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


NN Theatre

Busk - guidebook

Ukr. Буськ, Yid. ביסק

Busk - guidebook
Market square in Busk, 1917, collection of the National Library, Poland (

The Venice of Galicia

Widok na Busk, 2014, fot. Viktor Zagreba, zbiory archiwum fotografii Centrum Inicjatyw Społecznych i Biznesowych
A view of Busk, 2014. Photo by Viktor Zagreba, digital collection of the “Grodzka Gate – NN Theatre” Centre (

Busk is located in a place where three rivers, Poltva, Solotvyn and Rokitna, flow into the Bug River, dividing the city into several parts. The town was once surrounded by ponds and wetlands; a large number of rivers and streams contributed to the unique landscape of the area. Therefore, in the 18th–19th century, Busk was often called the "Venice of Galicia". Today, the city looks completely different. Streams dried up and the division into separate parts disappeared. Only bridges and wooden footbridges connecting the edges of ancient riverbeds remind of the city's past.

The Primary Chronicle mentions Busk as early as in 1097, as a Ruthenian fortified town. Since 1100, Busk was the capital of the independent Principality of Galicia-Volhynia, and together with the whole region, it was incorporated into the Polish Crown at the end of the 15th century. In 1411, Busk received Magdeburg city rights and became an important centre of trade and craft. It had a vital strategic location near the Black Trail – an old route from Crimea to Lviv frequented by merchants and sometimes raided by the Tartars. Since 1540, the city was governed by representatives of the Polish Górka family, followers of Calvinism. Thanks to them, Busk became one of the first centres of Calvinism in Ruthenia. In that period, the city significantly expanded its borders: two more market squares (Middle Market and New Market) were established in addition to the Old Market. From then on, the city had three distinct parts – old, new and central. In the years 1539–1541, paper mills were set up and operated until 1788. It was on this paper that Ivan Fedorov printed the Ostrog Bible in 1581: the first complete edition of the Scripture in the Old Church Slavonic language.



At the end of the 18th century, Józef Mier (from a Scottish family) became the owner of the town. Since then, the city began to grow rapidly as an industrial centre. Mier built sawmills and glassworks. He invited Czech and German master craftsmen. In 1810, his son Duke Wojciech Mier built a palace, which has been preserved until today. Busk remained in the hands of the Mier family until 1879. In 1849, the town burned and lost its industrial significance. Busk was taken over by the Badeni family.

The Jews of Busk

The oldest mention of the Jews in Busk dates from 1454. In 1510, they were required to pay to the Royal Treasury 20 gold florins a year through the heads of the Lviv Qahal. In 1518, due to the Tatar invasion, the King exempted the Jews from this tax for a year; after this time, they were to pay not with gold but with the state coin (30 grosz per one florin). In 1564, King Sigismund II Augustus confirmed the priviledge granted to the Jews in Busko by his father in 1550, and expanded their rights: Jews could buy land and houses throughout the city, build new buildings and sell them as well as trade in Ruthenia and Ukraine. They could trade meat and enjoy all the municipal and state rights and privileges on an equal footing with other residents. In 1582, King Stephen Báthory pronounced Busk a free royal town, which also received the privilege of "de non tolerandis Judaeis". It is not clear what the consequences were, because all this time, Jews lived within the city walls in the New Town.

From a legal point of view, the Jewish community of Busk was a part of the Lviv Qahal; it had, however, its own institutions, including the cemetery and the synagogue. Among the rabbis who acted in Busk, we should mention Aharon (1540–1560) and Isaac ben Abraham Chajes, who worked there in 1564–1568 and later became the Rabbi of Prague. At the beginning of the 18th century, Zvi Hirsch Ben Moshe of Zhovkva acted as rabbi in Busk. Approx. 100 Jews were killed as a result of the Cossack pogroms in 1648–1649 but the community managed to survive.

A (very) old cemetery

An old Jewish cemetery in Busk is considered to be the oldest Ashkenazi cemetery in Ukraine and one of the oldest in the Central and Eastern Europe. It is a large cemetery, located on several hills. It contains the oldest preserved matzewah on Shtetl Route, dating from 1520, with an epitaph: Beauty instead of ashes. (Isaiach 61:3) Here lies an honest man, r. Yehuda son of r. Jacob, called Judah. He died on Tuesday, on the 5th day of Kislev in the year 5281 since the creation of the world (23.11.1520). May his soul be in the node of life [together with the souls] of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and all the God fearing people.


