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Karolina Korsak

Karolina Korsak: Church in Polany

  • Artist: Karolina Korsak
  • Title: Church in Polany/Cerkiew w Polanach; Post-Memory Parishioner; Church in Kunkowa/Cerkiew w Kunkowej; Distant Grave, 6" x 4", 2015
  • Materials: Encaustic on wood panel

Church in Polany/Cerkiew w Polanach/Церков в Полянах (top left):

The church of St. Michael the Archangel in the hamlet of Polany in Poland is one of about 50 wooden churches in the Lemko region of the Wooden Architecture Route in Małopolska – an extensive tourist destination. This Route is compelling through its detailed mapping and information about uniquely wooden heritage sites (including Greek Catholic and Orthodox churches), and attracts 400,000 tourists each year.

The region that it encompasses witnessed the tragedy brought on by the forced relocation and cultural devastation of the Lemko population during Poland’s 1947 Operation Vistula (i.e., Akcja Wisła). During this Operation Lemkos were ordered to leave their homes in a matter of hours, and were packed onto trains for Northern Poland. Some were brought to Jaworzno or Thalerhof concentration camps. The tension of such sites is evident in that the tourists often do not realize that many of these Greek Catholic churches – distinct by their onion domes and iconostasis – have been destroyed completely, while many others have been taken over by Roman Catholic diocese, as is the case of this church from 1820. The attempt at heritage memorialization is hence bittersweet: the building is there but the parish is long gone.

Post-Memory Parishioner (bottom left):

This work voices the question posed by a youth of the post-memory generation after a violent past. Implicit in the question is the recognition that a heritage site, such as this church, is enjoyed by visitors, but ironically, no longer feels welcoming to the original parishioners – the survivors. In effect, in order to connect to their past, the original parishioners and their descendents may themselves need to become tourists, observing their heritage from the outside of a living culture.

Church in Kunkowa/Cerkiew w Kunkowej/Церков в Кункові (top right):

This is the church of St. Luke the Apostle in Kunkowa – the village of the “returned”. Presently, this picturesque village has an entirely Lemko population, aside from one painter. It is beautifully situated, sheltered by tall rolling hills, green pastures, a lake on one side, and a stream that cuts through the entire village. This church has some of its original parishioners, or their descendents.

When these Lemkos decided to return they had to buy back their own dwellings from Polish inhabitants who had already made themselves at home there. Many dwellings had also been completely destroyed. However, as only some people were able to return, the cemetery is rather small – most of the original inhabitants were buried on the “foreign” North-Western parts of Poland.

Distant Grave (bottom right):

This question alludes to how complete the ethnic cleansing was: there are few Lemko graves in the south of Poland, and those that did survive the destruction of Operation Vistula, are now slowly fading into the countryside. Descendents live too far to maintain the graves, and many would not even know where to find them. Tourists visit this attractive part of Poland on the Wooden Architecture Route, walking on the fields, unknowingly walking over metaphorical and literal graves.


Karolina holds an interdisciplinary educational background with degrees in English Literature, Psychology, and Sociology. She is completing a PhD in social theory at the Department of Sociology and Legal Studies, University of Waterloo, with special interest in the hermeneutics and phenomenology of culture.

Karolina’s interests extend into her art in which she relies on traditional artistic media, while incorporating ethnographies and folkloric elements. She has taught traditional art workshops at the Kitchener-Waterloo Art Gallery, Button Factory Arts, in heritage language schools, and recently at the Kosa Kolektiv Folk Camp. Karolina is of Lemko-Polish descent.

Copyright Notice

Permission has been granted for image use to the Centre for Memory and Testimony Studies. All rights to images belong to the artists.

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