Rehfeld: A Former Settlement of German Colonists in Ukraine

In 2007 my wife and I bought a small building in the village of Sernyky, near Bibrka, in the Peremyshlyany district of Lviv province in Ukraine. According to the locals, the building had been constructed and occupied by German settlers who were repatriated to Germany in 1940, a few months after the signing of the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact that resulted in the Nazi-Soviet partition of Poland in September 1939. Sernyky encompasses the former German settlement known as Rehfeld (a serna, in Ukrainian, is a Reh, or deer, in German).

The building is comparatively small (6x12 meters), but its orderly design and architectural characteristics differ from those of the other village houses. As I embarked on a full-scale renovation of the house, I also read up on the history of Germans in Galicia. I hadn’t known that they had been here for over 150 years and regarded the land as their homeland. And, despite the difficult times, they enjoyed good relations with their Ukrainian neighbors, who benefited greatly from the agricultural, technological, and civic skills the Germans possessed. It’s hard to imagine how the Germans must have felt in January 1940, when they were told to leave their homeland with the few possessions that could fit in a small wagon.

In his recently published history of Sernyky, Vasyl Laba, a native of the village and historian (with a score of books on Galicia’s villages and towns), notes that, starting in 1780-1785, Rehfeld consisted of 14 German families and two chapels, one of which appears to have been as large as a church. The smaller chapel was located on a small road that is still called German Street today and that leads to German Valley. Older village residents still remember the Germans. My elderly neighbor, Anna Khmyz, told me that the family that lived in “our” house was named Lang (Laba’s history of Sernyky mentions one Adam Lang and his three children), that the Germans built passageways between their barns and their houses and therefore didn’t need to step outside in order to feed their livestock in the winter, and that some former German residents visited Sernyky in 2000. Apparently, an elderly woman from Germany even recognized the house she had lived in as a child.

As to “our” house, we tried to preserve as much as possible of its original design and appearance while renovating it. Old houses have souls, and they retain them long after their original dwellers have left.

We also decided to fix the little chapel on German Street, especially after someone stole the wooden statue of the Virgin Mary and the icon of Saint Judas Tadeo in 2008. Although both items were miraculously recovered soon thereafter, we knew we had to act quickly to preserve these historical treasures. My brother, Lubomyr, who works as a sculptor in Berlin, made a copy of the statue, while the Lviv Art Gallery made a copy of the icon. Both originals were then placed in the safekeeping of the Gallery. We then took to renovating the chapel from top to bottom while retaining all its original features. The local villagers helped enormously, providing labor and construction materials gratis. Take a look at the “before” and “after” photos.

We dedicated the chapel on July 11, 2009, which happened to be my birthday. And, in honor of the German colonists who had once contributed so much to Galicia, we ate an old-style German onion cake, baked from a recipe I found on the website.

Write to us! Better still, come visit Sernyky-Rehfeld and celebrate your German heritage with us!

Zenovij Drevnyak from the Ukraine in 2012

You can see pictures of his home and the restored chapel statues on our GGD Village Photo Album

For the contact information for Zenovij Drevnyak, contact the GGD webmaster.