviv. The Austrians took full advantage of the greatest disaster Rynok Square experienced in the 19th century to give it a transformative makeover, one that continues to inform how Lviv’s most important public space is seen and experienced today.  On a mid-summer’s day in 1826, the Rathaus, (the German word for Town Hall) collapsed. The most important building in the city was destroyed. The nerve center of the Austrian administration had to be rebuilt. The next iteration would be reimagined in an imperious and imposing style. Today, locals in Lviv often refer to the Ratusha (the Ukrainian word for Town Hall) as “a huge and hideous chimney.” As a friend of mine, a native of Lviv, once told me while pointing out the Town Hall (Ratusha in Ukrainian), “it is nothing special.” Architecturally speaking that is true, but Austrian officials were thinking in terms of administration, rather than aesthetics.

The Rathaus was and still is today an embodiment of Imperial Austrian bureaucratic architecture. The construction took eight years, which is not all that surprising since the building contains 156 rooms and 9 meeting halls. Each of its four sides have symmetrical façades. Its square tower, like the rest of the structure, has little to recommend it from an aesthetic viewpoint. The building was meant to be big, not bold, to be functional, not fashionable and act as a symbol of Austrian authority. It did all of these things rather well, a triumph of substance over style.  The construction of the new Rathaus also meant a reconfiguring of the area surrounding it. Houses that had once stood close to the northern side of the old City Hall were leveled as was the square itself. New cobblestones were laid. Rynok Square was now more manageable, more controlled. To the Austrians, order had been made from chaos. The square was now a civilized public space.

Lviv's Ratusha (Town Hall)

“That Huge Hideous Chimney” – Lviv’s Ratusha (Town Hall) (Credit: Oleksandr19)

The Austrianization of Rynok Square
The first Habsburg Emperor to visit Lviv was Joseph II in 1773. On August 1st he wrote his mother and co-ruler, the Empress Maria Theresa, a letter from Lviv in which he said “I already see in advance that the work will be immense here.” And so it was. It took the Austrians over sixty years before they finally got the look and feel they wanted in Rynok Square. By the 1830’s it had been brought into the early modern age and was now an imperial city at its heart. Rynok Square had become Austrianized, its look and feel has largely stayed that way ever since.

Monumental Distortions – The Mickiewicz Column in Lviv (Part Two)

Polish sculptor Antoni Popeil designed what many now call the best Mickiewicz monument in Europe. Popeil’s vision called for a column 21 meters in height, surmounted not by Poland’s greatest poet, but by a flaming torch symbolizing the idea of inspiration. Further down the column stood a 3 meter tall sculpture of Mickiewicz being given a lyre (a metaphorical reference used to show a poet’s skill) by a winged angel, the genius of poetry.  The column would be constructed with Italian granite from Milan, the foundations would be granite and the figures cast from bronze. Popeil had been educated in the Fine Arts in Lviv, Vienna and Florence. He was a highly accomplished artist whose creative talent was nearing its peak.

The winged genius of poetry brings Mickiewicz a lyre on the column

The winged genius of poetry brings Mickiewicz a lyre on the column – Design by Antoni Popeil

Of Ceremonies & Wars – The First Four Decades of Mickeiwicz In Lwow
The design may have been done, but the monument was far from completion. Funds would have to be raised in order to pay for the column. Among the fundraising activities that occurred were theatrical and musical performances, the latter featuring works from famous Polish composers. Jubilee chocolates, stationary and commemorative postcards were all sold to cover construction costs. The city and local population chipped in with important monetary contributions. At this time, 49% of Lwow’s population was Polish and an even greater percentage were Polish speakers since much of the city’s large Jewish population spoke the language. Lwow’s aristocratic and middle classes rallied around the building of the monument. The Mickiewicz column was in essence a Polish monument.

The monument was finally unveiled at a grand ceremony on October 30, 1904. Thousands were in attendance at the event. The city set aside 20,000 crowns for expenditures. Visitors came from as far away as the cities of Krakow, Stanislaw (Ivano-Frankivsk) and Chernivtsi.  None other than Mickiewicz’s oldest son, Wladyslaw was in attendance. The festivities lasted two days with a wide range of events. The ceremony was a signal success. The column was now well on its way to becoming one of the most memorable landmarks in the city. The monument somehow still occupies the same place today as it did in 1904, despite the fact that it was witness to no less than four wars, two of which were among the most violent in human history.

