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Buchach (Ukrainian: Бучач; Polish: Buczacz; Yiddish: בעטשאָטש, translit.
Betshotsh, German: Butschatsch) is a small city located on the Strypa River (a
tributary of the Dniester River) in the Ternopil Oblast (province) of western
Ukraine. It is the administrative center of the Buchatsky Raion (district), and
rests 135 km south east of Lviv, in the historic region of Galicia.
The current estimated population is around 12,500 (as of 2001).
* 1 History
* 2 The Holocaust in Buczacz
* 3 The Nazi Conquest
* 4 The Slaughter of Buczacz Jewry
* 5 Resistance and Heroism
* 6 The End of Buczacz Jewry
* 7 People
The earliest recorded mention of Buczacz is in 1397, almost fifty years after
Galicia was conquered by Poland. It was during this time that the area
experienced a large influx of Polish, Jewish and Armenian settlers. Buczacz in
particular became home to a large Jewish community, and is thus considered to be
Its founders were leading Polish aristocrats, and among its early settlers were Jews, coming to inhabit a predominantly Ukrainian rural milieu. By way of contrast with the mainly Slavic peasant populations, the Jewish settlers in the lands of the eastern Galicia were townspeople and skilled craftsmen. Among them were individuals experienced in trade and finance. Polish kings and princes welcomed the contribution of Jews to the colonization of their eastern realms, and encouraged them to settle and offered them protection. With the unification of Poland and Lithuania in 1569, the newly united kingdom extended from the Baltic to the Black Sea. Owing to its importance as a market town, Buczacz had become a prominent trading centre linking the Poland and the Ottoman Empire.
During Cossack uprisings of the mid-17th century Buczacz successfully defended itself, with Jews joining in the defence of the town. Large numbers of Jewish refugees from the areas laid waste by Chmielnicki and his warring Cossacks sought sanctuary in Buczacz. In 1772 and again in 1775 the town was captured by the Ottoman Turks. Under the leadership of the organized Jewish community, the Kehila, Jews joined with the Poles in its defence.
In 1772, Galicia was annexed by Austria as part of the First Partition of Poland.
Industry came to Buczacz around the end of the 19th century. Among the small-scale industries there included a brickwork, and candle and soap factory, (modern) flour mills, a textile plant, and a necktie factory. The town also boasted a brewery and a winery. The largest factory was established early in the 1900s, when the Hilfespharein concern of Vienna set up a plant for the manufacture of wooden toys in Buczacz employing some 200 workers, mainly young girls. In 1912 the Stanislavov-based Savings and Credit Union opened a branch in Buczacz, and this served as a bank for local industrialists and business.
Jews were predominant in certain artisan occupations in Buczacz, notably tailoring, furriers, tin-smithing, book publishing, and waggoneering. Jews were also active in carpentry and cabinet making. From the late 19th century local Jews began to enter the free professions. By 1910 there were 14 Jewish lawyers and four medical doctors belonging to the Association of Zionist Professionals, and this reportedly represented about half the total number of Jewish professionals in Buczacz. An association of accountants was formed in 1905 with 40 members.
Buczacz remained a part of Austria and its successor states until the end of the First World War in 1918. The town was briefly a part of the independent West Ukrainian People's Republic before it was captured by the Republic of Poland in 1923.
In World War II, Eastern Galicia, including Buchach, was annexed by the Soviet Union and incorporated into the Ukrainian SSR (see Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact). In 1941, it was invaded by Nazi Germany; the town's Jewish community was almost completely obliterated during the Holocaust. The town was returned to the Soviet Union after the war, during which time its Polish community was ethnically cleansed. After the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991, Buchach became a part of newly independent Ukraine.
Following the German invasion of Poland in September, 1939, the Soviet Red Army
overran the eastern portion of that country in keeping with the secret protocols
attached to the notorious German-Soviet Non-Aggression Pact, and occupied
Buczacz. Soviet Communist rule lasted from September, 1939 to June, 1940, when
Germany attacked the Soviet Union.
The Soviet seizure and subsequent annexation of eastern Poland imposed a Bolshevik-style political and economic regime onto Buczacz, as it did to other parts of what was now styled the "Western Ukraine". Although religious life was officially tolerated, houses of worship were subject to heavy taxation. Institutions run by the kehila and local political organizations were terminated. Schools expressing a Zionist orientation were closed down. In their stead an officially sponsored school was set up using Yiddish as its medium of instruction.
