Anna Kasarnia is a term that the ‘old families’ of Jarosław use to describe the Benedictine Abbey of St. Nicholas and St. Stanislaus situated on St. Nicholas Hill in the city. The Abbey was founded by Anna Ostrogski (nee Kostka – 1575 – 1635), the wife of the legendary Ruthenian noble, Oleksander Ostrogski (1571 – 1603). The Ostrogski Family were famous among other things (aside from the vast extent of their wealth), for sponsoring the first fully printed edition of the Church Slavonic Bible – the Ostrog Bible in 1581, (printed by Ivan Fedorov); as well as establishing the first institution of higher learning on Ukrainian soil – the Ostrog Academy in 1576. A key figure in the creation of the Ostrog Bible and the Ostrog Academy was Prince Konstantin Ostrogski (1526 – 1608), the father of Oleksander, who along with his son, were opponents of the Union of Brest. The Ostrog Bible and the Academy were monumental achievements for Eastern Christians in Ukraine. A large part of the Ostrogski legacy, an example to all of us today – is the need for those who have an abundance of wealth to give to the life of our Church, and to the life of our people.

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Anna Ostrogski, a devout Roman Rite Catholic, sponsored the building of the new Church in Jarosław, commencing the project in 1614. Anna Kasarnia is a colloquial and composite name, that refers to both  ‘Anna’ Ostrogski, and the Austrian ‘Kaiser’, the latter referring to the period of time in which Jarosław fell under the Austrian Empire. It was Anna Kasarnia, that Aunt Jana described to me as the location of Bunjaly and Zigaly Fenakel’s murder. The Walls of Anna Kasarnia run for 850 metres around the Abbey. In parts there are double walls, and there are towers that intersperse these walls.

Anna Kasarnia was also the location of some of young Vlad’s most memorable boyhood antics. It was there that Włado, Zigaly and Bunjaly took shovels and began ‘excavating’ a year or so before the War commenced. Why no one stopped these three imps walking through the streets of Jarosław with shovels in hand, is perhaps indicative of the time, or that the locals were so used to seeing the trio going about with suspect intent, that they couldn’t be bothered getting involved. On one of their ‘excavations’ a brick when pulled away from the rest of the Wall exposed a human skeleton wrapped up in chains. Obviously someone in history had been bricked up, alive. My father said that his hair stood on end, and that all three of them ran away as fast as they could. I couldn’t imagine how this could have occurred at a Catholic Abbey, but now even a cursory glance of history texts, reveals that Anna Kasarnia was not only a place of worship, but a long-held place of execution in the city of Jarosław. After the trio stopped running, it wasn’t too long before they returned to Anna Kasarnia, to see what other secrets lurked within the walls. They kept using their shovels in order to dig beneath the foundations of the Walls, and found coins dating back to the Roman Emperors. For a time, Anna Kasarnia was a much-relished playground for the three boys. My father used to regale to me how before the War, he and his friends would often jump off the walls of Anna Kasarnia. I ignored the significance of this story, as although I had seen the Walls in photographs, I did not comprehend their height. But now in hindsight, how he and his friends did not break a limb or their neck, I cannot explain. But as boys are boys, boundaries are often tested; even boundaries the height of the Walls of Anna Kasarnia.

I recall vividly how my father stopped the car once to criticize the builders of a wall that was going up here in Perth. That limestone wall was only a mere 150 metres in length, but every time he drove passed he said that the wall will collapse: “They did not know how to build a wall.” He was right. He told the builders, of the Walls of Anna Kasarnia – how these Walls stood strong after centuries, having been built to allow for the slope. They didn’t listen – and a few years later, half of the wall collapsed on to the highway. The Ancient world was built and still stands – the modern world, builds on shifting sands, and unsteady foundations, and is continually being re-built, with no thought for the Traditions of the Past. Why be so surprised to see walls, houses and homes, fall apart, when what they are built on is so transient. When you do not wish to hear the voice of experience – you repeat mistakes that have been made.

In the Spring of 1940, the young Vladimir Kania came to sit on the Walls of Anna Kasarnia – alone. Over the course of the final months of 1939, his father had been gaoled by the Germans, and his other heroes: Fr. Chotyniecki and Fr. Opalinski had been taken as hostages by the NAZI regime; Fr. Fedorovych was in Tarnow, and his two close friends, Bunjaly and Zigaly were now dead. At home, were three sisters, one of whom was disabled, and a grief-stricken mother. The twelve year old boy, was now the ‘man of the house’. From this time on, until the War’s end, I cannot recount to the reader one story that my father ever told me, where there was any humour or joy, beyond him saying that for his thirteenth birthday what he received was Operation Barbarossa, with one of the missiles taking off the top floor of their building, and he having slept through this missile strike. He earned money for his family, by shovelling coal at the Railway Station, and selling cigarettes and newspapers in the streets. My father told me that after his first day of work at the Railway Station, he was beaten when he asked the soldier to be paid. The family needed the money, and young Vladimir worked hard to earn.