Mickiewicz Column in Mariyska Square, Lwow

Mickiewicz Column in Mariyska Square, Lwow – early 20th century postcard

The Monument Endures, The Polish People Do Not – Creating Lviv
In a bizarre twist, the square in which the column stands was given Mickiewicz’s (Mitskevycha in Ukrainian) name by perhaps the most anti-nationalist regime of the 20th century. After the militantly atheist Soviets occupied the city in the latter part of 1939, they took down the St. Mary sculpture which had adorned a fountain near the Mickiewicz column. They then renamed the square for the great Polish poet. This was done despite the fact that all the while they were carrying out a murderous persecution of Polish intellectuals and crushing nationalist resistance. The renaming stuck. What vanished instead were the Poles of Lwow.

As late as 1944, a majority of the city’s population was ethnically Polish. In the aftermath of World War II somewhere between 100,000 to 140,000 Poles were forcibly relocated to what had once been Eastern Germany, but was now Western Poland. Demographic statistics give a bleak summary of the changes that were undertaken in Lwow. The proportion of Poles in the city dropped from 63% in 1944 to 10% in 1950 to 4% in 1959. Poles did the same thing to Ukrainians in what is today southeastern Poland, but they attempted to resettle and assimilate them (i.e. make them Poles) in the northern and western parts of Poland. Today ethnic Poles are less than 1% of Lviv’s population, but they certainly make up the greatest number of tourists visiting what was once known to them as Lwow. The Polish language can be commonly heard on a summer’s day in the center of Lviv. A city largely defined by Polish culture for several centuries, now only has Polish visitors, monuments and architecture to show for their once outsized presence.

The Mitskevycha Column still stands today in Lviv

The Mitskevycha Column still stands today in Lviv (Credit: Jan Mehlich)

Nationalism In Another Nation
The defining symbol of Polish national feeling still stands with the Mitskevycha column at Mitskevycha Square. If the column has made it this long it is most likely to stay. Anti-Polish feeling in western Ukraine has waned, especially in the face of a growing Russian threat in Eastern Ukraine. The Poles have been strong supporters of Ukrainian sovereignty and independence. Old historical wounds from the World War II era have slowly begun to heal. Mickiewicz is still a symbol of Polish nationalism, but with modern Poland’s increasingly friendly relations with Ukraine, there is no longer a feeling that the monument is an imposition. Now it feels more like a tradition, one that surges through the past and into the present of this beautiful city. Nevertheless, Poles and Ukrainians look up to the column today with very different feelings. To Ukrainians, Mickiewicz and Lwow are a thing of the past. To Poles, Mickiewicz and Lwow continue to be part of who they are.

Click here to read A Monumental Proposal – The Mickiewicz Column In Lviv (Part One)

A Monumental Proposal – The Mickiewicz Column in Lviv (Part One)

For a man who never visited Lviv or as he would have called it, Lwow, Polish poet Adam Mickiewicz sure has a lot of staying power in the city. Mickiewicz is revered as Poland’s greatest bard, a man whose name is synonymous with Polish romantic nationalism. Among his many literary accomplishments, he composed its epic national poem, Pan Tadeusz. His words and deeds have been revered by patriotic Poles ever since the mid-19th century. Because of Mickiewicz’s well-deserved reputation it is quite strange that one of the finest monuments ever constructed to honor him still stands today in Lviv. Placed close to the city center, visible to tens of thousands of Ukrainians that pass by the area on a daily basis, the Mickiewicz column as it is known soars above the urban masses. Even stranger is the fact that Lviv’s Mickiewicz column survived Soviet, Nazi and another Soviet occupation of the city. The fact that it still stands today in a city that now has only a smattering of Poles is nothing short of improbable. To discover Mickiewicz at the heart of what has been called “the most Ukrainian city in the Ukraine” is a strange and fascinating find.

