Shtetl Routes. Vestiges of Jewish cultural heritage in cross-border tourism in borderland of Poland, Belarus and Ukraine


Shtetl Routes. Vestiges of Jewish cultural heritage in cross-border tourism in borderland of Poland, Belarus and Ukraine


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Bolekhiv - guidebook

Ukr. Болехів, Yid. באָלעכעוו

Bolekhiv - guidebook

Salt from the Solomon Hill

Bolekhiv is located in the Beskidy Sokolovske Mountains at the picturesque foothills of the Ukrainian Carpathian Mountains, in the valley of the Sukiel River, by the road Lviv-Chernivtsi.

 The name of the city (Bolekhiv or Volekhiv) probably derives from the word "Wallachia" (Vlachs), meaning the Wallachian shepherds once living in the territory of what is now a part of Romania. The settlement was formed from two neighbouring villages: Ruthenian Bolekhiv and Wallachian Bolekhiv.

In the wilderness of the Solomon Hill, located near Bolekhiv, archaeologists discovered remains of an Old Russian castle from the 11th–12th century. The first written mention of the Bolekhiv lands can be found in the 1371 act of Queen Elizabeth of Hungary, which grants them to Daniel Dażbohowicz for his service. The establishment and development of Bolekhiv were associated with the presence of nearby salt deposits. The city was founded in the first half of the 16th century, around the salt works by a Polish nobleman Mikołaj Giedziński. The first salt works in Bolekhiv was built by Amalia Grosowska in the place of Old Bania in 1546, although it is known that the extraction of the salt had begun much earlier. Therefore, it is not surprising that in the 17th century, Bolekhiv was a part of the so-called "salt trail": leading from the Valley through Bolekhiv and Stryj, and further – to Przemyśl, Toruń and Gdansk. In 1603, King Sigismund III Vasa granted the town the Magdeburg rights. In the 17th century, Bolekhiv had a wooden fortress, which was unconquerable even to the Tatars during numerous raids. In the 18th century, it was already a well fortified castle, surrounded by the Sukiel River. Today, only remnants of its foundations can be found in the military base. The Giedziński family left Bolekhiv in 1710. In 1740–1750, the town was owned by the Lubomirski family, later – by the Poniatowski and the Potocki family. Since 1772, Bolekhiv, together with the rest of Galicia, was a part of the Habsburg monarchy.

Bolekhiv often fell victim to attacks of the Carpathian robbers, e.g. led by Ivan, brother of the legendary Oleksa Dovbush, but the city suffered most at the hands of the gang of Ivan Bojczuk in July 1759. It was set on fire, so for three years it was exempted from all taxes.

 In the 19th century, the salt works in Bolekhiv was one of the most profitable businesses in Galicia, employed 49 workers and 10 administrative staff, and produced 50 to 70 thousand hundredweight of salt per year. The industry developed – there were three factories producing leather goods and textile factories, but extraction of salt remained the most important industry in the city. Bolekhiv also became famous due to therapeutical water, rich in minerals and iodine.

Between November 1918 and May 1919, Bolekhiv was a part of the West Ukrainian People's Republic, while in the interwar period it was incorporated into the Second Polish Republic.

The Jews of Bolekhiv

The first Jews settled in Bolekhiv already at the end of the 16th century, arriving here at the invitation of the owner of the city – Mikołaj Giedziński, who cared for the development of salt trade and industry in the city. The Jewish merchants were allowed to settle at the market square, they received buildings for their shops, and all properties belonging to the Qahal were indefinitely exempted from taxes. In 1612, Mikołaj Giedziński granted the Jewish community a land privilege for the establishment of a cemetery, a yeshiva and a synagogue. Jews were not under the jurisdiction of the local court so complaints against them could be made only to the owner of the city.

The Jewish quarter was in the south-east part of Bolekhiv and included the first wooden synagogue, which burned down in 1670. Bishop Jerzy of Lviv lent the community leaders Lejbe Ickowicz and Lipman Łazarewicz, funds for the reconstruction of the Jewish quarter.

In the 18th century, the Jewish community was the largest in the city. At the beginning of the century, it had approx. 1 thousand people. The Bolekhiv Qahal traditionally had its representation in the Council of Four Lands – the central body of the Jewish administration in the country. Most Jews in Bolekhiv were involved in trade. The Jewish merchants derived income mainly from the trade of salt and wine, money exchange services and usury. Mentions of this can be found in the writings of a local merchant Dov Ber Birkenthal (1723–1805).

