Today started very slowly and painfully due to full and enthusiastic participation in vodka bottle passing tradition at the harvest festival. Thankfully, we had the good sense to have cousin Danuta’s daughter, Paulina, drive us to our hotel last night and she picked us back up in the morning so we could retrieve our car. Before we left I explained to Danuta that I wanted to walk down to the river and grab some rocks for Dad’s rock polishing machine from the river bed – and I’m glad I did.
The short walk to the river (basically just across the street and down a little path) reminded Danuta of a story about her family in WWII. As we neared the river, she pointed to a spot in the river bank that is grown over by brush and explained that a now filled in cave carved into the river bank is where her father and older siblings lived during the Second World War.
Although she was born several years after the war, she was told that the Germans kicked her family out of the house in which Wojciech Michnal and her father (Wladislaw, Wojciech’s younger brother) grew up. Apparently, the Germans and then the Russians after them took whatever they wanted from the house and left very little when they retreated.
The Wisloka River, which separates Zarzecze from Debowiec, flows from the mountains toward Jaslo, and is very pretty and serene at this point of the year. Normally the river is a bit more lively and deep but Poland has been hit by drought and the rivers are far below their normal levels. Danuta said she had never seen the ridges in the river bed that are exposed now. It’s so shallow that I can walk nearly all the way across without wading deeper than my ankles.
On the walk back, we stopped and spoke to Danuta’s neighbor who is also related to us. She spoke of another cousin of ours, Franciszek Michnal, who was the son of Wojciech Michnal’s uncle Stanislaw Michnal (and therefore my first cousin, three times removed) who was rounded up with others in the village by the Germans and sent to Germany to perform slave labor for the Third Reich. After the war, knowing that life was not too pleasant under the Russians, he went directly to US and settled in Detroit. I will have to research further what happened to him.
After returning to Danuta’s, we said our goodbyes and promised to return someday soon. I was sad to leave the ancestral home town of the Michnal family but excited to explore grandma’s side of the family. We then packed up our things and started our journey west toward Krakow and the Nowy Sacz region which would be our base camp as we explored the ancestral birth places of Jan Paruch and Agnes Rosiek. We decided to take a circuitous route, however, so that we could check out the mountainous border between Poland and Slovakia and visit a UNESCO World Heritage site in Slovakia, the medieval town of Bardejov, Slovakia.
First, we stopped near the border of Slovakia at one of the many WWI cemeteries in Poland. Much of the heaviest fighting during the First World War took place in Poland particularly in the mountain passes near Zarzecze. In fact, Austria finally turned back the Russians in Limanowa, about 10 miles from the home town of Agnes Rosiek. It is fascinating to see that these cemeteries contain the graves of soldiers from both armies and that Poles fought for all three of the countries that occupied Poland: Austria, Prussia, and Russia. Notice the monument to the Russian soldiers uses the Easter Orthodox type cross while the Austrian uses the more familiar Catholic version.
After our brief stop in Bardejov, we proceeded to Zmiaca and Rozdziele the home towns of Agnes Rosiek and Jan Paruch respectively. Despite the fact that they emigrated a dozen years apart and that they apparently met first in Detroit, Agnes Rosiek and Jan Paruch grew up a mere 9 miles away from each other in Poland. Both towns are nestled in the rolling hills/mountains and one can’t help think of the beautiful vistas from the Sound of Music in this area. It is incredibly beautiful here and things must have been pretty dismal economically/politically for anyone to ever leave for an uncertain life across the ocean.
Note from PolishOrigins: If you are interested in World War I in Podkarpacie district, read another article on our blog: War cemeteries in Western Galicia.