Mickiewicz Square in Lviv - a view from above

Mickiewicz Square in Lviv – a view from above

Partitioned From The Partitions – The Exile Of Adam Mickiewicz
During the late 19th and early 20th century nationalism was rising all across the Austro-Hungarian Empire. As the Habsburgs tried to keep their empire from splintering into many disparate constituent nations they allowed certain ethnic groups to celebrate their own languages, customs and heroes. Ethnic Poles in the Kingdom of Galicia and Lodomeria (present day southeastern Poland and western Ukraine) were allowed self-government. This freedom helped lead to a Polish national revival. Poles controlled the provincial administration in Galicia and were virtually autonomous. They also had the weight of numbers on their side. They made up a majority of Galicia’s inhabitants. In Eastern Galicia the story was different. Poles were the majority only in the city of Lwow (the city was officially known at this time by its German name of Lemberg), Ruthenians (same as Ukrainians) were a large majority of the rural population.

Polish dominance of the growing city of Lwow was good enough though, since it was the home of social, economic and political power in the region. Because of this, it is little surprise that the Poles decided to raise monuments in honor of an exalted national hero in the city. The year 1898 was slated to be a special one for Poles memorializing Adam Mickiewicz. It was the one hundredth anniversary of his birth to a family of impoverished gentry in what is today Lithuania. At that time, the region had just become part of Russian ruled Poland. Mickiewicz would spend his entire life fighting for a reconstituted Poland. This led to a literary life lived largely in exile, first in Russia, then France, Switzerland and back to France. Eventually he would die far from his beloved Poland while in Constantinople.

The childhood home of Adam Mickiewicz in Navahrdudak, Belarus

The childhood home of Adam Mickiewicz in Navahrdudak, Belarus (Credit: Krochmal-commonswiki)

Casting A Memory – An Idea Ahead Of Its Time 
One place Mickiewicz did not live was Galicia. The only time he made a trip into Ukraine was on his way to Crimea during his exile in Russia. Nevertheless, Poles in Galicia had their imaginations captured by his patriotic verse.  They may have been split from their fellow Poles by the partitions, but Mickiewicz’s words united them.  Following his death in 1855, Mickiewicz’s fame continued to grow. Austrian Galicia was home to millions of Poles who revered his life and work. It was also the one region where Poles were given a generous amount of freedom to express their culture. Lwow became the epicenter of a surge in Polish nationalism.

The first proposal for creating a monument to his memory in Lwow was in 1856, a year after Mickiewicz’s death. It would be almost a half-century before the idea finally came to fruition.  Just over four decades later a committee was formed in Lwow to oversee the design of a monument to honor Mickiewicz. To show just how revered a figure the poet was, the committee decided that the winning design would be placed on Mariyska Square (St. Mary’s Square) in the city center. A sculpture of St. Mary, known as the “Mother of God”, that already inhabited the site would be moved to another area of the square to make room for a Mickiewicz monument.

Adam Mickiewicz in his later years

Adam Mickiewicz in his later years

Building Up To Greatness
The committee soon announced a competition for a monument project. The main motif of the monument should be a column in honor of the poet and built on Mariyska Square of our city. The monument must be no less than twenty meters in overall height, and must be made from material that can withstand all changes of our climate – either red or grey granite, whichever the Committee supplies to the artist. In the end, the cost of the monument should not exceed 60,000 golden rynskych, including the material which the Committee will supply. Models or drawings, made to an overall scale of 1:3, should be sent by September 15 of this year. The first prize is 1000 crowns, and the second is 500 crowns.” The winner did not disappoint.

Coming soon – Monumental Distortions: The Mickiewicz Column In Lviv (Part Two)

Mickiewicz Square as it looked in Lwow prior to 1904

Mickiewicz Square as it looked in Lwow prior to 1904

 

An Austrian Misery – The Kingdom of Galicia & Lodomeria (Part One)

The Kingdom of Galicia and Lodomeria, it is a name that gleams and sparkles while rolling off the tongue. The name conjures up images of castles and manor houses, a quasi-magical land. The reality could not have been more different. The Kingdom existed from 1772 to 1918 as part of the Austrian Empire and then as part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. For nearly a century and a half it was a byword for backwardness and poverty, the opposite of modernity. To a great extent such a reputation was spot on, but the wild ideological swings, violence and tumult that befell the area following the Empire’s disintegration made many look back at the Kingdom as a force for good rather than repression, an island of stability in a region that experienced constant upheaval. The truth was rather different, more complex and rather depressing.

