Dawn and Walter’s trip to Poland and Slovakia. July 9, 2018 – On to Slovakia.


We met Lucjan in the dining room around 7:45 and again had the huge breakfast buffet set out for us. We made sure to take advantage of what was set out, though I steered clear of the pâté and pork jelly. Walter and I ate a more traditional American breakfast and Lucjan, in what I am assuming was a more European way, had his breakfast, maybe including the pork jelly. No matter what continent we had come from we all indulged in the baked goods. Walter and Lucjan had discovered the joys of a Nespresso commercial coffee machine, one in which the coffee has the cream added at just the right temperature to create a masterpiece of coffee the day before. This morning they again made good use of it and by the end of our breakfast they were both suitably caffeinated and ready to go.

The route of the third day of the tour.



In our “team meeting” the evening before we decided we would head out a little earlier since I wanted to find Jan Stapiński’s grave in Krosno before we heading to Slovakia. We planned to leave around 8:30 and though we had good intentions we checked out around 8:45 and headed to Krosno. It seemed as if we could head cross-country to the cemetery but Lucjan preferred to follow the route that he remembered and the one that Betty-ski2 (not to be confused with Betty-ski) seemed to be heading us on (obviously, we had never come up with a more original name then that for our GPS) in our rented Citroën C4 Picasso.

Our rented car.

After a short time on the road Betty-ski2 announced that we should make a right, but Lucjan chose to head in the direction that he remembered. That kind of made Walter, who I lovingly refer to as “Mapman”, slightly nervous. He worried that we were either 1. Headed in the wrong direction or 2. Headed out of our way and would be wasting time. This scenario played out a couple of more times before we eventually made a right turn coming out of a round-about that Lucjan remembered and seemed to be headed in the right direction. I breathed a sigh of relief, thank heavens.

After a short while we reached the town sign for Krosno and shortly thereafter the cemetery, Cmentarz Komunalny Krosnie. When we got out of the car and walked into the cemetery I became concerned that we would be using up a lot of valuable time finding the grave as the cemetery was much larger than I had anticpated. We decided to divide and conquer the space, with each of us walking through the area looking for Jan’s grave. Fortunately, after just a few minutes of doing this we noticed that there was an office in the cemetery and we were hopeful that they could direct us to the grave. Lucjan headed up to the office and Walter and I wandered around looking at the well-maintained cemetery. We couldn’t have gone more than 3-4 yards when amazingly we noticed right in front of us was the grave that we had been looking for. At that exact minute Lucjan returned with the directions to that grave. Maybe it was Jan helping us to find him.

Jan Stapiński’s grave.

Jan Stapiński’s grave was quite large. There was a plaque on it and a large granite planter that had flowers growing in it. Like the other cemeteries that we had been in in Poland most of the graves were decorated with many flowers and lanterns. In addition to the planter Jan’s grave had a small flower arrangement and two lanterns. At that time, I really regretted not buying some flowers from one of the two flower shops that were along the road in front of the cemetery. I thought that perhaps we had missed the chance to pay respects to not only Walter’s great-uncle but to a man who was a political force for change in the lives of the peasants of Poland before World War II (WWII).

Jan Stapiński’s memorial translates to:
Official of the People
Publicist and Envoy
a Co-Founder of the Popular
Movement in Galicia,
the president of PSL (Polish People’s Party) and PSL-Lewica (Polish People’s Party “Left”),
a Long-Time Editor
and Publisher

of “Przyjaciel Ludu” (friend of the people)


From there we started to walk towards the car when I noticed a small more secluded area of the cemetery. For some reason I felt drawn into it and took a detour from the path. At first, I noticed a large stone with an urn and then I noticed a memorial with names listed on the side and a symbol that I was not familiar with. This symbol I came to learn is the Kotwica (anchor). It was a WWII emblem of the Polish Underground created in 1942.


The following information was taken from Wikipedia as an explanation.

It was created in 1942 by members of the Armia Krajowa (Home Army) Wawer Minor sabotage unit, as an easily usable emblem for the Polish struggle to regain independence. The initial meaning of the initials PW was Pomścimy Wawer (“We shall avenge Wawer”). This was a reference to the Wawer Massacre (December 26-27, 1939) which was considered to be one of the first large scale massacres of Polish civilians by German troops in occupied Poland.