What he secretly wanted more than anything for the future, was safety for his family, and to become a Ukrainian Catholic priest. His father, Jan, would have suspected that Vladimir had a vocation, but blocked any thoughts of this idea, by emphasising that in the absence of a man’s presence in the Family, his son must look after his sisters and mother. Even after receiving a personal recommendation from Bishop Lakota – Jan refused to grant permission.

What lay before my father, was a War that insisted he grow up very rapidly.

Perched on the Walls of Anna Kasarnia, one can see to the distance; but that distance is not as far as the depths of a young boy’s sorrowful heart. The distance that the eyes can see, stops short on the horizon. Thoughts and sorrows, meander down ever twisting paths within the soul, day after day – there is no designated horizon.

In the years that were to come, my father would travel as a thirteen year old boy through to the city of Berlin to collect the remains of a family cousin on Babcia’s side, Uncle Alphonse, who had been arrested by the Germans, as a political agitator, and who was then imprisoned in a German Concentration camp. My father told me that all he was given on arriving at the Camp was a box of ashes to take home, which he faithfully delivered to his mother.

We live in an age where many parents are too frightened to have their children walk to school; but this boy, travelled from Eastern Poland to Berlin during the War. I remember my father mentioning the town Oranienburg in association with this recount, and so my father must have travelled to the Sachsenhausen-Oranienburg Concentration Camp. On his return home, he sought to stay overnight with a distant family member. In answer to this request, the woman of the house pointed to a brick on the ground outside the home, and told my father: “You can put your head on that!” He didn’t stop, and kept journeying, walking on through the night, to arrive back home early in the morning. He only ever told me this story – because I asked him one day, quite casually: ”Have you ever been to Berlin?”

One of Babcia’s brothers was to be shot, after being ‘caught’ singing: “Jeszcze Polska nie zginęła”, while walking across a field with a friend. Babcia detested the Germans, even though it was later discovered that her family tree had a strong German line. Poland was for Babcia, along with the Roman Rite and family – her entire world. Babcia passed away when I was ten. As staunchl

y Ukrainian as my father was; this was counterbalanced by Babcia’s Polish identity. Although we were raised as Ukrainian Catholics, Babcia made it her mission to remind us, constantly, that she was Polish, and that I should one day “marry a Polish woman so as to be happy.” Babcia was a great cook, a large lady with warm hugs and a feisty spirit – and I still feel her loss, even writing this decades later, as a middle-aged man.

I began writing this series, Church and Life, because I was questioned as to how ‘personal identity’ is established. I suspect what the person asking the question wanted to discern, (because of the context and nature of our previous conversations), was my opinion as to how a child begins to form an attachment to their Faith and ethnic community.

The American philosopher and psychologist William James (1842 – 1910), in his writings, addressed the issue of Identity Formation in some depth, and specifically that of religious identity. Let me share with you now a lengthy excerpt from Robert D. Richardson’s biography of William James. In this piece Richardson summarizes James’ thought on why we believe in some things and reject others, why we attach ourselves to some things and not others. Richardson writes that: “’Whatever things have intimate and continuous connection with my life are things of whose reality I cannot doubt. Whatever things fail to establish this connection are things which are practically no better for me than if they existed not at all.’” What are the minimal conditions for belief? James answers, “Any relation to our mind at all, in the absence of a stronger contradictory relation, suffices to make an object real.”…James moves on to connect the psychology of belief with his ideas about emotion. “The more a conceived object excites us, the more reality it has,”… “That theory will be most generally believed,” he says, “which besides offering us objects able to account satisfactorily for our sensible experience, also offers those which are most interesting those which appeal most urgently to our aesthetic, emotional and active needs.” (Richardson, 2007, pp.288 – 289). In short to form religious belief and cultural identity, the external influence has to be both continual and applicable to the individual’s life. Therefore it is quite obvious that the first Church is in fact – the family. The family is the most continuous influence – in the best circumstance. Children are formed by their parents, and second, by significant others in their life. Church and ethnic communities, have to be more attractive than other influences, which vie simultaneously for the attention of the individual. This attraction has to go to the point of exciting our senses, and fulfilling our deepest needs. It needs not only to make sense to the mind, but surfeit the individual: sensually, spiritually and emotionally. The interaction with all family and community members, even those who may grate against us, combine to shape our identity. So many of our youth in the diaspora have a vision of Ukrainian identity based on: politics, history, language, Cossack dancing, music, foods, embroidery, wood carvings, etc. These are important cultural elements, of what it means to be a Ukrainian. They are attractive elements. But even more integral, is to foster into the heart of the child an understanding and love of God and Church. God and Church are not only identity shaping, but life-giving, life-meaning-filled.

