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Warszawska Orkiestra Sentymentalna: Reawakening Polish Prewar Urban Music

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Late last year I had the opportunity to immerse myself in the atmosphere of Lviv's interwar music scene at a live performance of a young band from Warsaw, which plays famous tunes from Poland's 1920-1930s musical heritage.

Warszawska Orkiestra Sentymentalna (Warsaw Sentimental Orchestra) comprises a group of young musicians united by their passion for urban folklore. They play familiar and forgotten dance melodies as well as more sentimental tunes for singing and listening. Their repertoir includes songs from prewar theaters, courtyard ballads and couplets from interwar Warsaw and Lviv. The also play compositions by modern artists inspired by urban folklore and traditional Polish melodies, and enliven dance parties with their lively polkas and foxtrots, sultry tangos, and romantic waltzes.
The orchestra reaches to the roots of the Polish prewar music scene and continues the tradition of revue performaces, maintaining the timeless charm of these songs while adding their own co…

'Krajka. W domu': Forgotten Music from Polish-Ukrainian Borderland

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A folk band from Przemysl — Krajka, together with Ukrainian musicians — released a new album dedicated to the lands that lie along the current Polish-Ukrainian border.


"The album contains traditional music from the Polish-Ukrainian borderland, from the regions of Kholm, Lubaczow, Przemysl, to the Carpathian mountains and valleys. These lands were once replete with the splendor and richness of culture, traditions, and ethnos. Today this music is largely unknown and forgotten. It has been reconstructed using recordings gathered during field expeditions and from available materials — to save it from oblivion and bring back its ancient luster."

"The album 'Krajka. W domu' contains songs exclusively from the Polish-Ukrainian borderland. This territory, on which from time immemorial reigned a balance of diverse cultural components, was brutally destroyed by the war and postwar deportations. The expulsion of Ukrainians, Boykos, and Lemkos is above all a purely human, i…

Sangre de Muerdago: Interpreting Melodies Once Lost and Found Again

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The Galician (Spain) folk band Sangre de Muerdago released a new EP "Os Segredos da Raposa Vermella" 
(The Secrets of the Red Fox)

"Before humans started building with concrete and steel, much earlier before machines reigned, and the steam locomotive was invented. There was a little red fox that wandered through the woods of the Iberian northwest, in a land where its people were known as the Galaicos.

This red fox liked to listen to the melodies of the leaves and the stones, to the songs of the streams and flowers, and she sung and sung and whistled as she wandered through the forests looking for food and adventures.

Until one day she knew so many songs, more songs than any other red fox in those woods. Even more songs than the ravens themselves.

Afraid of forgetting those beautiful melodies, she decided to start writing a little book with her favourite songs. The book had a cover of moss and paper of birch bark, and on its pages she wrote and drew.

Many centuries later, thes…

'Wychód' Ghost Sign in Lviv

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"Wychód" - Polish archaism meaning "exit" ("Wyjście" in modern usage) Found in a corridor of a building that from the 1820s housed a hotel and restaurant-winery The hand points in the direction of the front entrance, from an inner courtyard
Another theory is that the sign reads "wychodek" and points to an outhouse. However, I'm not entirely convinced as there is a line coming down just right of the letter "D" and the hand would not be centered if there were still two more letters at the end of the word.

German-Language Benchmark in Lviv

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I came across a curious German-language benchmark in one of Lviv's courtyards. Unlike the other pre-WWI benchmarks that I have seen in Lviv, which are small simple plaques in Polish, this one is much larger, in German, and even includes a relief of a hand pointing to the leveling mark.
The sign reads:  XXX Zolle über den Wasserstand  (30 Feet Above Sea Level)
And while this one was from the Austrian-era (the building where it is found dates from 1911), it was not part of the first leveling system created in Lviv (1880-1888), which was used to construct Lviv's first sewer system. More on Lviv's benchmarks can be found here.
Example of Polish-language benchmark from original network Z.W. = Znak Wysokosci (Height Marker)

Hidden Jewish Prayer Room in Lviv

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Several years ago I read about an old Jewish prayer room that was discovered in the basement of a building in Lviv. Finally, thanks to my friend Sarah who obtained instructions on how to find it, I was able to see it in person. (Though only on our second attempt did we actually find a way inside. More about our adventure can be found in Sarah's blog post.)

Tucked away in the corner of a not-so-easily-accessible courtyard is a small staircase that leads down into the basement room that housed the prayer room. The only remnant is the painted ceiling with two lions and the Ten Commandments.

The history behind this prayer room — when it was established and why — is still unknown. But according to Jewish Family Search: "Most probably this was a private house owner's prayer room or a shtiebel for Jewish families living nearby."

The room is found in a building that dates from 1911, in a neighborhood south of the city center (which by the way was not one of the former Jewish…

Holodomor Memories

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My paternal grandmother was from central Ukraine, which for centuries was under the Russian Empire, and then from 1922 the Soviet Union. As such, unlike the rest of my ancestors who lived in western Ukraine (under Austria and then Poland), they experienced the Holodomor (Famine-Genocide) in 1932-3, a man-made famine which left millions of people in Soviet Ukraine dead.

Five years ago I traveled to Kamianske (until a few months ago Dniprodzerzhynsk) to meet my grandmothers sisters who were still alive. It was a very interesting experience, as it was my first encounter with relatives who were not from Galicia, and thus with relatives who had a different history, language, and culture. They shared with me stories and old photographs of my ancestors.

To commemorate the victims of this horrible tragedy, I want to share my family's account of their experience of the Holodomor, for it's these personal stories which should never be forgotten. Below is an excerpt about the Holodomor fro…