Yavinsky Ancestry Trip
June 7-17, 2016
My sister, Arline Corcoran, and I enjoyed a fabulous roots trip, June 7-17, 2016 to Poland and the Ukraine.
The trip resulted from Cindy’s involvement in Ancestry.com. After posting our family tree in Spring 2015, I was contacted by phone on August 6, 2015 (I’ll always remember the date) by Irek Jawornicki, currently living in Zielona Gora, Poland. He had hired a genealogist to locate his great grandfather’s brother, Grzegorz Jawornicki, who immigrated from Ulucz, Ukraine to the USA in 1906. Irek subsequently provided documents (which I also received from US Archives) that “proved” to me that “Grzegorz Jawornicki” did arrive in Connecticut in 1906, had his name “changed “ at Ellis Island to “Harry Yavinsky”, became a citizen in 1939, legally changed his name to Harry Yavinsky, and is our grandfather. For whatever reason, perhaps from not hearing much of the story, my father never revealed much to his 6 children. Thus, the surprise of the call from Irek. I do remember growing up that someone would tell me my “real” name was “Myroslaw Jawornicki” (Cindy says I would not have gotten past 1st base!!).
Over the 10 months since the initial call, Arline and I planned the trip to meet relatives we never before knew existed. In September 2015, Arline, another sister Louise, and I met Irek’s sister, Natalia, in NYC, where she was visiting friends who also worked for Ashland Oil. And, what a meaningful experience! Natalia is fluent in 5 languages! We each received a 12-foot long draft of the Jawornicki Family Tree that Irek and Natalia had worked on for 3 years, but did not have a lot of correct detail on Harry Yavinsky’s family.
Some background: When Harry left Ulucz, Ukraine in 1906 at age 24, emigration was an escape route caused by high taxes, decreased farm plots, little food and the malnutrition of the Ukrainian peasantry. More than 600,000 Ukrainians left the Galician area in the 25 years prior to WW I. Prior to 1945, Ukraine was a part of many countries—Lithuania, Poland, Russia, Austria-Hungary, etc– claiming independence on a few occasions, but never for an extended period. At the Yalta Conference in 1945, southwest Ukraine was given to Poland. This area incorporated the town of Ulucz, Harry Yavinsky’s hometown. In 1947, all homes in Ulucz were burned to the ground by Polish and Russian military in payback for the Ukrainian Insurgents Army (UPA) constantly on the attack for the treatment received from Poles and Russians. The UPA and their families were sent to the Gulags, the balance of the population, including the Jawornicki family, relocated to western Poland to land formerly German territory given Poland in 1945. The only remaining structure in Ulucz in 1947 was a Ukrainian Orthodox Church, built in 1510. In 1991, after the fall of the U.S.S.R., Ukraine finally achieved its independence.
For the past 17 years a reunion is held in Ulucz. Attendees include current residents (maybe 100), those Ukrainians displaced in 1947 to various locations in Poland, and others related to Ulucz through ancestry. Arline and I planned our trip to coincide with the Reunion.
Our journey begins as we settle into the Hotel Wyspainski adjacent to Old Town Krakow. To acclimate to Krakow time, we walk to the Market Square, the major gathering place, and enjoy our first dinner at Max 18 of herring and pierogies. (A more detailed description of Market Square will follow)
We have planned two full days of touring Krakow with a knowledgeable guide, Jakub, recommended by Tom and Nancy Garson (Tom is a Trinity fraternity brother and classmate). Jakub had recently completed an ancestry research for Nancy, doing a complete, terrific job.
During World War II, Krakow was spared destruction since the German Governor General, overseeing the entire region that included the concentration camps, was headquartered in Krakow.
Under Jakub’s guidance, we walk and exploreThe Parkland that surrounds the Old Town, a.k.a. the Planty, is the site of the wall that protected the Old Town. We approach the Barbican, 1498-99, a
round bastion that protected the north entrance to the city. The Barbican was situated so the attackers were exposed to the defenders arrows (shield carried in left hand). Passing through the 14th C. St. Florian’s Gate, we view a bronzed plan of the Old Town and a remnant of the city wall that protected against Turk and Tatar invaders;
We approach Market Square on Florianska Street, the Royal Way where the nobility resided. At the top of the street is the Czartoryski Museum that houses a da Vinci painting—Lady with an Ermine (1489) and a Rembrandt—Landscape with the Good Samaritan (1638). There are 32 churches in the Old Town and 142 in the City (2nd only to Rome).