Dov Ber Birkental Bolechower (1723–1805) – Jewish writer, chronicler and wine merchant. His father came from Mezhyrichi, but moved to Bolekhiv during the wars with the Cossacks in the first half of the 17th century. Dov Ber owned a vineyard in Lviv and Bolekhiv, sold wine to noblemen and clergy, and ran a shop in the center of Bolekhiv. In 1772, when Galicia was incorporated into Austria, he took the name Birkental. He received a traditional education, but his father, who traded wine and had an extensive knowledge of the Polish and Hungarian nobility, hired a non-Jewish teacher to teach his son Polish, German, French and Latin. In 1759, Dov Ber was interpreter during the famous dispute with the Frankists in the Lviv cathedral. Also a well-known Rabbi of Lviv Chaim Rapoport was involved in this dispute. Dov Ber Bolechower is the author of a religious treaty Diwre Binah (Heb. Words of Wisdom), in which he criticized the Frankists and some other sectarian movements within Judaism. He left valuable historical memoirs, in which he described social, cultural and political life of the Jewish communities in Galicia in the 18th century. Dov Ber Bolechower had a passion for history and translated historical works into Hebrew, German and Polish. His grave can be found at the Jewish cemetery in Bolekhiv. The matzevah shows a bear (from the meaning of his name), and a bunch of grapes.

One of the most famous Rabbis of Bolekhiv of the 18th century was Rabbi Jacob ha-Levi Horowitz (1679–1754), who later moved to Brody аnd was replaced by his son – Rabbi Mordke. In the 1780s, approx. 1.3 thousand Jews lived in Bolekhiv.


A preserved building of a brick synagogue from 1789 can be still found in Bolechiv, built on the site of the old wooden temple. It is located opposite the small town hall and a Greek Catholic Church. The synagogue was completely rebuilt in 1808. In the Soviet times, the building of the synagogue was used as a community house. A progressive synagogue and a Hasidic kloyz have not survived to our days.

One of the former synagogues (Sichovyh Strylcyv Street 9) was used Soviet times as a school; currently it houses the Museum of Natalya Kobrynska, a prominent Ukrainian writer and social activist.

The Hasidim, the Maskilim, the Zionists

Since the second half of the 18th century, a Hasidic movement began to develop in Bolekhiv. The most famous Hasidic leaders in the second half of the 19th century and at the beginning of the 20th century were: Yehoshua Heschel Padua and his son-in-law Shlomo Chaim Perlow (who wrote several books on the Hasidic philosophy). This dynasty turned Bolekhiv into one of the centres of the Hasidism in Galicia. The next Hassidic dynasty in Bolekhiv in the 19th century was represented by Yaakov Joel Horowitz (1824–1832), his son Menachem Mendel (1832–1864) and the son of Menachem: Levi (1879–1902).

At the end of the 18th century, the Haskalah movement reached Bolekhiv and made it one of the first cities in the East Galicia where a secular Jewish school for boys was established (1781). The first generation of the Jewish Maskilim in Bolekhiv was represented by Rabbi Hirsch Goldenberg. The Rabbi maintained contacts with the Rabbinate in Padua and his sons Shmuel Leib, Yaakov and Zelig Zvi Mandschein also became rabbis. In 1830, Shmuel Leib published a book about the Maskili movement. In 1833–1843, a journal "Kerem Chemed"(Heb. A Mystic Vineyard) was issued, with lively discussions devoted to the Haskalah. Zelig Zvi Mandschein issued a magazine "Ha-Shahar" (Heb. Dawn), in which he argued with the Hasidic Jews. Nehemiah Landes (1835–1899), belonging to the third generation of the Maskilim in Bolekhiv, especially contributed to reforming the life of the Jews in Galicia in the 19th century. He was considered the leader of the Jewish community in Bolekhiv and issued a magazine "Ben Hanania" (Heb. The Son of Ananias).

In 1845, a Jewish hospital was opened, traditionally managed by the qahal, and in 1856, a Jewish school was set up, where children were taught Hebrew, Polish and German. In 1902, a school for girls was established, with Hebrew as language of instruction; in 1908, a school for boys was opened.

At the end of the 19th century, the Zionist movement gained popularity in Bolekhiv. In 1894, organization "Tikvat Israel" (Heb. The Hope of Israel) was established, and a weekly Zionist magazine "Die Welt" (Ger. The World) was issued. One of the more well-known Zionists from Bolekhiv was Berish Bikl. In 1911–1913, a women's organisation "Bnot Zion" (Heb. Daughters of Zion) conducted a Hebrew language course. Also youth Zionist organizations were active in Bolekhiv, e.g. "Ceirej Zion" and "HeHalutz". In the 1920s, the Jewish pioneers from Bolekhiv established settlements in Palestine Chefci-Bah and Bet Alfa.

