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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Buchach - guidebook

Ukr. Бучач, Yid. בעטשאָטש

Buchach - guidebook

The relentless

Buchach is a town located in the valley of the Strypa River, surrounded by the mountains: Zamkowa, Targowica and Fedor. The city's name probably derives from the Old Ruthenian word "bucza", meaning fast flowing spring water, depth, or from another old Ruhenian word "bucz", i. e. "lofty" or "relentless".

In a historical source dating from 1260, we find a mention of Gabriel Buchacki – a Kamyanets governor. In 1393, Buchach received Magdeburg city rights from King Władysław Jagiełło. The city was originally owned by the Buczacki family (coat of arms Abdank) аnd since the beginning of the 17th century, by the noble family of Potocki. It was intensively expanded during the leadership of the Bratslav governor Stefan Potocki (1624–1648). Because of the constant threat of the Tartars in the 17th century, Buchach became a powerful city-fortress with walls, ditches and a castle situated at the top of the hill (all fortifications were often rebuilt and strengthened). The fortress had four corner towers and 3 gates: Halicka, Lvivska and Jazlowiecka. However, this did not save the city from total destruction by the fire during the Turkish siege in 1676, under the command of Ibrahim Pasha. In 1672, as a result of an unsuccessful military campaign, Poland was forced to sign a treaty with the Ottoman Empire, eventually called the Treaty of Buchach: the city was divided between the two countries along the Strypa River. In 1684, the owner of Buchach Jan Potocki once again restored the defensive importance of the fortress and completely rebuilt the city. Mikołaj Bazyli Potocki (1712–1782) invited the architect Bernard Meretyn and the sculptor John George Pinzla, who created some Baroque buildings: city hall (1751), Basilian monastery (1751–1753), parish church (1761) and a series of elaborate sculptures. As a result of the First Partition of Poland (1772), Buchach became a part of the Habsburg Empire. In 1874, Buchach had its first municipal elections, in which 12 of the 30 elected councilors were Jews, 9 were Ukrainians and 9 were Poles.

In 1884, the construction of a railway line (Stanislaviv-Jarmolince) running through Buchach contributed to the revival of economic relations in the city and transformed the city into one of the largest trading centers in Galicia. The second half of the 19th cebtury saw the establishment of a textile factory, 4 mills, a factory producing candles and soap, a brewery, a winery, and a factory of wooden toys.

During World War I, Buchach was set on fire by the Tsarist army. The Russians occupied Buchach from 15 August 1914 to July 1917. Between 2 November 1918 and July 1919, Buchach was a part of the West Ukrainian People's Republic. Between 15 August and 18 September 1920, Buchach was occupied by the Bolsheviks, and in 1920–1939, the city was incorporated into the Second Republic of Poland.

The Jews of Buczacz

The first written mention of the Jews in Buchach dates from 1572. 14 Jewish families lived in the city at that time. Until 1664, the Jewish community of Buchach was governed by the Lviv Qahal. It was not until the advent of the Ottoman rule (1672), that the Buczacz Jews could create a separate qahal, because the border of the Ottoman Empire and the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth ran between Buchach and Lviv.

New owners of Buczacz – the Potocki family – encouraged the development of trade and looked after the Jewish merchants in the city. In the 17th century, the city had a synagogue, Beth Midrash and a Jewish hospital. By the end of the century, 150 Jewish families lived in Buchach.

After returning Buczacz under the realm of the Commonwealth, the right of to settle in the city and other rights and obligations were confirmed in the privilege issued by the owner of Buchach, Stefan Alexander Potocki, on 20 May 1699. The Jewish community was also granted the right to the court.

At the end of the 17th century and in the early 18th century, the post of Rabbi of Buchach was held by: Yaakov Moshe of Sharogorod, Rabbi Elchanan ben Ze'ev, Rabbi Moshe ben Hirsch (1765–1770), and Rabbi Zvi Hirsch ben Yaakov Karo (1740–1813).
One of the company said, I never in all my life knew taht this town was so pleasant. It seems to me that there is nowhere in the world a town as pleasant as ours.

That, responded his companion, is just what occured to me this very moment.

Every city, remarked Rabbi Alter the slaughterer, in which decent and pleasant people live is decent and pleasant.


In 1728, a brick synagogue was built in Buchach. It was located in the center of the city, founded on a square plan and had large wall fortifications. The width of each wall was about 5 m, and height approx. 30 m. After the war, before 1950, workers pulling down devastated buildings in the city demolished the synagogue, which had been seriously damaged.

In the 19th century, the city had 12 religious institutions: the synagogue, two Beth Midrashes, two Hasidic kloyz and several shtiebels. The building of Beth Midrash, located near the entrance to the synagogue, was demolished in 2001.