At first, Polish scouts from sabotage groups painted the whole phrase upon walls. However, it was soon abbreviated to the letters PW, which over time came to symbolize the phrase Polska Walcząca (“Fighting Poland”). Early in 1942, the AK organized a contest to design an emblem to represent the resistance movement, and the winning design was created by Anna Smoleńska, a member of the Gray Ranks (an underground paramilitary Polish Scouting Association) who herself participated in minor sabotage operations, by combining the letters P and W. Smoleńska was arrested by the Gestapo in November of 1942 and died in Auschwitz in March 1943, at the age of 23.
The Kotwica was first painted on walls in Warsaw as a psychological-warfare tactic against the occupying Germans, by Polish boy scouts on 20 March 1942.

Kotwica – an emblem for the Polish struggle during WW2

On 27 June 1942 it was used to initiate a new form of minor sabotage. In order to commemorate the patron saint’s day of the Polish President Władysław Raczkiewicz and the Commander-in-Chief, Władysław Sikorski , members of the Armia Krajowa in Warsaw stamped several hundred copies of the German-backed propoganda newspaper, Nowy Kurier Warszawski (The New Warsaw Courier), with the Kotwica. This became an annual event during the German occupation. In its first year only 500 copies were stamped with the emblem, but this number grew to 7,000 the following year.
On 18 February 1943, the Armia Krajowa’s commander, General Stefan Rowecki, issued an order specifying that all sabotage, partisan and terrorist actions be signed with the Kotwica. On 25 February, the official organ of the Armia Krajowa, Biuletyn Informacyjny, called the Kotwica “the sign of the underground Polish Army”. The emblem gained enormous popularity and became recognized throughout occupied Poland. During the later stages of the war, most of the political and military organizations in Poland (even those not related to the Armia Krajowa) adopted it as their symbol. It was painted on the walls of Polish cities, stamped on German banknotes and post stamps, printed on the headers of underground newspapers and books, and it also became one of the symbols of the Warsaw Uprising (the letters P and W are also abbreviations of Wojsko Polskie (“Polish Army”) and Powstanie Warszawskie (“Warsaw Uprising”).


After having visited Auschwitz and Birkenau earlier in our trip, I felt particularly raw and sad when viewing this secluded area. Lucjan then explained that we were seeing memorials to people who had served in the Polish Armia Krajowa and had died in Auschwitz as a result. Although the crypts were full sized I wondered if they were empty as it is hard to believe that the Nazis would release bodies of dissidents. After taking a moment to think of the enormity of the sacrifices that so many had made for their fellow Poles and their country we had to move on toward Slovakia.

As we headed south I started to think about how lucky we had been to find so many cousins of Walter’s and like I had told Lucjan the evening before I hoped that we hadn’t used up all of our “luck”. I also was thinking about how beautiful Poland was and wondered if Slovakia could stand up to the comparison. Maybe I would be sorry that we didn’t spend all our time on our genealogical trip in Poland.


As we crossed the border into Slovakia at the Barwinek-Vyšný Komárnik crossing I started to feel even more unsettled. We stopped at what had been the border crossing station as the sky started to turn gray. The concrete building looked as if it was right out of a movie set in the USSR, old and depressing. Lucjan entered the building to convert his cash from Polish Złoty to Slovakia’s, and the most of the European Union’s, Euros. As he walked toward the building I could feel my stomach start to churn.

Barwinek-Vyšný Komárnik border crossing.


We left the crossing and headed further south until we came to the first petrol station in Slovakia. It was crowded with trucks, cars and a large group of teenagers milling about. My imagination started to go wild. Why were those teens there? Were they going to cause trouble? We filled our tank and pressed on, without incident. Real life 1, crazy imagination 0.