Market Square: the 1267 charter given Krakow determined the medieval city plan that set the location for this 200m x 200m square. The square is bordered by wonderfully designed townhomes above stores/restaurants and “is the place where Krakow lives”.
The Cloth Hall, located in the center of the square, has existed since the reign of Kazimierz in the 14th C. The current structure was commissioned by Sigismund the Old. Originally a covered market, it is
now a stone structure with an internal passageway providing stalls for amber jewelry, carpets and souvenirs;
The Basilica of Saint Mary (1355-mid 15th C.), built to rival the Royal Cathedral on Wawel Hill. Each day on the hour, a bugle-call is made from the tallest tower that ends abruptly before completing the verse to commemorate a bugler in the Tatar invasion who was pierced with an arrow while making the call. The interior of the Basilica is beautiful, including the wood-carved high altar by Veit Stoss, 1477-1489, measuring 36’ x 39’ and the expressive, stone-carved Slacker Crucifix (1496), also by Veit Stoss;
The 10th C. Romanesque St. Adalbert’s Church that preceded the Square but anchors a corner;and, the 14th C. Baroque Town Hall Tower.
Approaching St. Francis Basilica, the Franciscan Church, begun in 1255, rebuilt after the Swedish invasion in the 17th C. and again in 1850 after the great fire, we pass the former residence of Pope John Paul II when he was Archbishop of Krakow. Prominent features in the Franciscan Church are two stained glass windows by Wyspianski, one titled “Let It Be”, an image of God the Father emerging from the cosmic chaos, the second of Blessed Salomea, a peasant who became Queen of Hungary and, upon the death of the king, joined the convent of Poor Clare. Both are beautiful.
On our way to Wawel Hill, we pass through the new! campus of the 650-year old Jagiellonian University, founded in 1364 (2nd oldest university in Europe). Copernicus and John Paul II are noted graduates. The university currently has 40,000 students.
We approach Wawel Hill on Kanonicza Street. The houses on both sides are residences for Catholic hierarchy, the Archdiocesan Museum and John Paul II Center. Wawel Palace is easily viewed from afar. During WW II, it was the headquarters of the Nazi Governor General. We climb the walkway and pass the statue of Tadeusz Kosciuszko, hero of both the American Revolution and the Warsaw insurrection of 1794. His ashes along with the sarcophaguses of the most prominent leaders of Poland are in the Cathedral. Hung above the entrance to the Cathedral are the bones of an “ancient creature”, with the legend that the end of the world and the collapse of the Cathedral will occur when the bones fall. Walking the inner courtyard of the Palace, we are told there is a powerful energy field in one corner that is one of 7 points on the earth where a chakra energy field exists (a Hindu concept).
Our morning tour ends!!!
Our afternoon is at the Wieliczka (veel-eech-kah) Salt Mine. Started in the 11th C., this mine was granted a charter in 1290. Over the years of operation, the mine provided as much as 1/3 of Poland’s income. This mine stopped producing in the 1960’s. The mine tour shows the statues, chapels and altars built by the miners out of salt to pray for protection against accidents. The salt pieces are spectacular. In addition to religious sculptures, there are sculptures showing how the salt was mined and transported out of the mine by horse; some horses never saw the light of day. The tour has us walking down 350 or so meters (a 10 story building) but we elevator up!! The timber support structure, especially when looking up from the lowest level is truly amazing.
We end the day with a quiet dinner. We are exhausted and cancelled our dinner with friends from New York who are also attending the Ulucz reunion.