Private trade withered under Soviet rule. Private stores were required to sell off their inventories without any possibility of replenishment. Shopkeepers were subject to prohibitive taxation intended to drive them out of business. For a while artisans were still permitted to work independently. After about mid-1940 they began to be pressured to join official cooperatives.
Jewish refugees from the German occupied areas of Poland flooded into Buczacz around this time. Some were transported into the Soviet Union at the end of June, 1940.
At a conference of German officials in Wannsee, a suburb of Berlin, on 20
January 1942, plans were laid down for the total destruction of European Jewry.
This "Final Solution" would be implemented through the enslavement of
able-bodied Jews, the separation of men from women, and the mass deportation of
Jewish communities to their death. An extermination camp at Chelmno, in German
occupied Poland, had been in operation for more than six weeks by the date of
the Wannsee Conference. By March three additional killing centres were
established, at Belzec, Treblinka and Sobibor. Belzec, a small, remote Polish
village, was initially the site of a German forced labor camp which later became
an extermination camp. A rail spur was constructed to the camp, and on 17 March
1942 the first transport of Jews was brought from Lublin to be put to death at
Belzec. In April/May 1942 the original small wooden building with three gas
chambers was torn down and replaced with a large stone structure with six larger
gas chambers. The Belzec extermination camp operated for approximately nine
months, until the winter of 1943. During this period, most of the surviving
Jewish population of eastern Galicia was deported to Belzec and killed within
hours of arrival. Of the six hundred thousand Jews transported to Belzec to be
gassed, there was only a single known survivor.
Following the German attack on the Soviet Union on 22 June 1942, some Jews had attempted to flee eastward from Buczacz, but were trapped by the mobile German columns. Cut off from the rapidly retreating Soviets, most had to return to Buczacz.
After the Red Army evacuated Buczacz at the end of June, and before the arrival of German forces on 7 July 1941, local Ukrainian vigilantes murdered certain Jewish individuals who had been active in the Soviet administration. Ukrainian policemen attacked Jews in what was in part a militia riot, in part a pogrom, looting property and coercing some Jews into forced labour in the town.
Four battalion-sized Einsatzgruppen, numbered A through D, were formed by the Nazi SS to accompany the invading combat forces and slaughter Jews, in the first phase of the "Final Solution." Einsatzgruppe D was attached to Eleventh Army assigned to attack the southernmost sector of the Ukrainian front. The commander of this death troop was the notorious SS-Brigadefuhrer [Major-General] (Dr.) Otto Ohlendorf. Like so many of the most vicious SS leaders, he was a displaced intellectual, wellborn and highly educated, a former instructor at the Institute of Applied Economic Science and afterwards a trade economist with the Ministry of Economics. Under Ohlendorf's command, Einsatzgruppe D extermination squads brutally shot, bayoneted, burnt, tortured, clubbed to death or buried alive more than 90,000 Jews in the first six months of the campaign. After the war, in his testimony and affidavit submitted to the International Military Tribunal at Nuremberg, prior to his execution as a war criminal, Otto Ohlendorf described a typical Einsatzgruppe D killing frenzy.
The Einsatz unit would enter a village or town and order the prominent Jewish citizens to call together all Jews for the purpose of "resettlement." They were requested to hand over their valuables and shortly before execution to surrender their outer clothing. They were transported to the place of execution, usually an anti-tank ditch, in trucks - always only as many as could be executed immediately. In this way it was attempted to keep the span of time from the moment in which the victims knew what was about to happen to them until the time of their actual execution as short as possible.
Then they were shot, kneeling or standing, by firing squads in a military manner and the corpses thrown into the ditch.
In its sweep across Eastern Galicia Einsatzgruppe D recruited local anti-Semites to help round up, terrorize and murder the Jews of Buczacz and other communities. The turn of Buczacz came on 28 July 1941. All Jewish males aged 18 to 50 were summoned to assemble in the square in front of the municipal court house. Some individuals hid themselves. Among those who assembled, several hundred were dismissed, mainly the artisans. About 350 men, mostly the better educated, were taken to Fedor Hill, about two kilometers southeast of the town, and were murdered by gunfire. Among those killed were several members of the newly appointed Judenrat.