Religion and politics

In 1813, the post of Rabbi in Buchach was taken by a famous Galician expert in the Talmud and Kabbalist Awrom David Warman (1770–1840), author of religious works (treaties Birkat David, Daat Kodashim, and Dibra Abot). He initiated a dynasty continued by his son – Rabbi Eliezer and nephew – Rabbi Awrom Dowid.

In 1864, in Buczacz there were 158 Jewish shops, and according to data from 1870, the town was inhabited by 6,077 Jews (67.9% of the total population), who practiced various crafts (including tailoring, shoemaking and leather craft) and trade, and participated in monthly town fairs.

The Jewish community took an active part in the life of the city. For over 30 years (1879–1920), the Mayor's office was held by a local Jew, the son of the President of the Qahal, Bernard Stern (1848–1920). The Galician politician was the owner of a brewery in Buchach, and since 1911, he was also a member of the Austrian parliament, as a part of the Polish Caucus. In 1919, he was elected to the first term of the Sejm of the Republic of Poland, as a member of the Club of Constitutional Work, but his service was interrupted by his death.

At the end of the 19th century, the Jewish Buchach was an important political center. Several Jewish members of the Austrian parliament came from the Kolomyia-Buchach-Sniatyn constituency, among others: the Krakow Rabbi Shimon Schreiber (son of the famous Rabbi Chatam Sofer, leader of the ultra-Orthodox Jews in Galicia), Rabbi and writer Joseph Samuel Bloch, and a lawyer from Lviv, Heinrich Gabel, born in Buchach.

Buchach had both general Jewish schools as well as traditional cheders. In 1892, a vocational school was founded by the foundation of Baron Maurice Hirsch (1831–1896), with 262 students in 1893, and 180 students in 1907. A modern Jewish hospital was opened in Buchach in 1891. Its director was Dr Fabian Gecht. In 1890, the Jewish community opened a Folk House, аnd some time later – the first Jewish public library in Buchach. Since1905, the first Jewish newspaper "Ha-Jarden" (Heb. Jordan) was issued. In 1907, an Enlightenment club "Toynbee" was opened, where a Nobel laureate born in Buchach, Shmuel Josef Agnon, read his poems for the first time.

Shmuel Josef Agnon (Czaczkes; 1888–1970) was born in a Hasidic family of a rabbi and expert in religious literature from Chortkiv. He received traditional Jewish education. He spent his childhood in a multicultural environment and mastered languages: Polish, Ukrainian and German. He began writing as an 8-year-old boy; in Buchach, he wrote 70 songs. He was under the influence of the German Neo-romanticism. At the beginning of the 20th century, he worked in a newspaper in Lviv. Already in 1907, he immigrated to Palestine, where he published his first novel Agunot (Heb. Forsaken Wives) under the pen name Agnon, i. e. “The Forsaken”. This pen name later became his assumed name. Agnon wrote his first works in Yiddish and later began writing in Hebrew. In 1913, Agnon went to Germany, where he lived for over 10 years. He studied European literature and religion, Jewish history and culture, and collected old Jewish books. During this period, he published three collections of short stories about the Jews of the Eastern Europe, in the style of religious literature. In 1924, he returned to Palestine, where he continued his literary activity. In 1931, he published his novel The Bridal Canopy depicting the adventures of a poor Hasid in Galicia. For this book, he received the Nobel Prize in literature in 1966. After a visit to Buchach in 1930, his works included Ukrainian topics: in the works Sippur pashut (Heb. A Simple Story, 1935) and Oreach nata laluna (Heb. A Guest For the Night, 1939), Agnon described his impressions from visiting his hometown. He also described the Jewish folklore, legends and fairy tales. The last novel published during the writer's life, Temol shilshom (Heb. Only Yesterday), depicting life in Palestine during the Holocaust, came out in 1945. After the author's death, a number of his works were published posthumously. Agnon's unique literary style combines almost all forms of a centuries-old tradition of Jewish literature written in Hebrew.

The first Zionist organization in Buchach, "Zion", was founded in 1894, and in 1906, a branch of the Zionist party "Poale Zion" was established. In 1906, newcomers from Russia founded a yeshiva, whose director was R. Kitaigorodskyi. A year later, a school with Hebrew as language of instruction was founded. In 1908, 696 students attended the Buchach middle school and 216 of them were of Jewish origin.

During World War I, the Jews of Buchach were victims of persecution and pogroms. In the period of the West Ukrainian People's Republic (1918–1919), a Jewish National Committee was created in Buchach, consisting mainly of Zionist activists. From mid-July 1919 to September 1939, Buchach was a part of Poland.

