Punskas history

Early history

The oldest traces of human being in Punskas territory date back to about 10 000 years BC. In the early medieval ages it was inhabited by Yatvingians and Sudovians. They did not have a country or a language that could have been written. In the XIII century, the Teutonic Knights exterminated them and only few of them survived. Nowadays only some castle hills, mounds, cemeteries, names of some villages and archaeological excavations remind us about their existence.

Later on Sudovia became overgrown with forests. Lithuanian Grand Dukes hunted there. In the early XV century the people from Merkine and Punia started to colonize this territory again. They gave the name „Punia“ to the lake, so the village was called Punskas after it. It was one of the first settlements in this territory.

In 1597 the forester of Sejwy, Stanisław Zaliwski built the church in Punskas, and the parish has been established here. Later on the chancellery of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania published the document of the king Sigismund the Old. It was written in it that the parish priest in Punskas can be only a person who speaks Lithuanian. In 1647 the king Władysław IV Waza approved the civic rights of Puńsk according to the Magdeburg rights and gave it the coat of arms with St Peter’s image. At that time the parish of Puńsk belonged to the Diocese of Vilnius, and later (from 1795) to the bishopric of Wigry. There was a school and a hospital by the church.

In 1795, there lived 583 people in Punskas and in 1827 more – 748. But in 1852 Punskas lost its civic rights. In 1881, there lived 1200 people in the whole parish. From the 15th century till 1795 this land called Sudovia belonged to the Great Duchy of Lithuania.

From 1815 it belonged to the zone of Russian authority. People of Punskas area suffered from the tsar’s repressions. There were secret schools. The forbidden, illegal Lithuanian press and books were secretly transferred across the German-Russian border by the book-distributors (knygnešiai). Povilas Matulevičius was the most famous book-distributor in the region.

Modern history

After World War I there were fights for Sudovia, namely the Suvalkai Region, between Lithuania and Poland, a part of the Polish-Lithuanian War.

Not considering the opinion of the locals, in 1920 Punskas and its territory became a part of Poland. A new border was established which has remained unchanged till now. Through 8 decades the language situation has changed to the advantage of Polish. As part of Poland, new local regulations were introduced by the government, and Lithuanians were repressed by them. During the interwar period, there were several active societies. The vast majority of commerce and business belonged to Jews. They made up the greater part of Punskas inhabitants at that time. Some extant old houses, the building of synagogue and a big cemetery nearby Punskas remind of their former presence.

During World War II, Lithuania belonged to the zone of the Soviet Union authority and Sudovia belonged to Germany. Germans did not want the territory formerly inhabited by Yatvingians, which was incorporated into Eastern Prussia, to be settled by the Lithuanians. According to the agreement between Germany and the Soviet Union on 10th January 1941 about 70% of people were expelled from the territory. Most of them returned home when the political situation changed.

After World War II the territory of Punskas became again a part of Poland. This situation has not changed till nowadays.

When after war regime diminished Lithuanian social and cultural life in this region became more active again. In 1956 there was established LVKD (The Social and Cultural Association of Lithuanians). Its task was to weld Lithuanians who were scattered not only in Sudowia but all over Poland. Lithuanian schools and cultural centre were established. The ensembles, choirs and barn theatre group of the Lithuanian Culture Centre in Punskas perform in Poland and abroad. The important role in propagation of national awareness is played by the Publishing House and its periodical „Aušra“. In 1993 LLB (Lithuanian Society in Poland) was established. The organization connect all of Lithuanians and represent their interests in and out of country.

In 1994 Poland and Lithuania signed an agreement about friendship and neighbourly cooperation. New possibilities have appeared in order to communicate with Lithuania.