In late July the Germans had sponsored the creation of a Jewish local council, the Judenrat, under the chairmanship of Mendel Reich, former head of the kehila, to handle the affairs of Buczacz Jewry. Other members of the Judenrat included Baruch Kramer, attorney Hecht, Y. Shtern, B. Engelberg, Munish Frankel, Rabbi Chaim Shapira, David Kaner, Kringel, Zeifer, Freund, and Zhelonick. A Jewish police force served under the Judenrat. This first Judenrat leadership reportedly attempted to make conditions for the Jewish community as bearable as possible in these terrible circumstances, by providing what relief it could and by distributing the burdens as equally as was feasible.
As one of its prime responsibilities, from the German perspective, the Judenrat was obliged to recruit Jewish labour for compulsory work projects and also to procure materiel needed by the conquerors. In addition, the Germans imposed a fiscal levy of 2 million roubles on the Jewish community. The organization of compulsory labour by the Judenrat tended to reduce the incidence of random abductions of people.
During July and August refugees began arriving in Buczacz from the Carpathians. At the initiative of the Judenrat, a public kitchen was set up, clothing was distributed, and clothing and housing assigned to the refugees. Within the framework of aid for refugees assistance was also provided to the poor elements of the indigenous Jewish community.
Conditions for Buczacz Jewry worsened drastically during the winter of 1941/42. While it was still possible to for some to obtain food in exchange for valuables, most people suffered from deepening hunger and privation. Many were afflicted by a typhus epidemic. The Germans tightened the economic screws in their unrelenting requirements for furniture, valuables, tea and coffee, which were imposed through the Judenrat. In December 1941 Jews were required to hand over any furs. In the autumn of 1941 Jewish youth were conscripted for work in slave labour camps near Tarnopol, at Borno-Wielki and Kamjuka Stromilova. Groups of young women were sent to the Jagalnitsa camp.
In early 1942 the Germans demanded that the Judenrat draft additional labour for compulsory work camps. The people, aware of the peril and travail of the labour camps, declined to come forward, so that the Judenrat was impelled to deploy the Jewish police to commandeer the resisters.
At that point, Mendel Reich resigned as chairman of the Judenrat, out of an unwillingness to collude in the attack on the Jewish community. He was succeeded by Baruch Kramer. Most Holocaust survivors testify to the very different demeanour of the Judenrat under Kramer. By way of contrast with his predecessor, who tried to ease the situation of the community and protect its viability, to the extent possible, Kramer tended to comply with German demands without reservation and without scruple.
On 17 October 1942 the Germans launched the first large-scale "Action" in Buczacz. German Order Police and Ukrainian police raided Jewish homes and forcibly apprehended the residents in the town square. Since some Jews hid themselves in cellars and bunkers, a detailed search followed. Since most bunkers were well camouflaged, the Germans began to take apart houses and destroy their foundations in the search for concealed Jews. Many had attempted to flee from the square where the Jews were being assembled for transportation, and some 200 were killed on the spot. Some 1600 people were apprehended during that day, and were brought to the railway station for transportation in sealed freight cars to the Belzec extermination camp.
The Belzec extermination camp had its own rail spur connected to the main rail lines to eastern and western Galicia. Some twenty freight cars laden with deportees could be offloaded at the siding. A sign was mounted above the entrace to the SS compound: "Entrance to the Jewish State." The killing process at Belzec took place almost immediately the trains arrived. A grotesque death orchestra greeted the arrivals. The door to the gas chamber was draped with synagogue curtains bearing the Hebrew incription, "This is the Gateway of the Lord, the Righteous shall enter through it" (Psalm 118:20).
The remaining Jews of Buczacz had scarcely recovered from the events of October
when, on 27 November 1942, they were targetted for another furious "Action." On
that day some 2500 Jews were rounded up and sent to their death to Belzec. Many
tried to avoid deportation by concealment or by escaping to surrounding
villages. However, the Germans had set up guardposts along roads leading to and
from the town, and also discovered some of the places of concealment. Segments
of the local populace also joined in the hunt and handed over escaping Jews to
the Germans. By the time this action ended, some 250 bodies lay in the streets
of the town and its environs.
