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Erased: Vanishing Traces of Jewish Galicia in Present-Day Ukraine

Erased: Vanishing Traces of Jewish Galicia in Present-Day Ukraine

by Omer Bartov


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ISBN-13: 9780691131214
Publisher: Princeton University Press
Publication date: 10/07/2007
Pages: 288
Product dimensions: 5.50(w) x 8.50(h) x (d)

About the Author

Omer Bartov is the John P. Birkelund Distinguished Professor of European History at Brown University. His books include Murder in Our Midst: The Holocaust, Industrial Killing, and Representation and Hitler's Army: Soldiers, Nazis, and War in the Third Reich.

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Vanishing Traces of Jewish Galicia in Present-Day Ukraine

By Omer Bartov


Copyright © 2007 Princeton University Press
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-4008-6689-2



In 1772 the Habsburg Empire annexed the southern regions of Poland and created the province of Galicia. While Western Galicia was predominantly Polish, Eastern Galicia had a majority of Ukrainians. Following the collapse of the Habsburg Empire in World War I, Western Galicia became part of newly independent Poland in 1918. In Eastern Galicia, the Ukrainians established a short-lived "Western Ukrainian Republic." After more fighting between the Poles, the Ukrainians, and the Soviets, Poland annexed all of Eastern Galicia—made up of the provinces of Lwów (L'viv), Stanisl/awów (Stanyslaviv), and Tarnopol (Ternopil')—as well as the lands of Ukrainian-dominated Volhynia (Wolyn) and Belorussian-dominated Polesie (Western Belarus) to the north. These new borders were internationally recognized in 1923, and Eastern Galicia came to be known by the Poles as Eastern Little Poland (Mal/opolska Wschodnia). In 1939, as part of the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact between the Soviet Union and Nazi Germany, Eastern Galicia—as well as the Western Ukrainian and Western Belorussian lands to its north—was annexed by the USSR and became part of the Soviet republic of Ukraine.

Following the German invasion of the Soviet Union in 1941, Eastern Galicia was annexed to the German-ruled General Government in Poland as Distrikt Galizien. In 1944 this region was reconquered by the Red Army and again became part of Soviet Ukraine. Since 1991 the former Eastern Galicia has been part of the western region of independent Ukraine. This borderland territory stretches from just north of the regional capital L'viv (Lwów, L'vov, Lemberg) almost all the way south to Chernivtsi (Chernovtsy, Czernowitz, Cernauti) in the former Austrian province of Bukovina, and it extends from the Carpathian range in the west to the Zbruch (Zbrucz) River and the plains of Podolia in the East. It is a land that has many claims to fame and infamy.

Historically, Galicia constituted the borderland between the old Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth—which was finally destroyed by the three partitions of Poland in the late eighteenth century—and the empires and marauders from the east and the south: the Tatars, the Cossacks, the Turkish Ottomans, and later, the Russians and the Soviets. It was a mixed bag of interdenominational and interethnic coexistence on the one hand, and of animosity, strife, and bloodshed on the other. Galicia was also the birthplace or breeding ground of many spiritual and political movements. Romantic Polish literature glorified the rule of Poland's great noble houses over these lands; Shabbateanism, Frankism, Hasidism, Haskalah (enlightenment) and, finally, Zionism flourished there among the Jews; Ukrainian literary and political nationalism found a firm base there and some of its most distinguished political and cultural figures came from the province's towns and villages.

Galicia was a borderland in yet another sense: situated at the edge of East Central Europe, it was imbued with Polish, German, and Austrian cultural influences, but also open to the wide plains, forests, and steppe lands of western Russia and Asia, vast territories in which Europe was but a rumor. The Galician countryside was poor, muddy, backward, and primitive. Right across the border the author S. Ansky (1863–1920) launched his ethnographic expedition of the Pale of Settlement. Ansky sought the last remnants of medieval Jewish culture in the remote shtetlach (small and predominantly Jewish towns) of Russian Podolia hidden from the reach of modern civilization, and recorded his findings just before this entire crumbling world was swept away in the battles and massacres of World War I and all the horrors that came in its wake. It was in the Pale and in Galicia that Ansky organized relief operations for Jewish communities under a brutal Russian occupation during the war. And it was his familiarity with these regions that served as the background for Ansky's masterpiece, The Dybbuk, a mystical tale of soul possession and love set in a pre-modern East European Jewish universe akin to the one from which the author himself had fled decades earlier.