At the beginning of the 20th century, the Jewish population in Bolekhiv constantly grew. In 1910, 78% of 4 thousand residents of Bolekhiv were Jews – it was one of the highest numbers in Galicia. At the beginning of World War I, many buildings in Bolekhiv were destroyed. Due to the war, the Jewish population in the city decreased. According to the 1921 census, 2,433 people lived in Bolekhiv. At the beginning of the 1920s, thanks to the financial support of the American-Jewish Joint Distribution Committee, the first Jewish bank was established in Bolekhiv. At the beginning of the 20th century, the post of the Rabbi of Bolekhiv was taken by Josef Pinchas Landau.

World War II and the Holocaust

In September 1939, the Red Army occupied the town. The Soviet authorities began persecutions and repressions of members of all socio-political organizations and parties, including the Jewish ones.

In July and August 1941, Bolekhiv was under the Hungarian and German occupation. On 4 July 1941, a pogrom took place, during which many Jews were murdered. In August 1941, the German authority was established in Bolekhiv. The Judenrat was set up and Jews were forced to hard physical work in a labour camp. The first large-scale action of the annihilation of the Jewish population was carried out on 28 and 29 October 1941. Victims were gathered in old barracks of the Red Army аnd soon after transported to the place of execution near Taniawa (after the war, a place of memory was created there). 750 people were shot. Those who survived were taken to the ghetto.

In April 1942, at the Jewish cemetery in the Dolzka village another 450 Jews were shot (in the so-called "second Aktion"). In June 1942, 4,281 Jews lived in Bolekhiv and the surrounding villages; 1,588 of them did forced labour. In August 1942, the Jews from surrounding villages were resettled to Bolekhiv. The third "Aktion" took place on 3–5 September 1942. Only approx. 2.5 thousand Jews survived in the city. In October and November 1942, some Jews were transported to the ghetto in Stryj. Only 1,748 Jewish workers remained in Bolekhiv. In December 1942, Jews working in Bolekhiv were transferred to the barracks. At the same time, the ghetto was under liquidation. All the Jews remaining in the city were shot by the Germans in July 1942, during the fourth "Aktion". They were buried at the Jewish cemetery in Bolekhiv. All the Jews transported to Stryj were also shot. On 23 August 1943, the ghetto in Bolekhiv was finally liquidated.

During the Nazi regime in Bolekhiv, 3.8 thousand Jews were killed and 450 were transported to the death camp in Belzec. Only 48 Jews, hiding in the surrounding forests, survived the Holocaust. After the war, in 1945–1946, they went to Poland.

The cemetery

The Bolekhiv Jewish cemetery is located on a hill near the city; entrance from Mandryka, through a private courtyard. The cemetery has about 2.5–3 thousand matzevahs, the oldest dating from 1648. At a distance of approx. 50 m from the entrance, there is a tomb of the famous resident of Bolekhiv – Dov Ber Birkental. The matzevah contains an epitaph: "Here lies a famous, generous old man Dov Ber, son of Yehuda Birkental. May his soul be woven into the wreath of everlasting life." Next to it, there is a tomb of his wife Leia.

Worth seeing

  • Synagogue (18th century), Ivana Franky Square

  • Jewish cemetery (17th century), Mandryka

  • Museum of Bolekhiv History, Sichovyh Striylcyv 9

  • Museum of Natalya Kobrynska, Sichovyh Striylcyv 7

  • City Hall (1863), Ivana Franky Square

  • Church of the Dormition of the Holy Mary (1838)

  • Orthodox Church of the Holy Women Carrying Savour (17th century), wooden

  • Orthodox Church of St. Paraskevi (1939)

  • Orthodox Church of St. Anna (1870)

  • "Brükenstein" Hotel (1900–1905), now a maternity ward of the Central City Hospital, Jevhena Konovalcya

In the vicinity

Morshyn (10 km): health resort famous all over the Eastern Europe

Bubnyshche (13 km): a scenic reserve of Dovbush Rocks

Dolyna (15 km): old salt works; former synagogue (1897); Jewish cemetery (18th century, without surviving matzevahs); numerous churches and Orthodox churches; Museum of Local History "Boykivshchyna"

Kalush (49 km): Jewish cemetery (18th century); neo-Gothic Church of St. Valentine (1844); Orthodox Church of St. Michael (1910–1913); Folk House (1907)


Author: Volodymyr Bak