We are up early and ready to continue our touring today in Kazimierz
(kah-zhee-mezh), the Jewish section of Krakow. The town was established in 1335 by King Kazimierz with its own town hall and a defense wall. In the 15th C., because of a major fire in Krakow blamed on the Jews, the then king moved the entire city’s Jewish population here and the separate nature of Kazimierz became more pronounced. The town was administratively integrated into Krakow in 1791. Both Jews and Poles existed harmoniously. After WW II, the area deteriorated and became a dangerous neighborhood. From an original 65,000 Jewish residents, today there are 200. After 1989, the area started to clean itself up, primarily due to its close in location. Real gentrification began in 2000; our guide, Jakub, has moved his family here.
We begin our tour at the Jarden Bookshop, an original in Kazimierz. Walking through the bookshop alley, we enter the town square. Jakub has us tour his favorite restaurant that has existed through the generations. Our next stop is Remu’h Synagogue founded in 1553 and dedicated to the Rabbi Moses Remu’h, a great author and philosopher. Adjacent to the synagogue is Remu’h Cemetery also established in 1553, but closed due to capacity in 1800. Tombstones that were destroyed by the Nazis have been used to construct a wall at the cemetery. We then note Helena Rubenstein’s childhood home.
Jakub takes us to Isaak’s Synagogue, built between 1638 and 1644 as a foundation of Isaak Jakubowicw. This is especially significant because Isaak is Nancy Garson’s 9th great-grandfather who was a moneylender to the king. Inside the synagogue are prayer paintings on the walls for those who couldn’t afford prayer books.
When the Nazis took Krakow in 1941, the Jews were told to take all their possessions, including furniture, and relocate across the Vistula River to an area called Podgorze. Non-Jews were relocated from Podgorze. From here, the Jews were transported to the camps. Today, in Ghetto Heroes’ Square, is a memorial consisting of empty metal chairs to remind us both of the fate of the Warsaw Jews and the fact that the Jews were forced to carry all their belongings including furniture to give a false sense of security and cover up their inevitable death. In the corner of the square is a pharmacy, the Pharmacy Under the Eagle, where a Catholic pharmacist and his staff remained in Podgorze and aided and hid Jewish victims of the Nazis.
We are off to Schindler’s Factory Museum. Oskar Schindler, a German businessman, saved over a 1000 Jews from the gas chamber by employing them in his factory and claiming they were essential to his business that benefited the Nazis. An opportunist, he purchased a Jewish factory that manufactured pots and pans and later began producing armaments for the Nazis. When the Soviet army approached Krakow, Schindler gained permission to move his factory producing armaments and listed over 1000 Jews essential to the production effort. He succeeded in the move effort, but somehow, with the new production, the armaments were faulty! The museum reflects “Krakow during the Nazi occupation 1939-1944”. Having again recently viewed the film Schindler’s List, the tour brings accurate reflections. Really well done.
We finalize our Krakow touring with a trip to Auschwitz/Birkenau. Auschwitz I opened in 1940 on the site of former Polish army barracks, and buildings were added in 1941. Initial prisoners at Auschwitz I were professionals including teachers, government workers, doctors, etc, regardless of faith. (One of the Jawornicki family, a teacher, was killed at Auschwitz I). Auschwitz II/ Birkenau was built as a death camp with 4 gas chambers and a death capacity of 10,000 daily. A total of over 1.1 million were killed at Auschwitz I & II. A plan existed to build Auschwitz III, a chemical manufacturing facility, but was never started. We toured just Auschwitz I and skipped II. Walking under the gate “Work sets you free” and visiting the various barracks and the gas chamber with explicit descriptions is heart wrenching. The only reason to do so is to understand the horrifics of WW II, the Nazi regime, and the suffering of the Jewish population.
From Krakow, Cousin Irek meets us and drives us to the Sanok/Ulucz area where Irek’s Mom, Stephania, joins us. Along the way, Irek has several extended conversations with Arline in the back seat by turning around and almost facing her, and cruising around 120 kl/hr.!! One conversation covers the phrase we’ve used forever “myas piet nosum yitz” that Irek can neither understand nor translate. He believes the proper phrase is “mijesz poiesta”. We check in to the Jagiellonski Hotel in downtown Sanok, about 30 miles from Ulucz; an alternative accommodation is a “campground” with “A” frames. Our hotel is aged but large comfortable rooms and, we find out, a good breakfast. Off to Ulucz for a quiet evening of conversation and home cooking at the Jawornicki “vacation” home. Everyone is impressed with what little Ukrainian I learned for the trip (from Pimsleur).