Galicia was also where the peasants were imagined as the carriers of an authentic Ruthenian or Ukrainian culture and tradition, and where the splendor and heroism of the Polish szlachta (gentry) appeared to echo in the numerous castles built to ward off foreign enemies and rebellious serfs. Indeed, while the name Galicia no longer appears on modern maps and the names of its towns and cities, as well as the identities of its rulers and inhabitants, have changed many a time, it remains the site or object of prejudice, legend, and myth, of nostalgia and regret, loss and oblivion. To be called "a Galitsyaner" (or Galitzianer) was for long not much of a compliment for its Jewish inhabitants: it denoted folksy backwardness and at times also a petty mercantile mentality and moral shiftiness. The Galitsyaner was someone who either spoke of leaving or had already left for better places (Vienna, Prague, Berlin, America—also known as the goldene medine [golden state] where money grew on trees and a Jew could make a living). Increasingly he or she came under the influence of Zionism and either dreamed of going to Eretz Israel or actually ended up in the Promised Land, discovering that it had very little to offer save for more hopes and dreams. But Galicia was also the land of great rabbis and yeshivot (religious colleges), of miraculous tales and vibrant community life, beautifully depicted in the writings of its great son, Yosef Shmuel Agnon (1888–1970), who recreated his hometown of Buchach as a microcosm of East European shtetl life, and given plastic expression in the paintings of Maurycy Gottlieb (1856–79) of nearby Drohobych (Drohobycz).

Contemporary Germans, for their part, speak in terms of a rustic idyll about the former ethnic German population of Galicia, expressing a nostalgia documented in numerous recent books that must reflect disenchantment with the crowded modernity of the West and is all the easier to elaborate as the passage of time transforms memory into fantasy. But German scholars have also recently reconstructed the destruction of the Jewish population in these regions. For Austrians, a vaguely romantic view of their long-vanished great empire coincides with vicarious memories of what used to be its most backward province. Now a young Austrian historian has shown that this familiarity with the land and its people also facilitated the involvement of Viennese policemen in mass murder during World War II. For Ukrainians, this western edge of their newly independent land—which, but for brief periods, had never been part of the Russian-controlled Territories of central and east Ukraine on either side of the Dnieper before the Soviet occupation of 1939–41 and after 1944—is both an example of greater western sophistication and a somewhat foreign and suspect region. Its Ruthenian farmers still till the black earth as their forefathers did, but as the different names of its cities and towns indicate, urban culture blends an assertive Ukrainian nationalism, traces of a rich Polish and Jewish past, and all the external trademarks of a spreading globalized modernity, even as many locals still refer to themselves as Galicians. In all these respects, Galicia is a true borderland, the meeting place of numerous cultures, religions, and ethnicities, which is at the same time located at their periphery, a site where identity is all the more vehemently asserted precisely because of its often tenuous and fluid nature.

Today's inhabitants of the former Eastern Galicia have little memory of its complex, rich, and tortuous past. This land is in the throes of creating a single national narrative of events, people, institutions, culture, and politics, an undertaking of massive simplification that not only distorts its past but threatens to impoverish its future. In a certain sense, this region exemplifies a larger trend that can be identified in much of the rest of Europe, claims to the contrary notwithstanding and despite differences in style and approach. The prewar world of Galicia is no more. But its past, and the denial of that past, is more visible than in many other parts of Europe, thanks to neglect, indifference, and forgetfulness. Western Europe has rapidly modernized, and has thereby covered the traces of destruction with concrete and rhetoric. Eastern Galicia was left on the margin, a borderland territory between the West and the East, with little development and investment under Soviet rule, and a seething nationalism that kept up resistance to the "liberators" of this land well into the 1950s.

Since the early 1990s, the Soviet distortion of the past has been rapidly replaced by, or combined with, the previously suppressed nationalist narrative. But in many parts of the land these cosmetic changes have had little effect on the general condition of ignorance and abandonment, dilapidation and oblivion. Here the Galician past is still bare, indifference still glaring, prejudices and denials and fierce loyalties still almost entirely bereft of the comforting West European glaze of sophistication. The ghosts of the past still roam freely in the hills and valleys, clutter the unpaved streets, and congregate in synagogues transformed into garbage dumps and in cemeteries grazed by goats. And the inhabitants walk among the ruins and the ghosts, awakened to their presence only when asked by a stranger and forgetting them just as soon as he leaves. It is a region suspended in time, just for a little while longer, before it too will be swept with the tide of modernization and globalization, commemoration and apology. Sooner or later, the people of Western Ukraine's Galicia too will become aware of what they had lost and forgotten, but by then they will have destroyed these last material traces of the past in their rush to catch up with the present and will have to recreate another past, one capable of more conveniently accommodating the spirit of tolerance and nostalgia that befits the modern temperament forged in the incinerators of difference and memory.



