Galician Jews

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Galician Jewish cemetery in Buchach, western Ukraine, 2005
The Jews in Central Europe (1881)

Galician Jews or Galitzianer Jews are a subdivision of the Ashkenazim geographically originating from Galicia, from western Ukraine (current Lviv, Ivano-Frankivsk, and Ternopil regions) and from the south-eastern corner of Poland (Podkarpackie and Lesser Poland voivodeships). Galicia proper, which was inhabited by Ukrainians, Poles and Jews, was a royal province within Austro-Hungarian empire. Galician Jews primarily spoke Yiddish.


All calculations lead to the conclusion that in Galicia, Jews were the third most numerous ethnic group and comprised at least 10 percent of the entire Galician population.


Most of Galician Jewry lived poorly, largely working in small workshops and enterprises, and as craftsmen — including tailors, carpenters, hat makers, jewelers and opticians. Almost 80 percent of all tailors in Galicia were Jewish. The main occupation of Jews in towns and villages was trade: wholesale, stationery and retail. However, the Jewish inclination towards education was overcoming barriers. The number of Jewish intellectual workers proportionally was much higher than that of Ukrainian or Polish ones in Galicia. Of 1,700 physicians in Galicia, 1,150 were Jewish; 41 percent of workers in culture, theaters and cinema, over 65 percent of barbers, 43 percent of dentists, 45 percent of senior nurses in Galicia were Jewish[citation needed], and 2,200 Jews were lawyers. For comparison, there were only 450 Ukrainian lawyers.[citation needed] Galician Jewry produced four Nobel prize winners: Isidor Isaac Rabi (physics), Roald Hoffman (chemistry), Georges Charpak (physics) and Shmuel Agnon (literature).


Under Habsburg rule, Galicia's Jewish population increased sixfold, from 144,000 in 1776 to 872,000 in 1910 due to a high birth rate and a steady stream of refugees fleeing pogroms in the neighboring Russian Empire. They constituted 1/3 of the population of many cities and came to dominate parts of the local economy such as retail sales and trade. They were also successful in the government; by 1897, Jews constituted 58 percent of Galicia's civil servants and judges. During the 19th century Galicia and its main city, Lviv (Lemberg in Yiddish), became a center of Yiddish literature. Lviv was the home of the world's first Yiddish-language daily newspaper, the Lemberger Togblat. [1]

After World War I, Galicia served as a battleground between Ukrainian and Polish forces. During this conflict, Galician Jews were generally neutral although a 1,200 man all-Jewish battalion ([Zhydivs’kyy Kurin’ UHA] error: {{lang}}: text has italic markup (help)) served in the Ukrainian Galician Army and Jews were allotted 10% of the seats in the parliament of the West Ukrainian People's Republic,[2] matching their population. The West Ukrainian government fought antisemitic acts by punishing robbery with execution, and respected Jewish declared neutrality during the Polish-Ukrainian conflict. By the orders of president Yevhen Petrushevych it was forbidden to mobilize Jews against their will or to otherwise force them to contribute to the Ukrainian military effort.[3] Both Ukrainians and Jews suffered from violence at the hands of Poles as they captured Galicia from Ukrainian forces.[4] The Council of Ministers of the West Ukrainian People's Republic provided assistance to Jewish victims of the Polish pogrom in Lviv.[5]

As of 1920, Galicia passed to Poland. The Polish government prohibited both Galician Jews and Ukrainians from working in the state enterprises, institutions, railway, post, telegraph etc. These measures were applied in their strictest form. Galician Jews and Ukrainians experienced ethnic oppression by undergoing a forceful Polonization.[citation needed]

In September 1939, most of Galicia passed to Soviet Ukraine. The majority of Galician Jews perished during the Holocaust. Most survivors immigrated to Israel, the United States, the United Kingdom or Australia. A small number have remained in Ukraine or Poland.


In the popular perception, Galitzianers were considered to be more emotional and prayerful than their rivals, the Litvaks, who thought of them as irrational and uneducated. They, in turn, held the Litvaks in disdain.[6] This coincides with the fact that Hasidism was most influential in Ukraine and southern Poland but was fiercely resisted in Lithuania (and even the form of Hasidism that took root there, namely Chabad, was more intellectually inclined than the other Hasidic groups).

The two groups diverged in their Yiddish accents and even in their cuisine, separated by the "Gefilte Fish Line." Galitzianers like things sweet, even to the extent of putting sugar in their fish.[7]


  1. ^ Paul Robert Magocsi. (2005)Galicia: a Multicultured Land. Toronto: University of Toronto Press. pp.12-15
  2. ^ Orest Subtelny, Ukraine: a history, pp. 367-368, University of Toronto Press, 2000, ISBN 0-8020-8390-0
  3. ^ Myroslav Shkandrij. (2009). Jews in Ukrainian literature: representation and identity. New Haven: Yale University Press. pp.94-95
  4. ^ Norman Davies. "Ethnic Diversity in Twentieth Century Poland." In: Herbert Arthur Strauss. Hostages of Modernization: Studies on Modern Antisemitism, 1870-1933/39. Walter de Gruyter, 1993.
  5. ^ Alexander Victor Prusin.(2005).Nationalizing a borderland: war, ethnicity, and anti-Jewish violence in east Galicia, 1914-1920. University of Alabama Press. pg. 99
  6. ^ Joshua Brandt. Berkeley bookseller’s side shtick is a treasure trove of Yiddishisms. Jewish Weekly, May 19, 2000
  7. ^ Bill Gladstone. This is no fish tale: Gefilte tastes tell story of ancestry. Jewish Weekly. September 10, 1999.

See also