Map of the Kingdom of Galicia and Lodomeria in 1800

Map of the Kingdom of Galicia and Lodomeria in 1800 (Credit: TheLotCarmen)

The Netherworld Of Austria’s Empire – A Rural Frontier
Where did that glittering name, the Kingdom of Galicia and Lodomeria come from? It was largely artificial, just like its borders. The idea of a kingdom sounded good, but was really a misnomer. The title implied independence, but there was no stand-alone Kingdom. Put simply, Galicia and Lodomeria were Latinized versions of the names Halychyna and Volyn, the historical regions that made up the territory. Located in what is today southeastern Poland and western Ukraine the territory was taken by the Habsburgs during the First Partition of Poland in 1772. The name they gave it may have been impressive and lent a veneer of sophistication, but it did not change the true nature of the place. The name was symptomatic of what the Habsburgs wanted the place to be, rather than what it was. In 1772 the newly created kingdom had a diverse and complex population of 2.2 million. The aristocrats were Polish, the peasants either Mazurians (Poles of Western Galicia) or Ruthenians (Ukrainians), the Jews low level merchants or poor farmers and ethnic Germans the administrators of this ethnic mix. The aristocratic element made up about 3% of the populace, while the overriding majority of the population consisted of peasants who worked, but had little control over the land. In the late 18th century, seven out of every ten inhabitants of the kingdom were serfs. Rural backwardness was endemic to the region.

Austrian ignorance and indifference toward the area did little to help matters, especially early on. For a place that was always viewed as a netherworld by the Austrians, Galicia was strangely hard to ignore. It was their largest province, with 25% of the entire land base of the Austrian administered portion of the empire. Between 1772 and 1843 the population doubled. By the turn of the 20th century it had risen by another two-thirds, increasing to seven million. At the start of World War One, another million inhabitants had been added. Yet in the decades prior to the outbreak of World War One, Galicia was exporting people by the millions to points all across the globe. The reasons for this were many, but can best be summed up as a lack of opportunity and grinding poverty. Some historians have called Galicia the poorest part of Europe at the dawn of the 20th century. There was even a pejorative Polish phrase that characterized the province’s dire condition, “bieda galicyjska” which translates to “Galician Misery.”

East Galician Peasants

East Galician Peasants

Rich Earth, Poor People – The Galician Conundrum
In actuality, Galicia was not the poorest part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire when it came to income. Eastern Hungary had a lower average income per person, but Galicia’s personal income level was not much higher. It was on par with Transylvania. This is deceptive. Average income is just that, an average. Income of the elites can pull the average up. The major difference between Galicia and a place such as Transylvania was that the latter had large tracts of inhospitable, mountainous land with its more fertile areas plagued by an extremely short growing season. Conversely, Galicia was blessed with bountiful land, an astonishing 96% of which was considered productive. Half of the province contained rich black earth, ripe for agricultural fertility. Unfortunately, the archaic socio-economic system made the entire province a developmental disaster. Caught up in this disaster were its people.

At the top of the pecking order were the landed gentry, a ruling class made up almost entirely of ethnic Poles. They controlled the most fertile agricultural land and almost all of the forests. In the mid to late 19th century they also managed to gain control over the political apparatuses of the province. Following the defeats of Austria in Italy in 1859 and the Austro- Prussian War of 1866, power was decentralized in order to keep the empire from falling apart. Galicia was given a wide degree of latitude in managing its own affairs. The Polish ruling class took advantage of this to entrench their power base. All laws made in the province were almost entirely to their benefit.  Language laws were constructed to benefit the Poles. In 1867 the official language of the schools became Polish, 1868 it became the official language of the courts and then in 1869 the official language of the province. That did not mean that all Poles were aristocrats, far from it.