L'viv / Lwów / L'vov / Lemberg / Leopolis

As Western Ukraine's Eastern Galician territories begin to stir from decades of war, oppression, and economic decline, let us take a brief journey through this land of memory and oblivion, coexistence and erasure, high hopes and dashed illusions. We begin in L'viv, now located some 40 miles southeast of the Polish border. Once a mostly Polish and Jewish city and a thriving cultural, economic, and political center, it is now struggling to emerge from the long years of Soviet neglect and suppressed memories of mass murder, expulsion, and demographic upheaval. Boasting a population of 830,000 people, the city is the capital of the L'viv Oblast' (region) and is the main urban center of what had been Eastern Galicia.

Two sites may remind us of this city's past diversity. The Armenian Cathedral, dating back as far as 1363, is a well-preserved and moving edifice, testifying to the former presence of an important Armenian community in these parts of Ukraine (then Poland), most of whom eventually assimilated into the local population. The Armenians—along with the Karaites and Greeks—were the main competitors with the Jews in commerce and business. Because they were Christian and therefore assimilated more easily into the local population, and because they numbered altogether far fewer people, the Armenian community declined while the Jewish population increased. Indeed, just as Jews could maintain their identity in Christian countries, so, too, Christian Armenians retained a stronger sense of their ethnic and cultural singularity in Muslim lands. The Armenian Cathedral in L'viv is interesting not least because it served as the burial ground for some distinguished Polish intellectual and political figures of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. This testifies both to the assimilation of the Armenians into the hegemonic culture of L'viv, and to the strong Polish presence in a city that defined itself as an inherent part of Poland despite growing pressures from Ruthenian/Ukrainian nationalism and the predominance of Ukrainians in the surrounding countryside.

The other site is the Golden Rose Synagogue, of which almost nothing remains. A modest plaque at the site carries the following inscription in Ukrainian, English, and Yiddish:

Remnants of the old temple called "Di Goldene Royz." Built in 1580–1595 by the Nachmanowitch family in the memory of Rabbi Nachman's wife. The building designed by the Italian architect Pablo Romano, was destroyed by nazis [sic] and burnt in summer 1942.

The site of the temple seems to be a popular nighttime hangout, as indicated by the empty beer bottles and other garbage strewn in the shallow pit next to the only remaining wall. The synagogue is located in the former Jewish quarter of L'viv, next to the old city wall. But one looks in vain for any explicit mention of the destruction of the Jewish community, let alone of Ukrainian collaboration. Nowhere is it mentioned that in the pogroms that followed immediately on the heels of the German army's entry into the city on June 30, 1941, somewhere between 7,000 and 10,000 Jews were murdered.

Jews had already arrived in the region of L'viv in the tenth century, coming mainly from Byzantium and Khazaria, and the earliest Jewish tombstone found in the city dates back to 1348. But the first signs of organized Jewish communities in western Poland don't appear until the eleventh, or more likely the twelfth century. Ashkenazi Jews along with other Central Europeans came to Poland during the following two centuries because of greater economic opportunities there. By 1500 the Jews of Poland numbered between 10,000 and 30,000 people and enjoyed the status of free men within the framework of a highly developed communal autonomy. On the eve of the Cossack-Ruthenian revolt of 1648 led by Bohdan Khmel'nyts'kyi (Bogdan Chmielnicki), Polish Jewry numbered some 450,000 people, and despite the devastation of the following decades the Jewish population grew to 750,000 by 1765. By then Jews constituted about 5.35 percent of the population of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth. Created by the Union of Lublin in 1569, the Commonwealth brought vast areas of Ukraine—inhabited mainly by Ruthenians (later known as Ukrainians)—under Polish rule. Increasing pressure on Jewish settlement and economic rights in western Poland and offers of opportunities further east attracted many Jews to these new territories. By the mid-eighteenth century more than half of the Commonwealth's Jewish population lived mostly as town dwellers in privately owned latifundia under direct jurisdiction of the nobility; 44 percent of Polish Jewry lived in Ukraine-Ruthenia. Astonishingly, 80 percent of world Jewry today can trace their roots to the eighteenth-century Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth.

