hidden europe 6

Naturally, no-one asked...

by Nicky Gardner


hidden europe recalls the peculiar history of life in some communities along the Ukrainian-Polish border

There are some places you go to and other places you merely go through. Rava Rus'ka is most definitely in the latter category. Armies have trampled through aplenty, and then, at the end of the second world war this one-time Jewish shtetl found itself no longer in the middle of Poland but on the country's eastern frontier. Under the terms of the 1945 Potsdam treaty, Poland acquired a great swathe of new territory at its western margin, but gave up lands that, on the whole, lay east of the old Curzon line - the arbitrary pencilled line sketched on a map by the then British Foreign Secretary Lord Curzon a quarter century earlier. Naturally, no-one in Rava Rus'ka had ever heard of Lord Curzon. What they did know was that their little town, which had always made a good living from its location as a way station on the main road between two great Polish cities, was suddenly on the edge of things. Few travellers now took the route from Lublin to Lwów. For Lwów, in what had been Polish Galicia, was under the new order now very firmly part of Ukraine. The onetime Polish city adopted the Russian name Lvov. Just sixty kilometres away, but, being on the other side of the border from Rava Rus'ka and in a country that was part of the Soviet Union, quite another world.

Things were tough in Rava Rus'ka. The prewar Jewish population of over six thousand was gone, most of those who had not fled earlier being shipped in 1942 to the Nazi death camp at nearby Belzec. The main street of Rava Rus'ka was derelict, and in the months after the war the place filled up with repatriants, Poles from further east who were slowly making their way westward to what were euphemistically called the 'recovered territories' - the new Polish lands in Silesia and along the east bank of the River Neiße. Some would-be repatriants only made it as far as Rava Rus'ka and never went a further step westwards.

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