There are currently about 30 houses in Ulucz, maybe ½ are permanent residences. From the house, the San River is visible. Most of the land along the San is farmland, leased to tenant farmers. I believe I heard Irek say he owns about 200 hectares along the San plus another nice parcel where he built a rental house. And, Stephania mentioned her cousin who lives a short distance away, the Polanskys; yes, “Roman Polansky’s family”.
Irek picks us up for the first reunion day and we get Peter Wolf and Christine Griffith from Hastings on Hudson, NY. Christine’s grandfather was born in Ulucz and was a local Ukrainian Catholic priest. He was killed in WW II. Her father was born in an adjacent town and he emigrated to America around 1938. Peter is an attorney and Christine an architect, both solo practitioners. (I should note that when the Ukrainian Orthodox Church agreed to join the Catholic Church under the Pope, two provisos were that priest could marry but could not become a Bishop, and many of the Byzantine traditions in the church service would be retained.
We begin the Reunion with two religious services; one at the site of the peasant slave emancipation, where Ulucz family members who have passed were remembered, the second at the site of a church burned by the Russians, now a cemetery. Two local priests and the area Bishop, all Catholic, conduct both services. The services hit an emotional cord with me, probably from the funeral services for Grandpa and Granny Yavinsky (I was an altar boy with cousin Steve for Grandpa’s funeral). The phrase “hos po de pomillo” (spelled phonetically) is one I clearly remember from 50+ years ago; I think it means “Lord have mercy”.
We adjourn to a picnic/barbecue for all attendees. There are 80 attending the picnic including 6+ from the USA. Along with others, we are interviewed for the “Reunion video”. A real fun affair with drinking, singing (two groups from the local Orthodox Church), good food (we cook our kielbasa on a stick over the campfire), and something from a bottle that no one asks what it is!!! The highlight is the Jawornicki
Family photo with Irek, sisters Natalia (Daria) and Aleksandra (Ola), parents Stephania and Edward, and Arline and me. Back to the family house for more food, Ukrainian folk songs accompanied by Irek on the accordion, and lots of laughs (all night long, Eddie would say “I love you, my cousin!!) Both Irek and Edward do not read music and have learned to play the accordion by trial and error.
The final Reunion day begins with a visit to the Museum of Folk Architecture. This open-air museum is very well done, exhibiting 17th to 19th century peasant village homes, farms and workshops. Many of the homes/workshops are around a central square. We visit a shop where an artist creates iconostasis paintings; Arline must have one. An iconostasis museum is a highlight, featuring the 4 tiered, early 17th C. altar from the Ulucz church. We complete our tour in a horse drawn buggy, visiting the manor house (1861), a peasant home incorporating the barn into the house, and the village Orthodox Church.
From the museum, we head back to Ulucz for a Mass at the Church built in 1510, the only building that survived the demolition of Ulucz by the Russians in 1947. Access to the church is a tough climb up a 35-degree dirt path through the woods, but well worth the effort. In the area surrounding the Church is a cemetery where Teodor Jawornicki- Irek, Ola and Daria’s grandfather- is buried. He was considered by the Russians to be a member of the Ukrainian Insurgent Army (UGA) and was shot in 1946.
Following the 2-½ hour Mass is a bandura concert . The bandura is a 35-65 string instrument and is the national instrument of Ukraine.
We are off to the family house where we feed the “bandura people” and the local priest. We roll out the Family Tree (now 15 feet long) and discuss how to improve the overall layout as we add more family. The current Tree begins with our 3x great grandfather (1775) to my 2 year-old granddaughter, Juliana Grace Yavinsky.
On the way back to Sanok and our hotel, we stop at the local priest’s church. He is typical of many Ukrainian Catholic priests, having 3 parishes, is married and has been a priest for 26 years.
