Ukrainian Jewish Heritage: Husiatyn

 

Husiatyn is a town in the Ternopil Oblast of Western Ukraine, located on the west bank of the Zbruch River. This river formed the old boundary between Austria-Hungary and the Russian Empire in the nineteenth century, and the boundary between the Republic of Poland and the Soviet Union during the inter-war period of the twentieth century.

The history of the Jewish community in Husiatynspans more than 500 years. After its incorporation as a town in 1559, Jews were among the first to settle there.

Despite being small and vulnerable to anti-semitic attacks, by the late nineteenth century Husiatynwas a thriving commercial center and one of the most important Hassidic centers in Galicia.

The Husiatyn Synagogue is a rare example of a sixteenth-century “Fortress synagogue” built in the Renaissance style. A fortress synagogue is a synagogue built to withstand attack while protecting the lives of people sheltering within it.

The synagogue was rebuilt after a fire in 1742. Contemporary Yiddish writer S. Ansky describes the Husiatynsynagogue as “one of the loveliest and most splendid in Galicia.” Jewish American historian Omer Bartov described the synagogue as “exquisite.”

The 18th century partitions of Poland turned Husiatyninto a border town, making it an important path for trade between Austria and Russia. Merchants came from surrounding areas to trade in fairs in the town.

In the 1800s, Hassidism began to grow in Husyatin. The influx of religious devotees fueled the rise of a local hospitality industry … along with new synagogues, ritual baths, hospitals and old age homes. Other new industries included a Jewish-owned fountain pen factory, print shops and paper merchants, as well as doctors, lawyers and other professionals.

In 1890, of the town’s six thousand residents, Jews numbered forty thousand, two hundred.

Husiatyn’s golden age ended in the twentieth century. Husiatynwas heavily damaged during World War I, then in World War II destroyed entirely.

In 1914, the Russian Army attacked Austria through Husyatin, burning more than 600 buildings. In 1915 Jews were ordered out of Husyatin. Those who defied the order were exiled to Kyiv in 1916.

When the Bolsheviks came to power, they confiscated property from Jewish-owned businesses. The Hassidim center was closed, and the damaged electric lighting system was not repaired. By 1921, the Jewish population had declined by over 90 per cent, numbering a mere 368.

In 1941, Husiatynwas conquered by the German Army. The community was soon burdened by forced labor, confiscation of property, and anti-semitic propaganda and provocation. Two hundred Jews were murdered in Husiatyn, and in March 1942, any remaining were rounded up by the Nazis and deported, never to return.

In 1964 renovations began on the standing ruins of the synagogue. It was turned into a museum in 1972, but closed in the 1990s due to lack of funding. Today, the roof has collapsed and the building stands vacant.

The last known Hasidic (Sadgorskaya) Jewish burial was 1940. The Jewish cemetery in Husiatyn is unfenced, unprotected, and unmarked. The site is now owned by the municipality. Atop it are a park, playground, and sports fields. The cemetery boundaries are smaller than 1939 because of new roads and adjacent housing.

The cemetery is visited occasionally by organized Jewish tour and pilgrimage groups, and local residents.

Today, it, along with a few historical records and diminishing memories, are all that remains of Husiatyn’s glorious Jewish past.

This is Renata Hanynets in Lviv, Ukraine.

Until next time, Shalom!

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