The Destruction and Transfer of Orthodox Church Property in Poland, 1919–1939

Author: Antoni Mironowicz
Institution: University of Białystok (Poland)
Year of publication: 2014
Source: Show
Pages: 405–420
DOI Address:
PDF: ppsy/43/ppsy2014024.pdf

The most difficult period that the Polish Autocephalous Church of the 2ⁿd Polish Republic experienced was in 1938 when, by the decision of administrative authorities, over 127 sacral buildings in Khelm region and Podlachia were pulled down. The third transfer stage took place from 1937 to 1939 and, for the most part, took the form of demolishing Orthodox churches. (It should be noted that the demolition of Orthodox churches happened throughout the whole period of the existence of the Second Polish Republic.) The churches which were destroyed were those which were the symbols of the Russian Tsar’s reign. Over thirty Orthodox churches were destroyed, including the cathedral in Saski Square in Warsaw, the Sts. Cyril and Methodius cathedral in Khelm and the Resurrection cathedral in Bialystok. The demolition of these Orthodox churches – regarded as symbols of Russian rule – was spontaneous and often irrational. Nevertheless, it never happened on a massive scale. Only in 1938 did a programme of destroying Orthodox churches emerge as a distinct element of the Polonisation effort. This programme was initiated by the government itself. The official reason was that those churches were not needed, dilapidated, or had been built as a result of Russifi cation in the past. However, it appears that the reason was to weaken the Belarusian and Ukrainian national minority movement through closing parishes and active Orthodox churches. The “pacifi cation: of parishes in 1937 started in the Lublin region. First, a kind of social movement for the “propagation of Polish values and traditions” was created by the polish local authority. Then the army and police persecuted the Orthodox Church and people in order to convert them to Roman Catholicism. The demolition of Orthodox churches was conducted from the second half of May until the first half of July 1938. The actions were taken up by the local administration and co-ordination committees with help from the army and police in a hostile, anti-Orthodox atmosphere. To this end, the government used youth, army sappers, worker brigades, and even prisoners. Administrative and material measures were used to pressure the Orthodox who were blackmailed and threatened while their churches, which often served thousands of faithful, were destroyed. In most cases, the Orthodox community made no attempt to actively resist the demolitions. They prayed and protested, but were unable to oppose such an officially organised action.

1919–1939 Orthodox Church Poland

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