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 situated in the valley of the Strypa River, surrounded by three hills: Zamkova, Targovitsa, and Fedor. The town’s name probably derives from the Old Ruthenian word bucha, which meant a swiftly flowing river or depth, or from a different Old Ruthenian word, buch, meaning “haughty” or “tenacious.” 

 In 1393, Buchach was granted Magdeburg rights by King Władysław Jagiełło. Initially, the town was the property of the Buczacki family, but in the 17th century, the Potocki magnates became the new owners. The town was intensively developed during the rule of Count Stefan Potocki, the Voivode of Bratslav (1624–1648). Situated on a borderland constantly threatened by the gangs of nomads, then by Tatars and later by the Ottomans, Buchach needed substantial fortifications to defend itself. The early modern border between the Ottoman Empire and the Polish-Lithu- anian Crown ran between Buchach and Lwów (Lviv), putting Buchach exactly on the frontline of several Ottoman military campains against Poland and Austria. In the 17th century, Buchach became a powerful city-fortress with walls, fortified ramparts, ditches, and a castle on a hill. The fortress had four corner towers and three gates: the Halych Gate, Lviv Gate, and Yazlovets Gate. The reinforced, contantly renovated fortifications, however, could not protect the town from total destruction. In 1676, during the Turkish siege commanded by Ibrahim Pasha, a skilled Ottoman military leader, the town was almost completely desroyed. In 1672, the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth was forced to sign a treaty with the Ottoman Empire that later came to be known as the Treaty of Buchach: under this treaty the city was divided between the two countries, Poland and the Ottoman Porta, along the Strypa River. In 1684, the owner of Buchach, Jan Potocki, once again restored the fortress and thoroughly rebuilt the town. Later, his successor Mikołaj Bazyli Potocki (1712–1782) invited the architect Bernard Meretyn and sculptor Jan Jerzy Pinzel to Buchach, where they created a number of unique late Baroque buildings: the town hall (1751), the Basilian monastery (1751–1753), the parish church (1761), adorned with exquisite Pinzel sculptures. With the First Partition of Poland (1772), Buchach became part of the Habsburg Empire. In 1874, the first municipal election was held: among the 30 councillors elected to serve at the magistrate, there were 12 Jews, 9 Ukrainians, and 9 Poles. 

 The construction of a railway line running through Buchach in 1884 (Stanisławów–Jarmolińce, now Ivano-Frankivsk–Yarmolyntsi) helped make the town one of the largest commercial centres in Galicia. In the second half of the 19th century, Buchach boosted four mills, a textile factory, a factory manufacturing candles and soap, an alcohol brewery and winery, and a factory manufacturing wooden toys. 

 During World War I, the Tsar’s troops stayed in Buchach from August 15, 1914, to July 1917, and during this period, set fire to the town. From November 2, 1918, until July 1919, Buchach was part of the West Ukrainian People’s Republic (ZUNR). From August 15 to September 18, 1920, the town was occupied by the Bolsheviks, and in 1920–1939, it was part of the Second Polish Republic.


The Jews of Buczacz

The first written mention of Jews in Buchach dates back to 1572, when 14 Jewish families lived in the town. Until 1664, the Jewish community formed a subkahal of the Lwów kahal, as it was not numerous and powerful enough to afford an autonomous Jewish self-governing institution. Only after the establishment of Turkish rule in 1672 did the Jews of Buchach manage to establish an independent kahal. 

 The new Polish owners of Buchach – the Potockis family of magnates – supported the development of trade and protected Jewish merchants, but not without selfish commercial interest. In the 17th century, the town had a synagogue, a beth midrash, and a Jewish hospital, and by the end of the century, was home to 150 Jewish families. 

 After Buchach returned to the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth, on May 20, 1699, Stefan Aleksander Potocki confirmed the Jews’ residential privilege as well as their other rights and duties, issued by the previous Polish town owners. The Jewish community was also allowed to establish its own rabbinical court. 

 By 1870, some 6,077 Jewish residents made up 78 percent of the total population. They worked in various trades (as tailors, shoemakers, furriers, etc.) and in commerce – in 1864, there were 158 Jewish stores.


In 1728, a stone synagogue was erected in the centre of the town. It had massive fortification-type walls. In the 19th century, 12 Jewish religious institutions were active in Buchach: a synagogue, two batei midrash, two Hasidic kloyzn, and several shtiblakh (small prayer houses). The synagogue, like other buildings in Buchach, sustained heavy damage during World War II yet was destroyed by the Soviet authorities along with other damaged buildings in the late 1940s. The beth midrash building that had been located next to the synagogue’s entrance was dismantled in 2001.