Ruined castle of the  Potocki family - Polish aristocratic residence in Pomorzany, Eastern Galicia (Western Ukraine)

Ruined castle of the Potocki family – Polish aristocratic residence in Pomorzany, Eastern Galicia (Western Ukraine) (Credit: Замок в Поморянах)

Land Without Livelihood
In western Galicia, a majority of the Polish speaking population were peasants, but Polish speakers, whatever their socio-economic status had many more opportunities. Eastern Galicia’s population was made up of predominantly Ukrainian peasants. In the first decades of the 20th century “only” two-thirds of Galicia’s Poles were involved in agriculture, whereas 94% of Ukrainians were still working the land. Meanwhile hundreds of thousands of Jews lived in towns and cities or immigrated. Many Jews were involved in money lending, which made them especially reviled by the impoverished peasants who became deeply indebted to them. They took out loans in order to survive, but often ended up losing the only thing they owned, land. What was a peasant without their land? In Galicia that was a question no one, ruling class nor subjects, could answer.

Coming soon: An Austro-Hungarian Tragedy – The Kingdom of Galicia & Lodomeria (Part Two) 

The Real Ghosts Of Galicia – Pidhirtsi Castle (Part Two)

Paradoxically it was the loss of Polish sovereignty that brought the longest period of prosperity to Pidhirtsi and its inhabitants. A long era of peace set in after the Austrian acquisition of southeastern Poland in 1772. By the end of the 18th century Poland had ceased to exist, but the Polish aristocracy remained. It was during this time that Pidhirtsi thrived as a residence par excellence. Visitors could enjoy a private zoo, several gardens and parks on the grounds. The castle’s interior was an exquisite series of eye popping chambers, including the Knights Hall, Golden Hall, Chinese Room and others named after a full spectrum of colors. The Green Room functioned as a virtual art museum unto itself with over one-hundred paintings covering its walls. The castle’s interior also held several hundred portraits. Floors were covered in marble tiles and each had a fireplace built from the same. Wild parties took place with an orchestra and theater on offer to entertain deep into the night. A guest inn on the castle’s west wing housed the visiting gentry. The glittering glory of Pidhirtsi later attracted such famous visitors as Emperor Franz Josef and Kaiser Wilhelm to the castle. Pidhirtsi was an immaculate conception of style, grace and culture for the Polish aristocracy of Galicia. Like everything else in this land, the First World War would prove its undoing. The long period of peace was lost forever to the outbreak of war. The grand balls and famous denizens at Pidhirtsi were forgotten in a matter of months as the echo of artillery grew louder by the day. This ominous manmade thunder shook everything in the area to its very foundations. Was the castle to be sacrificed on the altar of a worldwide conflagration?

A Path To The Past - Pidhirtsi Castle and surrounding grounds

A Path To The Past – Pidhirtsi Castle and surrounding grounds

Conflicted History – A Modern Thirty Years War
Pidhirtsi’s location in the borderlands of Eastern Europe had nearly been its undoing in the 17th century. The long period of peace as part of the Habsburg ruled province of the Kingdom of Galicia and Lodomeria turned out to be the golden age of the castle’s existence. When Austria-Hungary entered the First World War, Pidhirtsi was suddenly at the very center of conflict in Galicia. An era of unprecedented tumult was now inaugurated in what would become one of Europe’s deadliest regions during the first half of the 20th century. Thirteen of the next thirty-one years would be consumed by war. The castle was directly in the line of fire, quite literally. The Austro-Hungarian Army converted it into a headquarters for its 5th corps at one point, but this was not before the Russian Army had thoroughly looted the castle. The castle straddled the front lines for long periods of the war’s first two years. Amazingly it somehow avoided being shelled into ruin. That did not keep the Russians from knocking the insides of the castle out. Tiles were pulled up and walls torn down. Incredibly, despite the destruction Pidhirtsi suffered, the castle was re-occupied by a Polish aristocratic family following the Soviet-Polish War, that little known conflict whereby Poland saved Europe from a widespread communist revolution.

The years between the wars were a period of disquieting, uneasy calm. Seen in retrospect, this period was a last, final grasp at restoring the castle’s former greatness. This could not last. Pidhirtsi was part of inter-war Poland, caught between the hammer of Nazism and the anvil of Communism. To further complicate matters, its own backyard was a simmering cauldron of Ukrainian nationalism. When the Second World War broke out the owner of the castle, Prince Roman Sanguszko did the most prudent thing possible, he made himself and the last treasures of the castle scarce. They ended up in the safest place possible, half a world away in Brazil. When the Nazis took over the area, they found Pidhurtsi useful, as a place for their sick to convalesce. This may have healed physical wounds, but not the self-inflicted ones of an evil ideology. Fortunately the Nazis became like everything else at Pidhirtsi a thing of the past, only to be replaced by Soviet totalitarianism.