A walled ghetto was put up in Buczacz late in 1942. In addition to the remnants of the local community, Jews from the surrounding towns of Munastchevska Jazlovicz, Fotok Zloti, Korofitz were also incarcerated in the Buczacz ghetto. In excess of ten people were typically squeezed into single rooms. A typhus epidemic took between 20 and 30 lives a day. Being cut off from the outside world exacerbated the deprivation and hunger. Yet, even in these atrocious conditions the community endeavoured to maintain its humanistic values. Thus, ghetto children were organized into educational classes. One of the prominent educators in the Buczacz ghetto was Yosef Halevi, who taught Hebrew language and literature.
Not that the ghetto walls provided any protection from the slaughter. An "Action" on 1-2 February 1943 saw more than 2000 Jews taken from the Buczacz ghetto and shot at killing pits near Fedor Hill.
From then on the Germans began to differentiate between Jews who were deemed useful to German industry, and those considered "incapable of work." Skilled workers were taken to the Podheitzka labour camp in one of the suburbs of Buczacz. Meanwhile, the Jews remaining in the ghetto were targets of an almost continuous "Action" during March and April, 1943, with only brief respites. German forces arrived from neighbouring towns together with Ukrainian police auxiliaries, and were joined in the Action by elements of the local population. Death squads would break into the ghetto to attack blocks of houses, forcibly collecting the residents at the municipal jail. From there the hapless Jews were conveyed to Fedor Hill, where they were murdered at the mass gravesite. Some 400 Jewish young people, who had been selected for deportation to the Biaglanzia labour camp, in the event were also put to death at Fedor Hill. Mass killings during April and May of 1943 took some 3000 Jewish lives.
On 12 May 1943, the Germans ordered the deportation of all remaining Jews from Buczacz, except for those assigned to the Podheitzka labour camp, and a few families left in the ghetto. The others were deported to Chortkow, Tluste or Kopichintza. The deportees abandoned Buczacz on foot with waggons pulling the remnants of their belongings; shortly afterward they shared the fate of the local Jewry at their destinations. By this time the gassing at Belzec had ceased, so that the killing of Jews in eastern Galicia now took place in local cemeteries and woods.
In mid-June, 1943 the last survivors of the Buczacz ghetto were taken to be shot in the Jewish cemetery at the outskirts of the town. Around the same date the labour camp at Podheitzka was demolished, and its slave labour forces likewise put to death at the Jewish cemetery.
The Holocaust in Buczacz was not unaccompanied by Jewish resistance and revolt
against the Nazis. German forces were everywhere triumphant, and heavily armed
SS units maintained a fearful presence. The Jewish communities of Eastern
Galicia were unarmed, terrorized, isolated from contact with all neighbouring
communities, and lacked effective support from either the Polish
government-in-exile in London or the retreating Soviets. Indeed, the breakup of
Zionist organizations during the Soviet occupation of Eastern Galicia deprived
these communities of their most potent self-defence capabilities. Yet, as early
as December, 1941, when young Jews were being deported to labour camps, a group
of 15 youth organized themselves to flee and hide. When the Germans discovered
this effort at organized resistance, their forces tried for nearly half a year
to capture the group, without success.
This group of young people became the core of the Jewish resistance in Buczacz. Following the terrible "Action" of October, 1942, they began a search for arms and prepared themselves to break out of the ghetto. Contact was established with other youth elements, especially members of the former Zionist youth movements. The commander of the Buczacz resistance was A. Bazan (Worman), and its other leaders included Sh. Margolit, Zoler, Sh. Evenshtein, Bildner, and S. Silber.
The resistance group maintained illicit contact with the Judenrat, through B. Engelberg, Merengel and Moshe Berger. The Judenrat agreed to provide some funds for the purchase of weapons, although it unknown whether this commitment was actually be carried out. In most communities, the Judenrat preferred not to take part in resistance activities, and sometimes even opposed or foiled activities. Shmuel Spector, "Jewish Resistance in Small Towns of Eastern Poland," in Norman Davies and Antony Polonsky, eds., Jews in Eastern Poland and the USSR, 1939-46 (London: Macmillan, in association with the School of Slavonic and East European Studies, University of London, 1991), pp.140-1. It was only where the Judenrat approved and cooperated with underground groups, like in Buczacz, that some semblence of organized resistance be contemplated. The resistance also included in its ranks some of the Jewish policemen, other than those who actively collaborated with the Germans.