Quickly the skies began to clear, and my mood improved. The landscape became much like the one we had just left in Poland, rolling hills with small villages and farms scattered around. Lucjan had mentioned that we would see several areas where old Red Army tanks were sitting on concrete platforms and as we came upon them all that I could think of were the old Communist ways. Back to feelings of trepidation about Slovakia, why after decades of repression would they continue to memorialize Communism? I came to find out that these were monuments to the WWII Battle of Dukla Pass, which was the largest battle, in terms of casualties, that was ever fought in Slovakia. This battle which took place in the summer of 1944 was between the Soviets, who had been asked to assist the Czechoslovakian government and the Nazi forces. 138,000 people were killed, went missing or were wounded in just 50 days. Though the initial Soviet plans had been for the operation to take place over the course of five days, instead it took 50 and the nearby valley became known as the “Valley of Death”.

Old Red Army tanks.


We finally arrived at what Betty-ski2 told us was the address for the state archives in Prešov. It seemed unlikely that we were at the right location as the building before us was a Roman Catholic church. We got out of the car and walked around a little and then discovered a small sign near an archway. We walked through the arch and found a building that was attached to the back of the church, perhaps a former monastery, or Catholic school. We pushed a buzzer and we were let into the building. Following the signs we were led upstairs to the actual archives. There Lucjan, in his best Slovak which he and others insist is very similar to Polish, explained why we were there. The woman that was working in the archives was all business, she handed Lucjan an index and a form and on it he requested a microfilm which had births and marriages for Veľký Šariš, the Roman Catholic church that was the “home” church to the satellite church that my father’s family the Jaczkos (Yatskos) attended.

State archives in Prešov.

I had known that my two times great grandfather György Jaczko had been married before he married my two times great grandmother Anna Novotny but had never been able to find the record. Lucjan was able to find on that microfilm that he had been married to an Anna Vanyo first. György in order to keep his life simple, I am assuming, after Anna Novotny died from typhus went on to marry again, this time to an Anna Jakabcsik. Three marriages, three Annas, I am sure there is a joke in there somewhere. Things were starting to look up in Slovakia and I was starting to feel like I could relax a little. I made it my mission while we were there to win over the woman who was working there, every time that she would be in the room or that Lucjan would speak to her I would smile and look her in the eyes. She never really returned my smile, but I did find that she eventually looked back into my eyes,
which made me feel as if we had connected on some level. A victory!

One of my questions that I hoped to resolve when visiting Slovakia was how the Gretjak (Graytok/ Burdis) family was related to me and we thought perhaps the visit to the archive would be the place to figure this out. We have always “known” that they were relatives, from things that members of the family had said to my dad, but I had been unable to figure it out. Unfortunately, this was one mystery that survived the trip, try as we might after looking through records at the archive we were unable to find a connection.

By the time that we left the archives it was 2 o’clock and we were all feeling hungry. We drove to Veľký Šariš and came upon a place that we all know too well, McDonald’s. We decided that this would be a quick and easy lunch, and it would give us the opportunity to see how different they are in Slovakia. The restaurant was larger than most McDonald’s in the states, and like the McDonald’s we had seen earlier in our trip in Poland, it had a bakery where fresh baked goods were available. The guys order hamburgers for us and I bought large chocolate chip cookies either for dessert or to snack on later. Having eaten our fill of American fast food we decided it was time to check out Medzany where the Jaczkos had lived.

Betty-ski2 again took us for a “ride”. We could have driven right through Veľký Šariš, gone up the hill, gone partially down the hill, and we would have been in Medzany. No, this easy route was not to be. Instead we drove out of Veľký Šariš, through lovely farm land, then we made a left, towards an industrial looking area, around the industrial looking area, through a farming area where there were endless and beautiful fields of sunflowers in full bloom. From there the road went from paved to unpaved, and then became more like a bicycle path then a road for cars. Like our crazy trip into Kombornia with Sue we got a laugh out of it. At one point we were so concerned that we were going to end up in a middle of field we stopped some folks who were walking and asked them if we were headed to Medzany. Though it was hard to believe, they said we were. Things started to look up when we spied a cemetery. Having had such great luck with the cemeteries in Poland we decided to stop, take a look, and maybe, just maybe, there might be someone there to talk to. The cemetery was not as well cared for as the ones that we had seen in Poland but there were several graves of Jaškos that seemed like maybe might be a connection. No one was around so after photographing several headstones we got back in the car hoping that we could find someone to talk to. Be careful what you wish for.


