Three Stories of Galicia – Graduate Student Reflection

Written by: Urszula Biegaj

Three Stories of Galicia, a documentary about the recent history of a very old region, showcases three extraordinary people and their truly amazing stories. The screening, co-sponsored by REEEC, was held in the Knight Auditorium of the Spurlock Museum last week and it was undoubtedly enjoyed by all in attendance. Galicia is a region whose history is filled with war, violence and much shifting of its populations. Olha Onyshko’s documentary puts a personal touch to the sadness people of the region have experienced, but also shows the hope and happiness they have to live by in order to survive.

The first story is about a Jewish boy and his two neighbors, a Pole and a Ukrainian. Aharon Weiss and his family had to rely on their Ukrainian neighbor to hide them from the Nazis, as the other Jewish families in the neighborhood were rounded up and sent off to their deaths. They miraculously survived with the help of their neighbors and were able, in turn, to repay the favor when it was needed. Next, the audience learns about Olia Ilkiu and her involvement with the
Ukrainian nationalist movement after the Soviets took over Galicia. Her story is extraordinary in the fact that she refused to waiver from her beliefs about what was right in the face of an uncertain future. Finally, the third story is that of Father Bartminski, a priest from the small town of Przemsl, which saw much ethnic strife among the three groups living there. His mission has been to bring dignity back to the memory of the Poles, Ukrainians and Jews who used to live in
the town.

Although my interests lay in Poland and its history, I am sad to say that I did not know much about this topic before watching the documentary. Territorial and ethnic disputes are not unknown in this area of the world, but it is so important to know personal stories in order for that history to survive, be remembered and, most importantly, be understood. Olha Onyshko, one of the directors of the documentary, was in attendance at the screening and had a lot to say about this topic. She mentioned the recent book by Timothy Snyder, Bloodlands: Europe between Hitler and Stalin, as one of the only well-circulated resources on the topic. She admitted that when she started the project with her colleague, she really did not know what to look for; as a result, they ended up with much more than just three stories. An audience member asked her what she would do with the stories that they did not use in the documentary. Onyshko said they wanted to develop an online database and make it publicly available for people to use, to hear the stories and understand the history. I think this is a wonderful idea, and I hope that Onyshko will be successful in that project.

Urszula Biegaj is a 2nd year MA student interested in REEE history, languages and cultures. She received her BA in 2009 from Loyola University Chicago in History and International Studies. She is a child of Polish immigrants and so has a special attachment to Eastern European culture and history. After receiving her MA she will pursue an MS in Library and Information Sciences. She plans to continue studying Turkish and hopes to add more languages to her repertoire.

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