Jewish cemetery in Busk, 2013. Photo by Wioletta Wejman, digital collection of the “Grodzka Gate – NN Theatre” Centre (

The Frankists and the Hasidim

In the 18th century, Busk became the center of the Frankist movement. Many Jews – even the then-rabbi of Busk Nachman Samuel ha-Levi, were supporters of the sect of Jacob Frank. During a dispute in Kamianets-Podilskyi in 1757, 19 representatives of the Frankists were present, 4 of whom (including Rabbi Nachman) came from Busk. Among those who received baptism in 1759, after the second dispute in Lviv, 103 people came from Busk, including the former Rabbi Nachman, who took the name Peter Jakubowski. Due to the support of the Jews from Busk, King Augustus III regarded Busk as one of the main centres of the Frankist movement in the country and appointed the town as place of residence of the sect's followers (Jews from Busk were even called bisker shabsezviynikes from the name Shabbatai Zevi). Jakob Frank lived in Busk during the Lviv dispute.

Rabbi David Pinchas of Brotchin, elected in place of rabbi "the betrayer", was an active opponent of the Frank's sect in Busk. He participated in the second dispute in Lviv, representing the Orthodox Jews.

The Hasidic movement, formed at the end of the 18th century, quickly gained supporters also in Busk. In the 19th century, the majority of Jews living in the town belonged to the Hasidim.

From the second half of the 19th century, the post of rabbi in Busk was held by representatives of the famous Babad family: Rebbe Yaakov – son-in-law of Eliezer Ettinger of Zhovkva, his son Awrom (d. 1905) and grandson – Issachar Ber.

The synagogue

A large brick synagogue, preserved until today, was built in 1842–1843. It was located near the market square. The construction was co-financed by a Lviv merchant Jacob Glanzer. The synagogue was erected on a rectangular plan, with a square prayer hall. The walls, built of hewn stone, were plastered inside and outside. The building had a high attic decorated with brass balls. The walls of the prayer hall were decorated with a cornice and illuminated by two semi-circular and one round window opening. The western façade was divided into two floors. The eastern wall had a niche for the Torah, decorated by a two-level classicist portal with an archivolt. On both sides, there were two rows of columns with Corinthian capitals.

Synagogue in Busk, 2014. Photo by Viktor Zagreba, digital collection of the “Grodzka Gate – NN Theatre” Centre (

During World War II, elements of the main hall of the synagogue were used as a building material. In Soviet times, the synagogue housed a gym, later as a warehouse and then one part of the synagogue was turned into living quarters, and the second into a garbage dump. The building was rapidly falling into ruin. At the beginning of the 21st century, in order to preserve this precious historical monument the decision was made to donate the uninhabited part to the Evangelical Christian community, which partially restored the building.

The emigration

In 1884, Busk had 5297 inhabitants. Among them were 2,001 Latin Catholics (37.8%), 1,640 Greek-Catholics (31%), 1,566 Jews (29.6%) and 86 Protestants (1.6%). A railway junction was located in the neighbouring village of Krasne. At the beginning of the 20th century, a large wave of emigration took place. Many Jewish artisans, minor traders and unemployed took to the United States.

One of the most famous people born in Busk is an Austrian journalist, political activist, owner and publisher of Viennese newspapers "Morgenpost" and "Wiener Tagblatt", Morris Scheps (1834–1902), son of Dr Lea Scheps. He was born in Busk in 1834. He attended high school and studied at the University of Lviv. In 1854, he began to study medicine in Vienna, but was later fascinated by journalism. Scheps was sharply criticized for pro-French, liberal views by anti-Semites in Vienna. Among his friends were many French writers – one of them was Georges Clemenceau: senator and Prime Minister of France. He accompanied Morris Scheps on the way to the grave of his father at the Jewish cemetery in Busk.

During World War I, Busk was occupied by the Russian army between August 1914 and July 1915. Most Jews fled from Busk to Vienna, the Czech Republic or Hungary. Most of them never returned to Busk. In Boston (USA), the Jews of Busk established an organization helping both people coming to the city and the remaining fellow Jews in Busk.

In November 1918, the town was incorporated into the West Ukrainian People's Republic and its air force base was located in the city. In May 1919, Busk was occupied by the Polish Army. During the war with the Bolshevik Russia, in August 1920, the city was briefly occupied by the Cavalry Army under the command of Semyon Budyonny. Until 1939, Busk was a part of the Republic of Poland.

Education, culture, Zionism

At the beginning of the 20th century, Busk had two elementary schools (from the age of 7) for boys and girls but there was no school for older children. Richer parents sent their children to schools in Kamianka Strumilova, Brody, Zolochiv or Lviv. Those who could not afford it home-schooled their children. There was no yeshiva in Busk but every teenager who wanted to continue religious studies after completing cheder could study the Talmud and other Jewish books independently in Beth Midrash. In 1908, a Hebrew language school for adults was created. Its first teacher was Israel Baruch, who while living in Haifa, wrote memoirs of this first Hebrew school in Busk. Many young people continued to study Hebrew at courses for teachers and in other Jewish schools in Lviv.

In 1911, the "Toynbee-Halle" club was created: a cultural and educational center, aimed at meeting cultural needs of the poorest members of the Jewish community. The name of the club came from an English economist and benefactor, supporter of social reforms – Arnold Toynbee (1852–1883).