The three partitions of 1772, 1793, and 1795 terminated the existence of Poland as an independent political entity until after World War I. As the Jews of the newly created province, or crownland, of Galicia found themselves under Austrian Habsburg rule, they lost much of their political and religious autonomy and underwent a progressive economic decline. Yet the Jewish population of Galicia grew rapidly from 250,000 in 1800 to 450,000 in 1857, despite significant emigration to Hungary. Three-quarters of this population was concentrated in Eastern Galicia, much of it in smaller towns and villages. In a poverty-stricken province, up to 80 percent of the Jews depended on the meager profits of trade for a living; especially among the poor, Hasidism became increasingly popular. That as late as 1910 some 60 percent of the Poles and 92 percent of the Ruthenians were engaged in agriculture exemplifies Galicia's backward economy. Indeed, by and large the gentile population was even poorer than the Jews, whose numbers reached 575,000 in 1869, just two years before the empire granted the Poles political dominance in the province. The following decades saw growing nationalism among all three main ethnic groups, with Jews responding to increasing anti-Semitism and grinding poverty by mass emigration: 85 percent of the 320,000 Jews who emigrated from Austria-Hungary to the United States between 1891 and 1914 came from Galicia. Many others moved to the larger cities of Galicia or to Vienna. Those who remained behind were often politically mobilized by socialism, Zionism, and "autonomism," which sought Jewish political and cultural autonomy in the Diaspora.

World War I devastated the province. As a consequence of brutalities and destruction by the invading Russian army, some 400,000 East Galician Jews fled to the west, even as others were deported to the east by the Russians. The subsequent fighting between Polish, Ukrainian, and Bolshevik armies was accompanied by such outbreaks of anti-Jewish violence as the pogrom of November 1918 in L'viv, when scores of Jews were murdered by Polish soldiers. Under Polish rule in the interwar period the ratio of Jewish inhabitants within the total population of Eastern Galicia declined, and the Jews never recovered from the material and demographic damage of the war and its aftermath. Lack of economic prospects and discriminatory policies by the Polish government contributed to the growing popularity of political Zionism and the socialist Bund. By 1931 growing numbers of children were attending the sixty-five Hebrew language schools in Galicia.


Excerpted from Erased by Omer Bartov. Copyright © 2007 Princeton University Press. Excerpted by permission of PRINCETON UNIVERSITY PRESS.
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Table of Contents

Introduction ix
Maps xviii
Chapter I: The Borderland 1
Chapter II: Travels in the Borderland 11
L'viv — Sambir — Drohobych — Stryi — Bolekhiv —
Ivano-Frankivs'k — Kolomyia — Kosiv — Kuty —
Horodenka — Husiatyn — Chortkiv — Zolotyi Potik —
Buchach — Monastyrys'ka — Ternopil’ — Berezhany —
Zolochiv — Brody — Zhovkva
Chapter III: Return 199
Acknowledgments 213
Additional Readings 215
About the Author 225
Index of Names 227
Index of Place-Names 229

What People are Saying About This


Bartov's is a unique type of travelogue, one that records the sites of horrible massacres and extreme brutality. As he goes from town to town in Ukraine, Bartov describes the landscapes of Jewish life and death: cemeteries, synagogues, schools, killing fields, and neighborhoods. The book is also personal-about his search for his family's past. There is nothing quite like it.
Norman M. Naimark, Stanford University

David Engel

The Jews of East Galicia were obliterated twice: physically by the Nazis, and in memory by the Soviets and in independent Ukraine. Omer Bartov's tour of what remains of a once-vital civilization shows how unwelcome Jews still are in the region, even if only as an artifact of a distant past.
David Engel, New York University

Timothy Snyder

This will be of interest to a great many Europeans and probably Israelis, as well as American readers of travel literature and students of the region.
Timothy Snyder, author of "Sketches from a Secret War"

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Erased: Vanishing Traces of Jewish Galicia in Present-Day Ukraine 5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 1 reviews.
Guest More than 1 year ago
This is an excellent book detailing the aftermath of ethnic cleansing in one small corner of Europe. Israeli author Bartov gives us a travelogue of a lost world, whose denizens live on in a few tombstones, abandoned holy sites, in the memory of a few and the imagination of transplanted descendents. The history of Ukraine, Poland, and Israel intersects in ways that the official histories of all places does not care to explore and to which Bartov's book alludes but does not directly touch. One is that as Poland bewails its division by Germany and Soviet Russia in 1939, Polish historians are liplocked when it comes to Poland's partition of Ukraine in 1920, between Warsaw and the same Soviet Russia - of Marshal Pilsudski's betrayal of his anti-Bolshevik, anti-Semitic ally Simon Petlyura. Perhaps the most crying but unspoken irony here is the erasing of the ethnic 'other' in Bartov's own Israel, built on the ruins of Palestinian Arabs driven from their ancestral homes. Although no genocide was perpetrated there in the cleansing operations - but a few short years after the deeds in Galicia - Palestinian life was as thoroughly 'erased', leaving behind only its tombstones, abandoned holy sites and villages, living on only in the memory of exiles and the imaginations of their descendents. Present-day Israelis and Ukrainians can learn great lessons by studying this work.