Buczacz (in its Polish spelling, or Buchach as transliterated from Ukrainian) is a small town located today in western Ukraine, about 100 miles southeast of Lviv. Initially owned by the Buczacki family, in 1612 it came into the hands of the noble Polish Potocki clan. As of the 1500s Buczacz was populated mostly by Jews and Poles, while much of the surrounding rural population was made up of Ruthenians. Following the devastation of the Cossack and Turkish wars in the 17th century, Buczacz prospered in the 18th century, at which time its most famous edifices were built. It came under Habsburg Austrian rule in the first partition of Poland in 1772 as part of the newly created province of Galicia. By the 1880s Jews comprised two-thirds of its 10,000 residents, although their share declined somewhat by 1914, with Poles constituting the second-largest group. Heavily damaged in World War I and the Ukrainian-Polish and Polish-Bolshevik wars that followed it, Buczacz remained part of the Second Polish Republic throughout the rest of the interwar period. Annexed by the Soviet Union in 1939, Buczacz experienced mass deportations and other repressive measures in line with Soviet policies throughout eastern Poland. Following the German occupation in 1941, the city saw the mass murder of its Jewish population by the German Security Police, gendarmerie, and auxiliary Ukrainian police units. Altogether about 10,000 Jews from Buczacz and its vicinity were either murdered in situ or deported to the extermination camp of Bełżec. As of late 1943 the Polish population was subjected to a campaign of ethnic cleansing by Ukrainian nationalists; the surviving Poles were removed in accordance with a population exchange agreement between the Soviet and communist Polish authorities in the wake of the war. Buczacz became a largely Ukrainian town under Soviet rule and it has remained so since Ukrainian independence in 1991. It has few remnants or memories of its multiethnic past and of the violent destruction of its Jewish and Polish inhabitants. It does have, however, a major place in Jewish memory and literary representation. Among its best-known sons were the historian Emanuel Ringelblum, the founder of the “Oneg Shabbat” (Yiddish: Oyneg Shabes) archive of the Warsaw Ghetto; the “Nazi hunter” Simon Wiesenthal, and the Nobel Prize laureate Shmuel Yosef Agnon, much of whose writing was dedicated to Buczacz as representative of the lost world of eastern European Jewry.
Few general histories of Buczacz are available. The earliest, Barącz 1882, has the advantage of citing documents that have disappeared in the many wars that followed and of referring to long forgotten myths and legends. But it is also written from the perspective of a devout Roman Catholic priest (of Armenian origins) and a fervent Polish nationalist. A second valuable and no less problematic study is Cohen 1956, which contains important historical essays but is generally focused on the history of the Jewish community of Buczacz. Much of this text is available on the Internet in English translation. Agnon 1973, now partially translated into English, as seen in Agnon 1973, is the great author’s attempt to tell the story of his town both as a unique site and as a symbol of East European Jewish civilization. While it is a remarkable work of fiction, it is also based on decades of meticulous research and provides important insights into a vanished world, usefully interpreted in Mintz 2017. Rudner 1993 provides a brief outline of the town’s Jewish history. Kowalski 2005 is a history of the town and its environs from a Polish perspective with strong autobiographical elements and much sympathy for prewar Jewish life. Conversely, Ostrovekha 1972 is a massive edited volume of contributions on the Ukrainian history of Buczacz and its district with a pronounced nationalist bent, written mostly by postwar exiles and combining historical data with sentimental recollections. A much briefer Ukrainian overview of the city’s history can be found in Kladochnyi 1990. Finally, Bartov 2018 is an attempt to tell the story of interethnic coexistence and violence in Buczacz using both a wealth of official documentation and personal accounts by its inhabitants and by those who destroyed it.
Agnon, Shmuel Yosef. Ir u-Melo’ah. Jerusalem: Schocken, 1973.
While strictly speaking a literary work more than a historical text, Agnon’s vast posthumous work is based on decades of study and research and provides unparalleled insight into the lives and mentalities of Jews over several centuries in Buczacz and many such similar East European towns. An abridged translation is available, A City in Its Fullness, edited by Alan Mintz and Jeffrey Saks (New Milford, CT: Toby, 2016).
Barącz, Sadok. Pamiątki Buczackie. Lwów, Austria-Hungary: Nakładem wydawcy, 1882.
The earliest historical account of Buczacz, often based on no longer extant documents, giving an unabashedly Polish nationalist and Roman Catholic view of Buczacz as an outpost of civilization and faith on the violent eastern borderlands of the kingdom, making the case for Poland’s “mission” and reflecting the nostalgia for its formerly far-flung frontiers (kresy) at the time of its writing.
Bartov, Omer. Anatomy of a Genocide: The Life and Death of a Town Called Buczacz. New York: Simon and Schuster, 2018.
Reconstructs the history of Buczacz from its earliest beginnings to its end as a multiethnic community from the distinct perspectives of its Polish, Jewish, and Ukrainian inhabitants, as well as of its various occupiers and ultimate destroyers, using a wealth of primary sources and first-person accounts.
Cohen, Yisrael, ed. Sefer Buczacz. Tel Aviv: Am Oved, 1956.
In Hebrew. Compiled in the tradition of hundreds of other memorial books (Yiddish: yizkor bicher) published in the wake of the Holocaust, this book contain important historical essays based on archival sources as well as many accounts by former Jewish residents of the city’s institutions and prominent religious, educational, political, and other public figures, and of its fate under the German occupation in World War II. English translation available online.
Kladochnyi, Iosyf. Krotko pro Buchach. Canada: N.p., 1990.
In Ukrainian. A brief outline of the history of Buczacz from a Ukrainian perspective written by an exiled Ukrainian priest.
Kowalski, Stanisław J. Powiat Buczacki i jego Zabytki. Biały Dunajec-Ostróg, Poland: Ośrodek “Wolanie z Wołynia”, 2005.
Originally publishing in 1996. Written by a former Polish resident of Buczacz, this account combines personal recollections with a historical reconstruction of Buczacz, especially from the point of view of its many religious and secular edifices, constituting a rare attempt to describe empathetically the contributions of all three ethno-religious groups to the city while expressing particular nostalgia for its vanished Polish community.
Mintz, Alan. Ancestral Tales: Reading the Buczacz Stories of S. Y. Agnon. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 2017.
This is the only substantial analysis of Ir U’meloah (Agnon 1973) in English, combining literary criticism with historical insights, thereby serving as an important guide to Agnon’s attempt to “build a city,” as he claimed, as a fictional-historical edifice that would outlast its material destruction.
Ostrovekha, Mykhailo, ed. Buchach I Buchachchyna: Istorychno-memuarnyi zbirnyk. London: Ukrainian Publishers, 1972.
In Ukrainian. This volume is in some ways the Ukrainian equivalent of the Jewish memorial book, largely compiled and written by exiles who fled the Soviet occupation at the end of World War II, offering a mix of useful historical data as well as personal recollections, some of which also touch on relations with Jews and Poles.
Rudner, Martin. Buczacz Origins. Ottawa, ON: Norman Patterson School of International Affairs, Carleton University, 1993.
A barebones account of the city’s history, largely from the Jewish perspective, that can serve as an initial but incomplete introduction.
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