The Past Is Not What It Used To Be At Pidhirtsi

The Past Is Not What It Used To Be At Pidhirtsi

A Wayward New World
The German Jewish philosopher Hannah Arendt famously theorized that German Nazism and Soviet Communism had more in common than not, both were equally tyrannical. When it came to their utilization of Pidhirtsi their commonalities were eerily similar. The Soviets also used the castle as a sort of hospital for those with tuberculosis. A trivial detail perhaps, then again it seems quite telling. The fact that both totalitarian systems could find no better use for what had once been an unparalleled palace of art and culture than a home for the wounded, sick and infirm says more about these two ideologies than any number of history books. They were trying to build a whole new world, but compared to what had once inhabited Pidhirtsi, it was nothing more than a decadent and depraved shadow world.

Try as they might, the Soviets could not totally destroy the essence of Pidhirtsi, but nature and neglect nearly did the job for them. In 1956 a bolt of lightning set the edifice alight. Flames of impure fire burned the structure for three weeks straight. And yet the castle survived, albeit with innumerable scars. Now a mere shell of its former self, Pidhirtsi still maintained enough presence that its preservation was proposed by citizens of a new nation that would inherit this grandiloquent semi-ruin. Ukraine was born from the ruins of the Soviet Union, now Ukrainians would try to resurrect a past that had never been their own. It was decided in the late 1990’s that Pidhirtsi was a heritage worth securing for posterity.

Many Windows Into the Past at Pidhirtsi Castle

Many Windows Into the Past at Pidhirtsi Castle

The Ghosts of Greatness
For the first time in its 350 year history the castle was turned into a museum, the Lviv Gallery of Painting, named for that famed city, ninety kilometers to its southwest. Restoration work began in an effort to restore the castle to at least a semblance of its former glory. The problem is that there is too little money in Ukraine to ever truly recreate Pidhirtsi in the image of its former glory. Perhaps this is best, since the aged, beaten look of the structure communicates the depth of history the castle has endured. The fact that it has outlasted every one of its owners and all of its conquerors is astounding. Unfortunately the depth and breadth of its past is often overlooked, obscured by a popular fixation with the legendary “Woman in White.” The tale is taken seriously by many. If only the rest of Pidhirtsi’s history could engender the same interest and recognition. The castle may be informed by myth and legend, but at its core is a history of both light and darkness much more fascinating than anything supernatural. The spirit of Pidhirtsi goes beyond ghosts, to a profound past that tells the story of a region, its struggles to survive and a beautiful, lost legacy.

Click here to read Ghost Stories: Pidhirtsi Castle (Part One)

How A Resurrection Really Feels – Lviv’s Lychakiv Cemetery

The most instructive textbook covering the last two-hundred and twenty-five years of Eastern European history is not written on paper, but in stone. The western Ukrainian city of Lviv, home to some of the most atmospheric architecture in all of Europe, is also the location of one of its most fascinating necropolises, Lychakiv Cemetery. Cemeteries are built to memorialize the dead and Lychakiv is full of mournful statuary and sculptures, but it is also a place filled with the passions of life. These passions exhibited good and evil, idealism and radicalism in unwavering fervor to the most extreme ends. There are perpetrators buried here who were party to unspeakable crimes in the service of empire, royalism, nationalism, fascism and communism. There are victims buried here who suffered in the name of these same ideologies. Heroes and villains, the famous, infamous and anonymous all ended up together in Lychakiv. Their lives and deaths have become a lesson to the living of what human beings can become. A walk through Lychakiv is not just a stroll through the past two centuries of this fated city’s history. It is also a window into the soul of humanity, for better and worse.

