The Great War


Austrian fieldworks in Galicia.


Zolynia on the Front Lines

Austria-Hungary invaded Serbia on July 28, 1914 and within days, the empires of Austria-Hungary and Germany were at war with the Empires of Russia, England and France. The Austria-Russia frontier at one point was only 12 miles (20 km) from the Zolynia market square, just past Lezajsk. The Russian Army could advance that far in less than a day.

The Austro-Hungarian Second Army went on the offensive northward, attempting to increase their manuevering room on the flatter land north of the Carpathian Mountains and push the Russians back past the city of Lublin, located 97 miles (156 km) north of Zolynia. Russian armies attacked Galicia eastward toward Lemberg and southward toward the fortress at Prsemysl, 44 miles (70 km) southeast of Zolynia. The Russian objective was for their armies to isolate the attacking Austro-Hungarian forces, destroy them, and then head for the Carpathian Mountain passes and the roads leading to Vienna and Budapest. Zolynia was in the path of advancing armies from both sides.

The Russians entered Galicia from the east on August 18. After eight days of fighting at Lemberg, the Austrians were in retreat with the Russians following. Fear and panic were breaking out across the countryside. This was especially true among Jewish Galitzianers, raised on stories about the Russians and Cossacks and what they did to the towns through which their armies passed, and to the Jews who lived in them. Hundreds of thousands of civilians throughout Galicia, Jews and others, bundled up up whatever possessions they could carry or put onto carts and took to the roads, heading for Vienna, Prague, relatives in other towns, anywhere that they thought would be in reach and offer more safety. The roads were jammed with refugees and retreating soldiers. Much of the center of Zolynia was already emptied out when the Russians arrived on September 13.

The German Army made a thrust toward Warsaw in order to take the pressure off of the collapsing Austro-Hungarians, and the Russians briefly withdrew to the east, back across the San River. But the Russians advanced again and Zolynia and the surrounding area were in occupied territory by the end of October. The town was already stripped of food, goods and many of the possessions of the remaining Zoliners by the time the winter of 1914-1915 was setting in.

The 1915 Offensive

In the spring of 1915, the German Army took on much of the responsibility for the Carpathian Front from the Austro-Hungarian forces, and a major offensive pushed the Russians back east. By May 12, 1915, German and Austrian troops had pushed the Russians out of Zolynia. As they left, the Russians fired the center of town, burning many of the homes and shops.

There would be fighting in Galicia in 1916 and 1917, although the Russians never advanced as far as Zolynia again before an armistice on the Eastern Front was declared at the end of 1917. Zolynia had been seriously damaged by fire and by shelling. Some of the smaller villages and neighborhoods in the vicinity had been virtually leveled and would not be rebuilt after the war. A comparison of pre-war and post-war maps shows changes in the configuration of many local communities, including Zolynia.

Many buildings were in rubble and the passing of the huge armies had flattened farms and wrecked roads. To this day, the landscape around Zolynia shows evidence of the old trenches which crisscrossed throughout the area. It would take years for many of the residents to work their way back to Zolynia. Some were still not back when the 1921 census was taken. Some did not return and made new lives elsewhere.



Russian Cossacks in Galicia.

burning town

Retreating Russians set fire to a village in Galicia.


More Information

Both the German Kaiser and the Russian Tsar had given specific orders that the Potocki's palace at Lancut was to be spared by their armies. Kaiser Wilhelm was Count Alfred Potocki's godfather. The Austrians and Germans used the palace as a regional army headquarters, and a field hospital was set up there.

The retreating Russian army burned the heart of Zolynia in 1915, including the town hall. Most of the local records archives was lost.

Emperor Franz Josef had 20,000 tallithim (prayer shawls) sent in his name to Jewish troops in the field during the 1915 "high holidays."


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