The Gorals – Highlanders of Carpathia – a Polish documentary Film

Article by Carole Zwijacz Herdegen
Detroit, Michigan-based travel writer/photographer

As a young girl growing up in Chicago, I rarely if ever thought about my ancestors; who they were or where they came from. There was also never much to know about my father’s family; however, I was immersed in my mother’s Slovakian-Polish relatives. Unfortunately, in later life, as a third-generation of immigrants, I felt somewhat deprived of never being taught Polish by my family. From my early years through collage I guess I was simply an ordinary middle class American. By achieving a college education, I became the first member of my family to have a college degree. After marriage, in a few short years we moved to Europe where our small General Motors family now including three children eventually lived for 18 years in England, Ireland, Germany and Switzerland.
Upon returning to the Detroit area, I took full advantage of my overseas living adventures as an introductory way to share my travel experiences as a writer/photographer and generally a travel expert with travel to 68 countries and all seven continents.

Q. Why do you think your ancestry is important?
It’s not just my ancestry, but in general, ancestry, especially for Americans (the big melting pot) to know where our individual family history began and how we are a part of this long chain of people who survived so many challenges to reach our current place in history.

Q. Can you tell me how you started your search of your heritage?

About 9 years ago, I started my search for anything available of my father’s family on a free Ancestry website. Having grown-up with my mother’s family and my father passing away when I was 21, I knew very little about my father. My paternal family name is Zwijacz. Can you imagine what this name sounded like to a clerk who had to transcribe the names of the immigrants? There was no way I could have found Zwijacz on a ship’s manifest. I needed help. It ultimately came from a Polish genealogist, Ceil Jensen, at PARI, a genealogy department, part of the Polish Mission at Orchard Lake. We jointly discovered my grandfather, Josef Zwijacz and his two brothers immigrating to the U.S. in 1903 from Zakopane, Galicia which was not as yet known as the country of Poland until 1918.

Q. What did you learn about your family back in Poland?
Through much research on the Ancestry website and with the thoughtful guidance of Genia Gorecki of the Polish Mission who used her Polish to write emails and talked by phone directly to my cousin in Zakopane, I was able to set-up my first visit. Soon after that, I traveled to Poland to meet my long lost relatives. The grandfather of my cousin, Stasiu and my grandfather were brothers. We shared many stories and photos. On that first day, Stasiu Zwijacz and his wife, Celina presented a book to me which is said to be the only multi-volume genealogy of peasant families in Europe. This recent two volume book of early Zakopane families researched and written by Mary and Joseph Krzeptowscy, had the name and birth date of my grandfather, Josef Zwijacz and a family tree going back to my 8x’s grandfather, Klemens who was born in Zakopane in 1615. The Zwijacz family was and still plays an important part in Goral heritage. They are the Highlanders of the Tatra Mountains. The Polish name expert, Professor Kazimier Rymut says Zwijacz appears in Polish records as early as 1647 and was an early Goral family of shepherds and farmers. I feel honored that a copy of this book was presented to me by my Polish family on my first visit.

Q. Do you feel that you are a part of that Polish family?
Yes. In 2015, I was invited to a traditional 2-day Goral wedding of my cousin’s youngest daughter and then last May I enjoyed a beautiful Goral christening of a new granddaughter.

Q. Are you proud of your heritage? And why?

Yes, and I am overjoyed and elated by the knowledge that my family goes back that far in history and was an important part of the village of Zakopane. I’m so proud to continue this family history which is in part, a history of the Gorals of the Tatra Mountains.

Q. What are you promoting?

While researching the Goral people, I discovered a documentary film made last year about the Gorals. There was a trailer on YouTube that I immediately loved. The film premiered in virtually all the major cities and capitals of the U.S., Canada and Europe. Will it come to Detroit, I wondered. I called the film’s U.S. agent, Randy Legersky in Pittsburgh. His responds was “yes”. The film was scheduled for Detroit sometime in the fall of this year; however, nothing had been finalized. Many people of Polish and Slovak heritage have immigrated to the Detroit area and have ancestors from the Goral villages. These descendants continue to relate to their heritage and are proud of their Goral roots. Considering myself one of these descendants, born of Goral grandparents and part of their history, I was thrilled to assist in promotion and advertisement of this film.
The film will be shown at the Landmark’s Main Theatre on 118 N. Main St. Royal Oak, Michigan on Thursday, November 21st at 7:00 PM. It will be in English by a narrator but with the Goral dialect spoken by the people in the film. The film is directed by a young man, Filip Luft from Warsaw. His father is Krzysztof Luft, an actor and journalist. His mother, Monika Luft is a television presenter.
I enjoy my conversations about this Goral film with Detroit’s Polonia. Although generations have passed since most of the descendants have come to the U.S. Many Gorals live in Detroit, Chicago and Pennsylvania. Nevertheless, a piece of their soul and the spirit of the Highlander have always remained. The film’s Polish producer, Maciej Pawelczyk says, “I left a piece of my own heart in the mountains and in this film, and I hope you will too when you see it”.

Tickets available on line at or search “The Gorals Detroit” on Eventbrite to register seats and pay at the door by cash.

A Synopsis of the Documentary
From the dawn of history, on the highest peaks of the Carpathian Mountains, there live a forgotten people. For as long as they can remember, these people possessed a love of freedom, a connection with nature, and kept ancient traditions, making them a unique ethnic group in all of Europe. Experience the passion and artisanship of the shepherd, lumberjack, bagpipe master, and wheelwright as they practice their craft – not just for their families, but for the love of these arts that weave together the fabric of their remote communities. The movie asks the question: With the environmental changes brought about by the modern world’s invasion of the mountain villages, are we witnessing the last days for the Gorals?

2 Responses to “The Gorals – Highlanders of Carpathia – a Polish documentary Film

  • I am looking forward to seeing the history of the Gorals !

  • It’s going to be end of mine day, except before ending I am reading this great piece of writing
    to increase my know-how.

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