Roman Zakharii

Doctoral Candidate/University of Oslo, Finland

Research Stay: 15 June to 14 September 2004

Research Project:  

Jewish Intellectual Life in a microcosm of Eastern Galicia, Podolia and Bukovina: Birth of Jewish Historiography, Hasidism and Haskalah in Western Ukraine during Austrian and Polish rule (1772–1941)

The rebirth and revival of the history and culture of the Galician, Bukovinian and Podolian Jewry* is one of the necessary matters that still need to be undertaken by the historians. The Galician Jewry as an ethnic group experienced a greatest loss and tragedy during the Holocaust as it disappeared and stopped its existence as an ethnic group, being completely annihilated by the Nazis. Nowadays Yiddish – Polish – Ukrainian – German speaking Galician and Bukovinian Jewry, once a thriving community that numbered nearly 2 million people is represented by a few elderly Holocaust survivors scattered around the world and an arrow of Holocaust monuments at the hundreds of desolate, destroyed and forsaken Jewish cemeteries throughout Western Ukraine. Many of these cemeteries are used as pastures and grazelands for the local countrymen, remaining unfenced. Tombstones from the Galician Jewish cemeteries were oftenly used as road pavement or building material during the Communist Soviet era. Hundreds of once thriving synagogues and prayer houses were turned by the Soviet authorities into the warehouses and still remain so. Those few of Galician Jews who remained in Soviet Ukraine were forced into assimilation, without any opportunity to preserve or maintain Jewish identity. There are virtually no Jews left in modern East Galician towns of Western Ukraine – once shtetles (Jewish towns and villages) where before 1939 the Jews numbered from 30 to 50 % of the population.  By the outlined above, I wish to stress the importance of the issue of revival and preserving the rich history and culture of the bygone world of those thousands poor Hasidic Jews who had to face to tragedy of the Nazi Holocaust and consequent Soviet annihilation of anything Jewish that remained. The Galician Jewish Community produced four Nobel laureates: Isaac Rabi (physics), Roald Hoffman (chemistry), Isaac Bashevis Singer (literature), and Shmuel Agnon (literature). I will note that Bashevis Singer’s father was a Galician rabbi, a spiritual mentor and confessor, of the Hasid school of piety. His mother also came from a family of rabbis. One of the greatest Jewish Religious philosophers of modernity Martin Buber (nominated for Nobel prize in literature in 1949) stemmed also from East Galicia. Buber did much in recent times to interpret Hasidism to the modern generation. Many of his works on the subject will be of reference during writing of the dissertation. Many other outstanding philosophers, musicians, politicians such as Sigmund Freud, Emanuel Ax, Isaac Stern, Joseph Lieberman, Paul Celan, Maurice Goldfaber, Moses Gomberg, Leopold Sacher-Masoch or Simon Wiesenthal were born or trace their roots to Eastern Galicia or Bukovina. In 1830 in 1887, some 30 percent of world Jewry lived on Ukrainian lands: in Podolia, Jews composed 12 % of population, in Galicia - 10 %. By the middle of the nineteenth century most of Galician and Podolian Jews were Hasids. The rich but unfortunately neglected heritage of Western Ukrainian Jewry is worth the most serious attention and study. Virtually no serious biography or monograph was written about the most of the Galician Jewish historians and Galician Podolian Hasidic leaders I am going to review. This gives an innovative character to my project.

* Eastern Galicia, Podolia and Bukovina are historic regions in what is now Western Ukraine.