Religion and politics

In 1813, the position of the town rabbi of Buchach was offered to the famous Galician Talmudist and Kabbalist Avrom David Warman (1770–1840), the author of religious works such as Birkat David, Da’at Kodeshim, and Divrei Abot that included Talmudic novella, Torah exegesis, and responsa. Rabbi Warman started a dynasty, which was continued by his son – Rabbi Eliezer, and his nephew – Rabbi Avrom Dovid. 

 With Jews making up around two-thirds of the population, local Jews took active part in various aspects of the town’s life. For example, Bernard Stern (1848–1920), a son of the head of the kahal, served as the Buchach mayor for more than 40 years (1879–1920). Stern owned a brewery, and from 1911, he was also a member of the Austrian parliament, where he belonged to the Polish Circle, supporting Polish political interests and Jewish assimilation into Polish culture and society. In 1919, he was elected to the Sejm (parliament) of the Second Polish Republic as a candidate of the Constitutional Labour Club, but his parliamentary career was cut short by his death. 

 Several other Jewish members of the Austrian parliament had Buchach roots or came from the Kolomyia–Buchach–Sniatyn electoral district; they included the Cracovian Rabbi Shimon Schreiber (son of Rabbi Hatam Sofer, the leader of ultra-Orthodox Jews in Central Europe); the rabbi, politician, and journalist Josef Samuel Bloch, and the lawyer Heinrich Gabel from Lviv (then Lemberg), who was born in Buchach. 

Buchach had both Jewish secular schools and traditional hadarim (elementary schools). From 1892, there was a vocational school, opened by the foundation of financier and philanthropist Baron Maurice de Hirsch (1831–1896), which had 262 students in 1893, and 180 in 1907. A modern Jewish hospital was established in Buchach in 1891. In 1890, encouraged by the Austrian administration, the Jewish community established the Jewish National House, a secular cultural club, and eventually, a Jewish public library. In 1905, the first Jewish newspaper in the town was launched, entitled Ha-Jarden (Heb.: The Jordan), and in 1907, the “Toynbee” educational club began to function. It was here that the Nobel Prize Laureate Shmuel Yosef Agnon, born in Buchach, read his poems for the first time.


S.Y. Agnon S.Y. Agnon (real name: Shmuel Yosef Czaczkes; 1888–1970) was one of the central figures of modern Hebrew fiction and shared the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1966 with the German Jewish poet Nelly Sachs. He was granted the prize “for his profoundly characteristic narrative art with motifs from the life of the Jewish people.” Agnon was born in Buchach, into the family of a Hasidic rabbi from Chortkiv (Czortków), well-versed in classical Judaic sources. Agnon received excellent Jewish education, became fluent in literary Hebrew, but, growing up in the multicultural environment of the town, he also mastered several other languages: Polish, Ukrainian, and German. Agnon began to write as a boy under a profound influence of German Romanticism. At the beginning of the 20 th century, he worked for a newspaper in Lviv but then, under the influence of secular Zionist movement, moved to the Ottoman Palestine. There he published his first novel, Agunot (Heb.: Abandoned Wives), taking the pen name “Agnon,” meaning an “abandoned husband.” He later adopted this pen name as his surname. Agnon first wrote in Yiddish, the spoken language of most Galician Jews, but later moved to Hebrew. He left Palestine in 1913 and moved back to Europe, to Germany, where he lived for the next 10 years. He spent his time studying European literature and also the religion, history, and culture of the Jews; he also collected old Jewish books. In his German period, he published three collections of short stories about the Jews of East Europe, combining modernistic literary devices and the traditional folk style of the Hasidic stories. He returned to Palestine in 1924, where he continued his literary activity. In 1931, he published Hakhnasad kala (Heb.: The Bridal Canopy), a novel presenting the adventures of a poor Hasid in Galicia. After a visit to Buchach in 1930, similar themes appeared in his works: in Sipur pashut (Heb.: A Simple Story,1935) and Oreach nata lalun (Heb.: A Guest for the Night,1939), Agnon described his impressions from his visit to his home town complicating them with expressionistic and symbolistic elements. He also drew on Jewish folklore, legends, and fairy tales, as well as the Jewish experience in Ottoman and Mandate Palestine in the first part of the 20 th century. His novel Tmol shilshom (Heb.: Only Yesterday) tells the story of life in Palestine in the times of the Holocaust. Several of his works appeared posthumously. Agnon’s unique literary style combines nearly all forms of the tradition of Jewish literature produced in Hebrew over many centuries.

The first Zionist organisation in Buchach, “Zion,” was founded in 1894, and in 1906, a branch of the Zionist Marxist party Poale Zion was established. In 1906, Jews arriving from Russia founded a yeshiva, with Rabbi Kitaigorodskiy as its head. A year later, a secular Zionist-oriented school with Hebrew as the main language of instruction was opened. In 1908, 216 out of the 696 students in the Buchach secondary school were Jewish. 