Up the road just a short trip we saw an older man sitting in a chair, behind a fence. After having so
much luck in Poland stopping and asking folks about names we thought this might just be the perfect
guy to ask if he had heard of my family. All I can say is poor Lucjan, the man, who later told Lucjan
that he was schizophrenic, was very glad to talk. In a combination of Slovak, German and English I
heard him talk about smoking marijuana, being a chauffer for the leader of Czechoslovakia, a CIA
agent, and having been interrogated by the Germans for being a spy. He wouldn’t stop talking and
Lucjan being the polite man that he is, wouldn’t just cut him off and walk away. As the conversation
between the two grew longer I noticed three men that were a few houses away. They kept looking
down the street, sometimes looking at Walter and I in the car, sometimes looking at Lucjan, but always
wearing a smirk on their faces and shaking their heads. Finally, after what probably seemed like
an eternity for poor Lucjan he was able to make an excuse and although he walked to the car to leave I
know that in his heart he was running.

We drove up the street to where the three men were standing and Lucjan asked them if they recognized any names that we were searching for. While we were there the man down the street came through his gate, and all I could think of was that he was headed up to tell more stories, but fortunately he stopped and returned through his gate and into his yard. Though the three men couldn’t offer any assistance with names they did tell us that the cemetery we had been in was an Evangelical (Lutheran) cemetery and therefore we realized probably not occupied by my Roman Catholic family.

After asking around a little we located the town’s offices and walked in to see if anyone recognized the names Jaczko or Galata. The reason for researching Galata was George Jaczko, my great-grandfather had a half-sister, Borbála/Barbara, that married Andrew Galata. When George died in 1955 Borbála/Barbara his obituary stated that she was still alive. Borbála’s granddaughters told me that they visited Slovakia in the 1980s and family was living there then. Unfortunately the grand-daughters did not remember their names or where they lived.

Galata was not a name that the women in the office were familiar with, but they did know that there was a man who lived at number 125 in the town by the name of Jaczko. We started up the hill to possibly stop and visit the Jaczkos but realized that the time when the parish office in Veľký Šariš would be closing was fast approaching. We then decided that we would take a ride to the Roman Catholic church, the church of St. James, in Veľký Šariš to see if there might be someone who could help us with the records that are kept there. This time instead of taking the off-road route Betty-ski2 took us up over the mountain on a beautiful scenic trip between Medzany and Veľký Šariš. As I mentioned before my family had lived in Medzany, and there was a Roman Catholic church there, All Saints Church which was built in the 14th century on the remains of a monastery. However, as we found out, it was a satellite church of the larger church in Veľký Šariš, which explains why the records would be kept there and why when we visited the state archives in Presov the records were recorded under Veľký Šariš.

All Saints Church.


All Saints Church.

Šariš Castle.


We parked in what ended up being a retirement home run by the church and walked towards the church. This is when we discovered that the Parish office was in a separate building. Posted on the door were the office’s hours of operation and that’s when we realized that we only had 15 minutes to hopefully find some piece of information that would point us in a direction to find relatives. We walked into the building and to the left was an office where a young man was speaking to a man behind the desk, we waited our turn and when the young man left the office the man behind the desk motioned us to come into his office and shut the door. Lucjan started explaining why we were there- after repeating it so many times I am sure he could tell the story in his sleep. The man reached behind his desk in to small storage cabinet and pulled out old church record books. Lots more talking went on and then he started going through the records. At that time Lucjan turned to us and said that “Father will be checking the records for us” I was so surprised, here was a young man maybe in his very early 30s dressed like he was ready to go out on date, and he was the parish priest.

