The National Museum of Majdanek and the Greco-Catholic Church of the Nativity of the Most Holy Theotokos in Lublin, have the honour to invite you to a celebration in honour of BLESSED FATHER EMILIAN KOWCZ (Kovch), a former prisoner of Majdanek. The celebration was organised in light of the recent beatification of Father Emilian in Lviv, by His Holiness Pope John Paul II. The ceremony will take place June 18, 2001, at noon, on the territory of the Concentration Camp Majdanek.
Emilian Kowcz was born August 20, 1884, in Kosmacz, County Kosov (region Huculshchyna), as a son of a priest, Father Hryhorij Kowcz, a local Greco-Catholic Pastor. Father Emilian's father-in-law was also a priest, so were his three brothers-in-law and two of his three sons. He received Matura Diploma (equivalent of b.a. today) in Lviv. In the years 1905-11 he studied theology at the Roman Collegium Ruthenum. In the year 1910, he married Maria-Anna Dobrianska (1891-1939), and the next year he was ordained to the priesthood by His Grace, The Right Reverend Gregory (Chomyshyn), Eparch of Stanislavsk. After the short time of administrating the parish of Podwoloczyska, in the County Skalal, Father Emilian volunteered to work among the Ukrainian colonials in Bosnia, where he worked as a priest in Prijedor (parish in Kozarac). After he returned to Galicia, he was an assistant-pastor in the parish of Serniki Gorne, County Rohatyn, in the years 1916-1919. In 1919 he entered the Ukrainian Army of Halych, was appointed a chaplain of the so-called Brzezan basket. He went through two military campaigns (that of Galicia and Dniepr), showing bravery in a difficult priestly military service. He was briefly interned by Poles, released, and in the years 1921-22 he was a pastor of a parish in Borszowa, near Przemyslany, and finally a pastor of Przemyslany parish with the filial church in the village of Korosno.
As a pastor of Przemyslany parish, Father Emilian started numerous religious and social programs. He was well-known preacher, and also an organiser of Eucharistic Congresses. He worked so much for the benefit of his parishioners that he neglected the material well-being of his own family. He did not avoid social activities -he was an initiator, animator and organiser of numerous educational, cultural and economical movements. He was a proponent of free Ukraine with the so-called Eastern-Galicia. That consequent political attitude brought onto him conflicts with Polish authorities, which ended up with fines and even prison (he spent his sentence in the Studite Monastery of Uniow, according to the Concordat of the Holy Apostolic See and Polish Republic). Interestingly enough, Father Emilian's political views did not motivate or fuel any hatred towards Poles. When, for example, after the fiasco of Polish September 1939 campaign, some of parishioners of Korosna plundered and robbed Polish properties, Father Emilian objected it in very strong words, ordering all of the stolen property to be returned - which his parishioners obediently did. Father Emilian also organised help for Polish widows and orphans. The above mentioned facts and also Father Emilian's bravery in the face of the so-called First Soviets (1939-41), which forbade public processions, Jordan, etc., made Father so popular that even Polish Roman-Catholics started to attend his church in Przemyslany.
Arrival of the German Army in 1941 was for most of the Ukrainians of Galicia a joyous moment. It ended the rule of the Soviets, helped proclaim the independence on June 30, 1941, and gave hope for a truly independent country. After the withdrawal of the Soviet Army, Father Emilian was elected a starost of Przemyslany district. He did not fall victim of popular euphoria, but instead concentrated on preaching and teaching the young people not to get involved in the criminal activities of the newly formed Ukrainian police. Father Emilian learned fast the policy of the new authorities, and did not fear to critique the new regime for their crimes.
At that time the new thing was the so-called the Jewish question. Shortly after the German forces came in, the SS troops gathered a large group of Jews to the local synagogue in order to burn them alive. Because of Father Emilian's knowledge of the German language, he managed to convince the SS commander to leave the building area. With the help of his parishioners, Father unlocked the doors, thus saving a number of Jews from already burning synagogue. Father Emilian's bravery did not stop German forces from continuing Jewish genocide. At one time, there was a movement within the Jewish community to convert into Christianity - although the German "law" to particular race not a religion. Father Emilian did not hesitate to receive Jews into the Church, although it was against the directives of the occupation force. First he received some of the Jews individually and later in groups. After the local ghetto was closed, he petitioned the local authority for permission to serve the Jewish-Christians. Apparently, he also sent a letter to Hitler himself, pointing out the atrocities of the Nazi regime.
Such an attitude towards the policy of Hitler culminated in the formal arrest of Father Emilian on December 30, 1942. While in the prison of Lviv, on Lacka Road, he not only admitted the fact that he baptised a number of Jews but also refused to sign a statement that he would not do it in the future. Father Emilian did not brake under the torture. Furthermore, he served his fellow prisoners in his priestly capacity. In addition, he used the services of his own son, Sergius, to send encrypted messages to other prisoners.
Failing to make Father Emilian to sign a "statement", Nazi authority sent him to Konzentrozionslager Lublin (Concentration Camp Majdanek - Lublin). Upon arrival, he was given number 2399 and was placed in the block 14 on the field number 3. While in the concentration camp, Father Emilian showed the fullness of heroism, serving his fellow-prisoners of all nationalities and faiths, seeing it as a mission from God's Providence. In a letter from the concentration camp he asked that no one try to free him, because his place is there where God sent him. He also asked that people pray for those who designed this camp and for the architects of the Nazi system in general. In that same camp, Father Emilian finished his earthly pilgrimage. In accordance with official requirements, his death took place on March 25, 1944, due to infection of his right leg. In 1966, Ukrainian Greco-Catholic Church petitioned for beatification of her 20th century martyrs. Father Emilian and another 26 were beatified in Ukraine during the Pope's June visit.