 During World War I, the Jews of Buchach suffered persecutions and pogroms. Under the West Ukrainian People’s Republic (1918–1919), the Jewish National Committee was formed in Buchach, consisting mainly of Zionist activists. From mid July 1919 until September 1939, Buchach was part of independent Poland.


Buczacz had a vibrant cultural life. The young people never missed an opportunity to see the theatre, comedians, musicians and the cinema. Troupes wouldcome from Vilna and beyond, and while most people were poor, they always seemed to have money for the performances. Theatre was performed at the Sokol, next to our school on Gymnasialna Street. [...] There was also the excitement of going to see the latest movies at the one kino in town.

Mina Rosner, I'm the witness, Winnipeg 1990, retrieved from:

World War II and the Holocaust

After Soviet troops entered Buchach in September 1939, all Zionist parties were abolished, and their members arrested as subversive elements and deported to Siberia. In Jewish schools, instruction was allowed only in Yiddish: the Hebrew language was forbidden as nationalist, religious, and bourgeois class enemy.

 The Germans occupied Buchach on July 5, 1941. After just a few weeks, theNazis murdered more than 300 Jews; in February 1942, about 2,000 Jews were shot and buried in mass graves. 

 On October 17, 1942, the Nazis established a Jewish ghetto and carried out the first main ghetto liquidation: about 1,600 Jews were transported to the Bełżec death camp, and on November 27, 1942, another group of 2,500 people was deported there. Around the same time, about 8,000 Jews from Monasty- ryska, Zolotyi Potik, and Yazlovets were resettled to Buchach. 

On February 2, 1943, 2,000 Jews from Buchach were executed; 500 others were murdered on June 11, and a further 1,000, on June 26. After the withdrawal of the German army in March 1944, 800 Jews left their town hideouts and forests hiding places, but soon afterwards the German army returned and murdered most of those who remained. On July 21, 1944, Soviet troops entered Buchach. 

 A memorial stone now stands on the slope of Fedor Hill, where more than 5,000 Jews were murdered during the Holocaust. There is also a Catholic cemetery on Fedor Hill, where a group of Jews managed to hide for several months in late 1943 and early 1944 with the help of the local gravedigger. The group included Shmuel Rosen, who reported the story.



Buchach was the birthplace of Emanuel Ringelblum (1900–1944) a renowned Polish Jewish historian, teacher, and social activist who organised the Oneg Shabbat underground group in the Warsaw Ghetto and was driving force behind the creation of the Warsaw Ghetto archive. The archive, comprised of thousands of items that documented everyday life in the ghetto, partially survived the destruction, hidden in milk cans. Ringelblum attended a Buchach cheder and a state secondary school. During World War I, he and his family moved to Nowy Sącz. Ringelblum studied at the Faculty of the Humanities of the University of Warsaw. In his university years, he joined the left wing of the Marxist-Zionist Poale Zion party. During the Holocaust, he and his family were confined in the Warsaw Ghetto, where he led the secret Oneg Shabbat group. Shortly before the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising, he and his family managed to escape the ghetto and were hidden, with about two dozen other Jews, by Poles on the “Aryan side.” But in March 1944, the neighbours denounced them to the Gestapo, and the entire Ringelblum family and the other Jews hiding with them – as well as the Poles who hid them – were murdered. Much of the hidden Oneg Shabbat archive was discovered after the war. It is kept presently in the Jewish Historical Institute in Warsaw, which in 2009 was named after Ringelblum.

The cemetery

The Jewish cemetery in Buchach was founded in the 16th century and was located on the town outskirts near the Strypa River. The oldest surviving tombstone is dated to 1587, and the last known burial in the cemetery took place before 1940. About 500 matzevot remain. In addition, many matzevot that were used for construction and found under the town roads and buildings have been brought back to the cemetery. This cemetery was theburial place of the relatives of the writer S.Y. Agnon and the psychiatrist Sigmund Freud, whose parents came from Buchach.

Traces of presence

A few Jews remained in Buchach in the Soviet times. In 1990, the Holocaust survivor Mina Rosner visited Buchach for the first time since the war, and her visit was chronicled in a documentary entitled Return to Buchach (1990). It received an international award at the New York Film Festival. 

 The houses where several notable Buchach natives were born still exist: the birthplace of Nazi-hunter Simon Wiesenthal (1908–2005) is at Halytska Street. Since 2012, the house in which Shmuel Agnon was born (5 Agnona St.) has been home to the cultural organisation Art-Dvir (Ukr.: The Art Yard). In 2014, the S.Y. Agnon Literature Centre began to function here (tel. +380664687958, e-mail: [email protected]).

Authors: Bozhena Zakaliuzna, Volodymyr Bak


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