World War II and the Holocaust

In the aftermath of the invasion of the Soviet Army in 1939, all Zionist parties were liquidated аnd their members were arrested and exiled to Siberia. Jewish schools were allowed to teach only in Yiddish, while Hebrew was banned.

The Germans occupied Buchach in 5 July 1941. Within a few weeks, the Nazis murdered over 300 Jews on the top of the Fedor Mountain. In February 1942, approx. 2 thousand Jews were shot and buried in mass graves on the Fedor Mountain.

The first planned liquidation of the ghetto took place on 17 October 1942: approx. 1.6 thousand Jews were transported to the death camp in Belzec; on 27 November 1942, another 2.5 thousand people were deported. At the time, approx. 8 thousand Jews from Monastyryska, Zolotyi Polik and Yazlovets were resettled to Buchach.

On 2 February 1943, 2 thousand Jews of Buchach were killed, on 11 June – another 500 people, and on 26 June – 1 thousand. After the withdrawal of the German army in March 1944, 800 Jew came back from hideouts and forests, but soon after, the German army was back and killed most of those who were in the city. On 21 July 1944, the Soviet army entered Buchach.

On the mountainside of Fedor, where over 5 thousand Jews were murdered in the Holocaust, there is today a memorial stone. On the top of Fedor, there is also a Catholic cemetery, where for several months in the late 1943 and 1944, a group of Jews managed to hide with the help of a local gravedigger; among them was Milk Rozen, who has lived to tell the tale.


Emanuel Ringelblum (1900–1944) was born in Buchach. He was a Polish-Jewish historian, educator, and social activist; creator of the archives of the Warsaw Ghetto and organizer of a conspiracy group. In Buczacz, he attended a cheder and a state middle school. During World War I, his family moved to Nowy Sacz, where in 1919, he graduated from the local middle school. He studied at the Faculty of Humanities of the University of Warsaw. Since his student years, he was a member of the "Poale Zion – Left" organization. During the Holocaust, he hid with his family in a bunker on the Aryan side of Warsaw, where he continued to write historical works. In March of 1944, the bunker was discovered as a result of denunciation. The whole Ringelblum family hiding with them and the Poles who gave them shelter were murdered. In 2009, his name was given to the Jewish Historical Institute in Warsaw.

The cemetery

The Jewish cemetery in Buchach was founded in the 16th century. Іt was located on the outskirts of the town, near the Strypa River. The last known burial at the cemetery took place before 1940. To this day, you can find approx. 500 matzevahs. Many matzevahs, recovered from under roads and buildings in the city, have been transported back to the cemetery. The oldest preserved matzevah dates back to 1587. Relatives of the writer Shmuel Yosef Agnon and of the psychiatrist Sigmund Freud, whose parents came from Buchach, are buried here.

Traces of presence


According to the Soviet census of 1989, the Jewish population in Buchach represented less than 1% of the total population. In 1990, Buchach was visited by Mina Rosner, a survivor of the Holocaust, who saw the city for the first time after the war. During her visit, a documentary Return to Buchach was filmed, which was awarded at the New York Film Festival.

On Halycka, there is a house where Simon Wiesenthal (1908–2005) was born – world-renowned scholar of the Holocaust, prisoner in the Mauthausen camp.

Since 2012, the house in which Shmuel Agnon was born (Agnona Street 5) has been the seat of the cultural organization Art-Dwir (Ukr. Art Yard). In 2014, the Agnon Literary Centre was established.

Worth seeing

  • Jewish cemetery, Tarhova
  • S.J. Agnon family house, now Art-Dwir, Agnona 5
  • Buchach Castle (1379) erected at the site of a former 12th-century castle, Prosvity
  • Orthodox Church of St. Nicholas (1610), fortified
  • City Hall (1751), designed by Bernard Meretyn
  • Church of the Dormition of the Holy Virgin Mary, designed by Bernard Meretyn
  • The Basilian monastery and Orthodox church (1753)
  • Museum the Local History in Buchach, Halycka 52

In the vicinity

Yazlovets (17 km): Jewish cemetery (18th century); castle (15th century); Koniecpolski Palace (18th century); Orthodox Church of St. Nicholas (16th century); ruins of the Dominican church (16th century)

Monastyryska (17 km): former synagogue (early 20th century); Orthodox church; old church (18th century)

Budaniv (44 km): castle (17th century); Jewish cemetery (18th century)

Terebovlia (49 km): former synagogue (19th century); city hall (19th century); Orthodox Church of the Holy Trinity (1635); former parish church


Author: Volodymyr Bak