Metropolitan Andrii Sheptyts’kyi in the first half of the 20th Century knew exactly what William James was writing, not by reading James, but by way of personal experience. His initiatives such as the creation of the L’viv National Museum and Greek Catholic Theological Academy (the latter being the predecessor of the Ukrainian Catholic University), reveal Sheptyts’kyi attempting to capture a sense of what it means to be a ‘Ukrainian’, in order to educate the youth.

The purpose of the recounts I have offered, takes for granted all the cultural elements – but seeks to elaborate on the deeper message of Faith; and Faith being offered by witness, engagement – and fostering. My father was indeed a product of a mixed marriage, his friendship groups reflected diverse ethnic backgrounds; he spoke the language of his friends – but ethnically he identified himself as a Ukrainian, despite a number of his siblings identifying as Poles. He chose to be Ukrainian, as in the Sheptyts’kyi family, Andrii and Klementy made similar choices. He had internalised elements of his up-fostering, that made him unswerving to the Ukrainian dream, the hope of Ukraine. A person or an event must speak to the heart of another individual. The example of my grandfather Jan, the priests, his involvement in Liturgy, brought him to a point where he lived and breathed a Ukrainian Catholic Faith that was the core of all other things Ukrainian.

The fact that he was also immersed in a cosmopolitan milieu, made him stronger in his Ukrainian identity.

He always wanted to learn about others and to know. His gift of language, and his Catholic Faith, saw him join the Red Cross in Czechoslovakia at the end of the War. He was nearing eighteen years of age. What he witnessed as a Red Cross worker is too horrific for me to offer the general reader in any detail. He worked with the US Army in this capacity; the Soviets refused to recognise the Red Cross as anything else but an American spy-agency. One day he walked across to the Soviet Zone, after hearing a noise in the bushes across the road from the US zone. There were no Berlin Walls at that stage, but dangerous as it was, he crossed over. Parting the bushes, he saw a German woman, dressed in a teacher’s uniform, and then parting the greenery more, he told me that he saw the most beautiful children he had ever seen in his life – all dressed neatly in sailor’s uniforms, a class of toddlers. They were all blonde haired and blue eyed. They were the ‘products’ of Hitler’s breeding camps. The woman begged him: “Please don’t hurt us!” My father told her to wait, while he crossed the road, spoke to the GI’s – who then drove a truck down the road, and took the teacher and toddlers into the truck. The reward my father got, was to be arrested by the Soviet ‘Liberators’ soon after, stripped and interrogated for two days. On the third day, he heard from inside his cell the sound of an American voice over a loud-hailer, ordering the Soviets to release the Red Cross worker they had arrested. The Soviets stalled, and then the Americans blasted machine gunfire through the top of their building. My father was released – naked. A Czech grandmother came out of her home and covered my father with a blanket. He was then taken away by the GI’s. He saw so much hate and evil in those post-war years – but he insisted on trying to do good; even if the good he was doing, was ‘merely’ kneeling between a distraught German mother, who was tearing her own hair out, and her dying young daughter, who was lying on the ground, groaning, having been ‘liberated’ by Soviet soldiers. All he could do was place his arm around the mother’s shoulder, and his hand on the girl’s forehead.

Post-World War II my father was sent by the Red Cross to care for the Macedonian victims of a massacre at the hands of the Greeks. My father arrived to find a paddock littered with dead Macedonian men, women, and children. As he walked the field, he searched for signs of life. He heard a crying sound, and saw a young boy, about three years of age, lying under the arm, of what my father deduced was his mother. She was dead. My father spoke to the little boy in Macedonian, as he took him up in his arms: “We will leave your mother here to sleep, as she is very tired, and will come back later, when she wakes up.” My father took the little boy with him on a train with other children he had found in the fields to an orphanage/safe house in Zagreb, run by the Red Cross. The Red Cross sent my father where his languages allowed him to go.

My father was a man of Faith. He prayed the rosary when arrested by the Soviets – he prayed for the girl that died as he gently stroked her forehead. He believed that God was watching him – that his ancestors knew he was being honourable.

Although he spoke thirteen languages – he told me that he did not speak Russian.

By the Walls of Anna Kasarnia, people walk today, laugh and are happy. The Seasons pass. The sun still rises and sets. There is no remnant of the day my father sat – looking out into the future. There is only a son who now writes what he was told, sitting in an office on the other side of the world, from where these events took place; hoping that others will read, and learn, and grow, and hope, that there can be a better world, despite the evil – and that God still offers a ray of light, even to those in the greatest darkness.

 

 

 

 

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