The Jews of Busk actively participated in a variety of ventures organised by Zionist organizations. At the beginning of the 20th century, a society "Ahavat Zion" was set up in the city (Heb. The Love of Zion). The society founded a Jewish library. Also other Zionist youth organizations operated in the city, e.g. "Hashomer Hatzair", "Gordonia", "Betar" and many others. There were also delegations of political parties: "Popular Zionists", "Hitachdut", "Poale Zion – Left" and "Yad Harutsim".

The Busk Branch of the Hatikva Society, 1931–1932, reproduction from Sefer Busk, ed. by Avraham Shairi, Haifa 1965

The "Hatikvah" society conducted cultural activities for the Jews. There were also a library, reading rooms and a lecture hall. A Jewish sports club "Bar Kokhba" was popular among the Jewish youth. A few chalucim from Busk joined the Third Aliyah to Palestine. One of them was Majer Dror (Schor), founder of the Busk branch of "Hashomer Hatzair". Busk had an orphanage for 40 children, financed by fellow Jews from Boston. They also funded free meals for all those in need in the winter. Since 1921, there was a Jewish school belonging to the network of schools "Safa Berura" (Heb. Clear Language) with Hebrew as language of instruction.

In 1921, 1,460 Jews lived in Busk. In 1939, the population of Busk was approx. 8 thousand people, including 4 thousand Poles, 2.5 thousand Jews and 1.6 thousand Ukrainians.

World War II and the Holocaust

In September 1939, the Soviet army occupied the city and set up a prisoner camp in the stables the Badeni Estate. Approx. 1 thousand of Polish prisoners of war were held there and worked on the construction of the road Lviv-Kiev. After the German attack on the Soviet Union, a local branch of the NKVD executed 35 prisoners.

The German troops marched into the city in late June 1941. At that time, approx. 1.9 thousand Jews lived in the city. On 21 August 1942, the local Jews along with the Jews from Kamianka Strumilova were deported to the extermination camp in Belzec. The next big deportation took place on 21 September 1942. The Germans organized a mass execution of Jews from Busk and Kamianka. Approx. 2.5 thousand people were executed. At the end of 1942, a ghetto was created and the Jews from neighboring towns were resettled. In the spring of 1943, up to 3 thousand people were held there, including refugees from other liquidated ghettos. In the first half of 1943, an underground resistance movement was organized in the ghetto under the leadership of Jacob Eisenberg. Activists of this movement managed to collect some weapons but all its participants were caught and murdered by the Nazis. The remaining Jews in Busk were murdered on 21 May 1943. Only a group of selected men was sent to a concentration camp at Yanovska in Lviv. From May to November 1943, a labour camp for Jews operated in Busk. In the summer of 1943, during the search of sites around Busk, the Nazis discovered six large underground bunkers with 140 Jews who were hiding in them. The armed fugitives tried to resist but to no avail.

Memorial sites

The invaders caused huge losses in Busk. They destroyed the mill, factories, the telegraph and the telephone line, paralyzed nearly all industrial companies operating in the city and demolished many residential buildings. After the war, residents began to rebuild the destroyed city. Busk became the administrative centre of the region. Today, is has approx. 8 thousand residents; there is no Jewish community.

Near the old Jewish cemetery (between the area of the cemetery and the area of the inundation the Solotvyn River), there is a place where, according to testimonies from the Nazi occupation, mass executions of the Jewish population took place. The area of collective burials, as well as the whole area of the cemetery, is used by the local population as a pasture.

In 2004, representatives of the Jewish organisation "Sokhnut" erected a monument to the victims of the Holocaust at the cemetery. In the summer of 2006, near the old Jewish cemetery, excavations were carried out at the site of the executions. Remains of 450 people were found, including 26 children. The likely number of executed people is more than 1 thousand. Also evidences of murders were found: scales, bullets and all kinds of weapons.

Worth seeing

  • Jewish cemetery (16th century), Shevchenky

  • Synagogue (19th century), Shkylna


  • Wooden Orthodox Church of St. Paraskevi (1708), M. Shashkewycha 56а


  • Wooden Orthodox Church of St. Onuphrius (1758) and a chapel carved in the trunk of a millennial oak (1864), Khmielnytskoho


  • The Palace of Duke Badeni (19the century), J. Petrushewycha 12 (not open to tourists)


  • Church of St. Stanislaw (1780), Parkova

In the vicinity

Olesko (22 km): Olesko Castle (16th century), now a subsidiary of the Lviv Picture Gallery; ruins of the synagogue (18th century); former Church of St. Trinity (16th century); former monastery of the Capuchins (18th century); Jewish cemetery (an ohel and several matzevahs)

Zolochiv (33 km): former synagogue (1724); Jewish cemetery; castle (17th century), now a museum

Podhorce (36 km): castle (1635–1640), monastery of the Basilians


Author: Bozhena Zakaliuzna, Anatoliy Kerzhner