The Valley of Death (Dukla Pass), Slovakia

This is from a June 2003 letter:

There’s a valley on the Slovak-Polish border that’s been a constant battle-ground, so much so that its official name is Dolina smrti, the Valley of Death.  The Dukla pass is where the Poles and the Habsburgs and then the Russians and Habsburgs fought during the 18th and 19th centuries.  In the twentieth century, during the First World War, more than 1.8 million people died in Eastern Slovakia, mostly in battles in this area.  In the Second World War there was a two-month battle between the Germans and the Red Army in which, on average, of Red Army soldier was killed each minute of each day for 60 days.  In 1968 the Russians used this pass, again, to invade Czechoslovakia.  As a memorial the Czechoslovaks left tanks and half-tracks in the middle of working farm fields and scattered throughout the woods.  You can be walking and come across a gray German half-track or a green Red Army tank.  On the border there’s a huge monument, a stony faced soldier with an old women crying on his shoulder.  There are mass graves, with the names of missing soldiers carved on stones, Russian, Polish, Slovak and German names.  This place commemorates the valley’s awful history in an evenhanded way.  I have studied the Second World War and this is not a battle I’ve read much about.  Russian, Slovak and Polish history books read differently.

The battles were fought in the valley, on the hills above the pass dozens of wooden churches, some dating from the, sixteenth century, seem to have survived not only the various wars, but also communism.  I’ve seen similar churches south of here, near Bardejov, but these are, if anything, are more interesting, and immaculately maintained in contrast to their setting, sitting on hillsides outside some of the poorest villages in Slovakia.  In the villiage of Krajne Cierno we saw a local work party with paint and flashing working on their church.  Krajne is the first name of several towns in the area.  It means border and is the root of the word Ukraine (the border between the Russians and Tarters, Turks, Austrians, Hungarians, whomever was the enemy of the day.)  As we drive through the region we see business signs in Slovak, Polish (the large number of Ws give it away) and Ruthanian.  (See the separate blog post “Wooden Churches.”)

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