We are up at 6AM for the drive to Lviv, Ukraine with Irek and Stephania. Our hotel has prepared a travel breakfast so we are ready to go. We anticipate a delay crossing the border into Ukraine since there is a border guard strike. However, we experience no problems at the border since we are able to use the EU lanes (the returning Ukrainians look to have a 5+hour wait). Along the way into the city, we have a must stop at the UPA (Ukrainian Insurgent Army) monument honoring Stepan Bandera, its leader. We arrive at the Panorama Hotel in time to meet our guide Irene for a 4-hour walking tour of the Old Town.
We cross the street from our hotel to the Lviv Opera House. (We will go inside the Opera House the next day as it is closed on Monday, but will report here). On the exterior are statues to Comedy and Drama. The entrance hall is dramatic as is the main performance hall. And, somewhere along the way, there must be a reflection photo. The plaza at the entrance has an attractive fountain.
Our next stop is the Catholic Cathedral with its beautiful, highly decorated interior. The Armenian Cathedral had a most interesting painting: the funeral of an obviously religious man with the artist as a pallbearer and several ghosts or souls of saints walking in the procession.
Two artistic pieces are next on our tour. First is a “ladder to no where” reminding us of a poster we have by Georgia O’Keeffe; the second is the “Smile Monument”, a smiling bronze fish with hands extending from its body.
Farther on, we enter the Jewish Quarter with a destroyed synagogue under construction, and a building with a dragon protruding from the exterior that breathes fire each evening.
We complete our walking tour by passing a building housing a chocolate factory with a very interesting façade, the private chapel of a wealthy Hungarian, and a couple street sculptures. Arline may have a few answers as to what she found in the gentleman’s pocket!
We are impressed and positively surprised by Lviv. I head off with Irek, and meet up with Stephania to exchange my “Ukrainian” shirt.
Tonight is dinner with family and meet Irek’s soon to be fiancée, Khrystia. The best food is the borscht—absolutely delicious. I must add we were exposed to salo, a Lviv delicacy that is basically pig fat. It was served braised to eat with kielbasa, and softened as a dip with bread; think lard!!
We wake to our first day of rain, but plan to meet Irek and Stephania at noon after checking out of the hotel as we will take the 11 PM overnight train to Warsaw. It is museum day with our first stop at the National Museum featuring the “largest exhibit of icons in the world”. Our guide does an excellent job covering the exhibit, which, if done on our own, would be very confusing. Never would we have described one icon as their “Picasso”.
We wander through the Opera House, plus a few museums, stopping for a taste test at the “coffee museum”. It is a slow day, but after dinner, we arrive at the train station and say goodbye to Stephania, Khrystia, and Irek. I have fortunately bought the third bunk in our private car; it’s tough to figure how three people would fit, let alone one get into the middle bunk!! An hour or so into the trip, we clear Ukrainian and then Polish customs. After both, an agent pounds on the door with the excuse “he just wanted to see where the Americans were!”.
The train arrives Warsaw on time and we are met by Cousin Natalia. After a delicious breakfast at Natalia’s condo and relaxing, we’re off to the Polin Museum of the History of Polish Jews from 966 to 1989. Our guide is Kuba, recommended by our Warsaw guide, Jakub; Kuba proves to be excellent.
The Museum is located in Warsaw’s prewar Jewish neighborhood and the site of the Warsaw uprising, facing the Monument to the Warsaw Ghetto Heroes of 1943. The museum first opened in 2013, but was fully completed in October 2014. Sam Kassow (Trinity-1966) played a part in the research for the museum as a member of the Core Exhibition’s academic team. The Polin’s exterior wall is Hebrew and Latin letters of the word Polin. The central feature of the building is its huge entrance hall with a high undulating wall. The empty space is a symbol of cracks in Polish Jewish history. I suggest the shape was reflective of the Red Sea parting.
