Skip to content Skip to sidebar Skip to footer

The sound of sadness: The story of the Lemko women

Original text in Polish by: Julia Lachowicz

Lemkos love art. Julia Doszna shows this in songs which, because of history, do not wish to be cheerful.

It was hard work, every day digging up beets, spreading manure, milking cows. To kill the boredom and forget about her aching arms and swollen legs, Julia Doszna, only a few years old, listened to nature: the leaves floating above the meadows, the sound of the stream, and the stones with sounds embedded in them. She could hear the rain coming. She sang in the field and while doing housework. And she dreamed that she would be a dancer, a musician, a writer – someone special. Ever since she can remember, she felt marked, created for more than just farming.

Bielanka, a village located in a remote area in the Lower Beskid mountain range in which she lived, did not offer great prospects.

Especially for women. Julia’s dreams were not taken seriously. They were smothered by the harshness of rural life, where deviation from the norm was badly perceived.

Those times were difficult, especially for the Lemkos. Although they were native to this land, most of them were resettled after the Second World War. They were associated with Ukraine: they came from the Carpathians, and their language resembled Ukrainian more than Polish.

During the resettlement operations on the territory of Ukraine and Operation “Vistula” in 1947, 60 percent of Lemkos had to leave their lands. Under the guise of liquidating the Ukrainian Insurgent Army (UPA), over 200 towns were destroyed. This was a pretense because the UPA never reached or received minimal support from many of these areas. The military brutally kicked out family after family, not even allowing them to take their belongings. There are several families in Bielanka, including the grandparents of Doszna, who were saved from the tragedy of resettling to the foreign “Recovered Territories” [western and northern Poland] due to the fact that they had mixed [Lemko-Polish] marriages. Julia learned about the tragic history of the Lemkos as a teenager.

At home, this was not spoken about. Doszna’s grandmother only mentioned sometimes that the only thing left in Bielanka after the deportations was sadness.

And terrible silence. Lemkos are a colorful people, who love to sing, and are also known for their love of beauty and art. Lemko blood flows through Andy Warhol, Nikifor and Jerzy Nowosielski.

As Julia discovered the fragments of this tragic historical puzzle, she felt the injustice more and more, as well as a shame which was difficult to explain that it had not touched her family. After all, she felt 100 percent Lemko. “Resettlement has left me with longing and unimaginable sadness forever,” she says, as tears appear in her eyes. The view of the wild orchards, unkepmt foundations and abandoned stone crosses, for which the Lemkos were known, overcomes her to this day. Only 3 percent of those who were displaced returned to their lands. This melancholy can be heard in her songs.

She always sings in Lemko. She spoke Lemko at home and speaks it with her six children to this day. Although, she says, it is not always welcome. She chooses traditional songs. How does she know them? She just does. When she was a teenager, singing was one of the favorite forms of spending time with her peers. “We were simply drawn to singing,” she says. She sings mainly about love. One of her favorites is the song “Above the High Mountains,” which tells the story of a rebellious girl. Lemko songs are wistful, sentimental, although you can find syncopated rhythms in them. Sung with a pure voice, plaintively and drawn out, they reach the hearts and souls not only of the Lemkos. After concerts, people often come up to Julia and thank her — because she opened them up, she purified the soul, her voice changed “something” in them. “I hope for the better,” she acknowledges. Although Julia Doszna did not receive a music education, she performs all over the world and throughout Poland. “There was no one to teach me in the village,” she admits. And she adds that, for her, singing is the essence of freedom and being 100% Lemko.

Original text in Polish by: Julia Lachowicz

Translation into English by: Diana Reilly


Leave a comment