The Buczacz resistance maintained a secret radio listening post and spread news information among the community. This helped bolster up people's will to survive. The Buczacz resistance also made contact with the remnants of other Jewish communities in the area, in order to encourage defiance and to explore possibilities of combined operations against the Germans and their supporters. No information is available on the outcome of these efforts.
By February 1943 the resistance had acquired a number of pistols and rifles and a limited supply of ammunition. The Buczacz resistance established contact with two Jewish Partisan units, the forces under the command of Weinzinger and D. Friedlander, operating in the surrounding countryside. The resistance also had contact with the Polish underground in the region, but the promised help from that quarter was not forthcoming.
The Buczacz resistance decided in March, 1943, that should another "Action" occur, it would assemble its modest force in woods near the Fedor Hill and would open fire on the German and Ukrainian killer squads, in order that some Jews might escape.
In the sorry event, the Germans managed to deflect the alertness of the Jews prior to the "Action" of 13 April, so that only one Jewish resistance fighter, Andman, was able to fire at a Ukrainian collaborator, killing him. The others found themselves unable to mount an organized resistance, and therefore prepared a breakout. Once the "Action" subsided, most of the resistance escaped the ghetto and redeployed to the nearby woods. After a while, the difficulties of finding refuge in the woods, the terrible privations of survival, compounded by local peasant hostility and betrayal, prompted some resistance fighters to return to the ghetto.
After the deportation of Buczacz Jews to other places, members of the resistance followed and took up resistance activities in these new localities.
Meanwhile, about 300 Buczacz Jews remained hidden in nearby forests for over nine months. Their resistance persisted, and they took revenge on those of the local population who betrayed fugitive Jews to the Germans. As the front line drew closer, German armoured forces surrounded the forest on 18 January 1944 and embarked on a systematic sweep of the area. All the Jews were found and killed.
Notwithstanding the generally hostile surrounds, there were, to be sure, heroic individuals among the non-Jewish population of Buczacz who risked their lives and those of their families to hide and rescue Jews. After the Germans and their Ukrainian auxiliaries began the progroms of July, 1941, Manko Swierszczak, a devout Catholic undertaker, was persuaded to provide refuge to some of the survivors in specially dug catacombs in a local cemetary. For nearly three years, until Buczacz was liberated, he regularly brought them food. Despite the suspicions of the Germans who caught and beat him twice, he never gave them away. As was said, it required the cooperation of many to save a single Jew, while the treachery of one could betray all. Manko Swierszczak was subsequently commended by the Yad Vashem Holocaust Martyrs' and Heroes' Remembrance Authority in Jerusalem as one of the "Righteous Among the Nations."
On 23 March 1944, Buczacz was liberated by Red Army forces of Marshal Ivan
Konev's First Ukrainian Front. It was then revealed that some 800 Jews had
survived the Nazi Holocaust by hiding in bunkers in the town or in nearby
villages. However, the plight of the survivors was not yet over. A German
counterattack re-captured Buczacz, and with it most of the remaining Jews. When
the town was retaken by the Soviets on 21 July 1944, fewer than 100 survivors
were left alive.
During the months that followed another 400 Buczacz Jews who had spent the war years in the Soviet Union were now able to return to the town. However, by the end of 1945 most of the surviving Jewish population finally left Buczacz - which had by then been absorbed into the Ukrainian SSR - for Poland and then on to Israel and other lands.
The City of the Dead was bid farewell. Buczacz Jewry existed no more, its legacy fading with the passage of time. The killing grounds at Fedor Hill and at the Jewish cemetary bear no monument to their Jewish martyrs. Today there is nothing in the town of Buczacz to commemorate its ancient Jewish past, no memorial to the destruction of its inhabitants.
* Shmuel Yosef Agnon
* Simon Wiesenthal
* Emanuel Ringelblum
* Alicia Appleman-Jurman
* Abraham David ben Asher Anshel Buczacz
* Złotoryja, Poland.
* Laskivtsi (Laskovits)