The Core Exhibition’s 8 galleries are very roomy, easily understood, and track the 1000 year history of Polish Jews through their growth to the largest concentration of Jews in the world, through their almost entire annihilation in the Holocaust, and their lives thereafter. The 8 Core galleries are:
1. Forest: Fleeing prosecution in Western Europe, Jews enter Poland
2. First Encounters (Middle Ages): Meeting a Jewish diplomat from Cordoba.
3. 15th & 16th C.: How the Jewish community was organized and its role in the Polish economy. We learn that religious tolerance created a Jewish paradise.
4. The Jewish Town: 17th & 18th C. up to the partitions.
5. Encounters with Modernity (19th C.): Covers the time of partition and the Jewish involvement in the industrial revolution. Also covers the emergence of anti-Semitism.
6. On the Jewish Street: The period of the Second Polish Republic or a second golden age for the Polish Jews. Highlights Jewish film, theatre and literature.
7. Holocaust: German occupation of Poland and the deaths of 90% of the 3.3 million Polish Jews. History of the Warsaw Ghetto. Also covers the horrors of the non-Jewish majority of Poland
8. Postwar Years: Following 1945 when most of the Jewish survivors emigrated from under Soviet rule and the state sponsored anti-Semitic campaign in 1968. Beginning in 1989, covers the revival of a small but dynamic Jewish Community. Really, an outstanding museum; highly recommended. A quiet dinner tonight with Daria and Ola.
Our final day in Poland is spent with guide, Kuba, touring the many Warsaw sites. The capital of Poland was moved from Krakow to Warsaw in 1596. Except for a Catholic Church with the highest tower, the entire city was destroyed/leveled by the Nazis in 1945. Warsaw today has a number of high rise office buildings and hotels (the tallest building is the Palace of Culture and Science, built by the Soviets in the early 1950’s—“a gift from Stalin the people of Warsaw couldn’t refuse”) and, reflects its capital city image (about as different from Krakow, where there was no destruction reflecting an old world atmosphere, as one could imagine).
Our tour begins at Lazienki Park and Museum. Here, we are first introduced to the Chopin benches. These are marble benches where at the push of a button, a Chopin piece is heard! Warsaw is very proud of this native son and Kuba emphasizes that Chopin is not French, as many believe, but Polish.
Following our walk through the park, we tour the National Museum. A most interesting exhibit is a replica of the Cathedral of Pachoras from the 8th century. Polish archaeologists stopped the Aswan Dam (Nile River) construction in the late 19th century “knowing” an antiquity was buried by sand at the site. They discovered the Cathedral and removed the wall paintings, which are shared by Poland and Sudan.
We walk past the “palm tree” (a fake but, “if Jerusalem can have palm trees, why can’t Warsaw”), up Nowy Swiat (the high rent retail street), and enter the Church of the Holy Cross (1778), famous for the tomb containing Chopin’s heart. Outside this church and a few others is a copy of a painting by Canaletto showing the respective street scene with the recently completed church.
We approach the Old Town, stopping at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, walking past the University, the President’s Palace, and Pilsudski Square (Pilsudski led the 1920 Miracle on the Vistula battle that forced the Russian Bolsheviks out of Poland). Kuba points out the narrowest townhouse in Warsaw-6 feet! At the entrance to the Old Town is a 72-foot pillar upon which stands Sigismund III, the Polish King who moved the capital to Warsaw in 1596.
On the square is the Royal Palace, completed in the 14th C. and rebuilt after its destruction in WW II. The Palace was originally both the king’s residence and the meeting place of the parliament, and is now a museum but with many original furnishings (hidden away when it was evident the city would be destroyed). The museum contains many late 18th century street scene paintings by Canaletto as well as the heart of Thadeusz Kosciuszko, a hero of the American Revolution.
We conclude our trip with another family dinner with Aleksandra and Natalia, and some sad goodbyes.
Arline and I enjoyed a most meaningful trip, visiting Krakow and related sites, but especially spending time in Sanok, Ulucz, Lviv and Warsaw with newly-discovered
family. It is truly mind boggling that just 10 months prior to our trip, no one had any knowledge of the other. Thank you Ancestry.com.
As I said at the beginning of the DVD, Arline and I have opened the door to extended family. We encourage you to follow us.
N.B. It is acknowledged that throughout this summary there are passages that have been taken directly from published sources.