You Will Never Walk Alone - Into Lviv's Past at Lychakiv Cemetary

You will never walk alone – into Lviv’s past at Lychakiv Cemetery

Where A Whole World Resides
The arched neo-Gothic entranceway to Lychakiv is a portal into a world of kaleidoscopic diversity. Plots and graves, tombs, chapels and mausoleums of every size, shape and configuration imaginable are packed together as thick as the foliage which consumes many of them. Many of these graves are architectural wonders in their own right. The juxtaposition of good and evil, vanished magnificence and depraved fanaticism can often be found interred and sometimes memorialized within a whisper’s distance of one another. Up and down uneven pathways, shaded by gigantic trees, illuminated by shafts of sunlight are the graves of Polish aristocrats and Soviet apparatchiks, Polish and Ukrainian nationalists, Ukrainian soldiers past and of the near present, soldiers of the SS Galician Division and the Red Army, all opposing each other in silence. Ukrainian and Polish literary heroes, Armenians, Orthodox acolytes, Greek Catholics, Roman Catholics and the Lwow Eaglets, that flower of Polish youth who fought for Lwow in the hopes and dreams of the Second Polish Republic. Victims of Fascism and Communism now rest side by side with little to distinguish them. For all of this haunting presence there is also the disturbing, ever present absence of Lviv’s once thriving Jewish community. And so it goes on and on. This is the way of Lychakiv, a way the world of Lemberg, Lwow, Lvov, Lviv once was and still is to a limited extent. The diversity of souls is much like itself, where patterns appear and disappear. A world where colleagues became enemies and cowards were turned into heroes, a space filled with dashed hopes and soaring dreams. Lychakiv is a place that is present inside all who live and breathe. This is where a whole world resides.

Stepping out of death and into life at Lychakiv

Stepping out of death and into life at Lychakiv

Beginnings Of An End – The Creation Of Lychakiv
Lychakiv, like all cemeteries is supposed to be about ends, but what separates it, is that it can cause an examination of the means that were used to achieve those ends. Yet this cemetery also had to have a beginning.  Despite its ancient and timeless feel its start occurred in neither medieval nor renaissance times. This seems a bit odd in a city that is known for its antiquated, rustic architectural aesthetics. Central cemeteries for the city’s dead were first conceived in the early modern age of the late 18th century. Up until its conception, the dead were buried adjacent to churches. The idea of large cemeteries away from the city’s urban areas was conceived to help protect the living from the dead. Bodies left in the open or given improper burials often lead to periodic epidemics which could demographically devastate the populace. At this time Lviv (then known by its German name Lemberg) was under the rule of the Austrian Habsburgs. They had taken control of Galicia in 1772. One usually does not relate cemeteries to modernity, but Lychakiv was a way to clean up and modernize Lviv. It would help bring the city up to standards of urban hygiene that were the rule in central and western Europe. In 1783 a decree was issued by Lviv’s authorities that banned burials within the city limits. Three years later, designated areas were set aside for burials, one of these was Lychakiv. In 1787 the first burials took place at what was then known as Lyczakowski Cemetary. The name was Polish, as were most of the inhabitants of the city at that time. Poland was in the process of being partitioned and would no longer exist as a political entity by the end of the 18th century. The city and cemetery were overseen by Lviv’s authorities. Many of these authorities would be Poles themselves, they continued to dominate the city even after Poland ceased to exist as a political entity.

In silences they speak - statuary outside a tomb in Lychakiv

In silences they speak – statuary outside a tomb in Lychakiv

Speaking In Silence
Death of empire, republic and ideology has been as much a part of life in Lviv, as the Lychakiv cemetery has been part of death in the city for over two centuries now. Poles may have been a majority in the city for much of this time, but they like so many others have now all but vanished from Lviv. This is nothing new or out of the ordinary for this place. No one ethnic group or nationality has been able to hold sway over Lviv in either living or dead form since Lychakiv came into existence. Just the same as no one group holds power over the past here. In this cemetery, permeated by so many silences, everyone seems to have a say. In Latin or Cyrillic, in German, Polish, Armenian, Ukrainian and Russian the names engraved in stone are what is left of the dreams, passions and folly from the vast waves of humanity who tried to control this astonishing city in an accursed region. Lychakiv today is a testament to the fleeting nature of power and passion. It exists, not so much to memorialize death, but to remember and contemplate life. Here in Lychakiv, is how a resurrection really feels.