Father Martin Štieber started scanning through the records and before too long our 15 minutes were up without finding anything pertinent to my family. When Lucjan mentioned something to him about the time to close the parish office Father just waved him off. They continued looking through page after page of information and finally they located the marriages of Borbála in 1903 and her daughter Anna to Jozef Molčan in 1928. Father Štieber seemed to be enjoying himself and he kept at it up until there was only 15 minutes before he had to conduct an early evening mass. During all the time that Father Štieber and Lucjan talked and went through the registration books Walter and I understood nothing they said, except for one thing. Lucjan must have asked Father a question and the response as clear as could be was “Google maps”. We all had a great laugh over that. When our time was up I offered Father 20 Euros and he said “no”, then I said that it was “for the church” and when Lucjan translated it Father accepted our donation.

We walked across the street to the gothic Rímsko-katolícky kostol svätého Jakuba, St. James church which had been built in the mid-1300s. The bell tower had retained its original gothic look while the chapel had undergone remodeling in the 1700 and 1800s that given it a baroque appearance. The entire church grounds were surrounded by a high wall on which the stations of the cross were placed. Walking into the grounds after passing through an arched entryway I was struck by how very peaceful and quiet it was with the sounds of the town being blocked by the walls.

The preparations for mass had started and people had entered the building and were singing. Lucjan and I crept to the front of the building and he was able to photograph a few things including the baptismal font. Father Stieber had explained to Lucjan earlier that the font was from the 1300s and had been recently restored. It was very cool for me to think that I was looking at the font that had been used to baptize several generations of my family, probably going back at least to the late 1700s.

Restored baptismal font from the 1300s.


After checking out the church and the square area we decided that it was time to go check into our hotel and hopefully find somewhere to have a real Slovakian meal.

Betty-ski2 kicked into gear as we headed to Penzion Šariš Park, where we would be staying that evening. After looking at the map I now know we could have taken the road that ran in front of St. James church, across the river, and then followed it until we would make one turn that would take us to Penzion Šariš Park, but that would be too simple. Instead we made turn after turn through the city eventually ending back on the original road from St. James.

After our tour of Veľký Šariš we arrived at the Penzion. The building was hot and as we were registering I started thinking of the unlikelihood that we would have an air-conditioned room that night. To my surprise, we lucked out again, we had a room with A/C! Also, there was a restaurant on the premises that served Slovakian food which meant no driving around trying to find something. We carried our bags up to our room cranked up the A/C and then met in the restaurant.

The menu at Šariš Park was 17 pages long and I am pretty sure that the translation from Slovak to English had been taken word-for-word from Google translate. There was pork jelly, a “slaughter plate”, a” little baked pig”, stimulants (condiments), and homemade graves. We had a chuckle at the menu and then asked Lucjan what he would be ordering, hoping to use him as a clue on what to eat. He had chosen the Šariš farmyard plate salty version, which we asked him to describe. Try as he might he couldn’t really come up with an explanation of what Slovak dumplings, which the menu called Halušky, was that we understood. We told him what halusky is in Pittsburgh, but he said that this was different. Walter and I decided that no matter we would give it a try. I chose to have the Šariš farmyard plate three mix and Walter chose the Slovak dumplings Halušky with original Slovak cheese “bryndza” with butter on top.

To drink we remembered that Marisuz had talked about the Šariš beer so Walter and I ordered a draft and Lucjan got a bottle to have for later, after he talked to his family in his room, and he ordered a Kofola to drink with dinner. Kofola is a Slovakian competitor of Coke and Pepsi, Lucjan told us that he always orders them in Slovakia because he thinks it is even better the name brands. The beer was actually very good, great recommendation Mariusz! As we drank our beers and Kofola and discussed our plan of attack for the next day our dinner was served, and it was wonderful. My dinner consisted of Slovak Halušky which is like a small potato gnocchi, the Bryndza sauce is made with cheese that is made from sheep milk that has a slightly pungent taste and is melted. Sprinkled over the top was very thick cut diced bacon. Along with the Halušky there was pirohy that was filled with Bryndza and large flat rectangular egg noodles that had sauerkraut on them. It was a carbohydrate lover’s dream meal. What I thought was cool was the beer was a perfect accompaniment to the cheese. I was a believer in Slovak food.

Halušky with original Slovak cheese “bryndza”.

After such a filling meal and before we slipped into a food coma we said our good nights and headed up to our nice cool room for some picture posting and then sleep.






Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *