When I started my family history project nearly four years ago, I knew I had a Polish immigrant grandmother but I had no idea where she came from. Now I’m getting ready to visit her birthplace: Zaliztsi, Ukraine – which she knew by its Polish name, Założce.
When Katarzyna Bosakowska, then 22 years old, left Założce in the spring of 1912, it was a small provincial hub in a remote corner of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, just six miles from the border with Russia. It had a population of just over 7000, comprised of Poles, Ukrainians, Jews, Germans and a smattering of other nationalities, as was typical in the borderlands of central and eastern Europe.
She got out right before life there changed forever.
Two years after my grandmother’s departure, World War I wreaked havoc on Założce as rival armies swept back and forth. By the war’s end, the Empire dissolved and the town found itself within the borders of a newly reconstituted Poland. Over the next two decades, the town recovered from the war and normalcy returned. But in 1939, Poland was wiped off the map yet again. When German troops conquered western Poland, the Soviets quietly occupied the eastern part of the country through a secret deal with the Nazis. Założce found itself under brutal Soviet rule. Two years later, when Germany invaded its erstwhile ally, the Nazis ushered in an even greater brutality, killing all the Jews and deporting and murdering many Poles. By 1944, when the tide of the war turned and the Red Army chased the invaders back to Germany, Soviet rule was restored. In the war’s waning days, Ukrainian militias harassed and killed Poles who had lived there for centuries. With only a day’s notice, the Poles of Założce were “repatriated” back to Poland. Families, friends and neighbors were dispersed all over the country. My grandmother’s two youngest brothers, Stanisław and Władysław, were resettled in two different cities in western Poland, far from their homes.
I’m excited to see where my grandmother came from. But the excitement is tinged with sadness when I think of everything that happened to that little town.
Perhaps for the same reason, it seems my grandmother never talked much about where she came from. When I visited my Uncle Walter (my father’s youngest brother) last year, he told me he always thought his mother came from Poznań, where Stanisław ended up after the deportations. I explained the whole sad story and he knew nothing about it. Later, when we went through a box of old photos, I came across an old postcard of Założce. I showed it to him and said this is where your mother came from. He gave me the postcard, and lots of other wonderful photos, which I cherish.
I am fortunate to be making the trip with a newfound Polish cousin, Dariusz Bosakowski, who has generously helped to organize the journey. Darek is the grandson of Franciszek Bosakowski, my grandmother’s cousin. Franciszek was the son of Karol Bosakowski and Katarzyna Czechowicz. Karol, the younger brother of my great-grandfather Józef, had at least twelve children by my count. five of whom emigrated to America.
On the way to Założce, we will make a stop at the Central State Historical Archives in Lviv. There, I hope to get my hands on cadastral maps that will help me locate the house where my grandmother lived. The family residence is listed in church records as Założce 94. I also hope to meet another Bosakowski I met online, Aleksander Bosakowski, who is a native of Lviv. We have not established the exact family connection but I suspect there is one.
Others who have been to Założce tell me it is “lost in time,” with a smaller population now than when my grandmother lived there. Now inhabited solely by Ukrainians, the institutions of Polish life – the Catholic church and the parochial school depicted in my uncle’s postcard – lay in ruins.
I’m particularly interested to see the cemetery. The last time I was in Poland, I picked up a book called Podróże po cmentarzach Ukrainy – part of a multi-volume set documenting the Polish Catholic cemeteries in the areas of western Ukraine that were once Poland. From the chapter on Założce, it would seem that there is a large cemetery that is kept up reasonably well. I wonder if I can find my ancestors there.