Zbarazh

Name in Ukrainian: 
Збараж [Zbarazh]
Name in Polish: 
Zbaraż
Name in Hebrew: 
זברז'
Name in Yiddish: 
זבאריזש (Zbarizh)
Historical-cultural region: 
Eastern Galicia
Administrative District : 
Ternopil Region
Population Data: 

Year

General Population

Jewish Population

1765

(?)

910

1830

8062

3768

1890

8785

3631

1900

8310

2896

1910

9983

3291

1921

8409

2982

1931

(?)

2870

 

Zbarazh is located about 15 kilometers northeast of Tarnopol, on the banks of the Hnizna River, on a hill that controls the surrounding area. Zbarazh’s location as a border town in the eastern part of Galicia led to its fortification at different points in time, and the remnants of some of these fortresses still exist. The city was founded even before the 13th century, and a wooden fortress was constructed in the old part of the city (Stary Zbaraz) by the Zbaraski family already at the end of the 14th century. This fortress was burned during the Tatar attack on the city in 1447, and all its defenders, including Prince Wasyl  Nieświski, were killed in the fire as well. The fortress was rebuilt in the same spot, again out of wood, and its defenders were again killed in similar circumstances in 1589 in a Nomad attack on the city, which was then under the command of Janusz Zbaraski. The city was rehabilitated, and a new, magnificent stone fortress was built in the new section (Novi Zbaraz), with construction ending around 1626. This fortress successfully withstood the events of the 1648-49 Cossack Uprising; however, the city and the fortress were captured and burned in 1675 by the Ottomans, and the city’s inhabitants were all banished until its recapture by the Poles. At the beginning of the 18th century the city was given to the Wiśniowiecki family, who transformed the fortress into a palace. The strategic placement of Zbarazh did not prevent Russian troops from sacking the city at the beginning of the 18th century. In 1762 the city passed into the hands of the Potocki family, which ruled it until the mid-19th century.

The Jews of Zbarazh
Despite the long history of Jews in Zbarazh, and the cultural wealth of this community, we are in possession of relatively little information, which was collected in an uncritical manner. Jews settled in Zbarazh already at the end of the 15th century, and we have a document regarding the leasing of the city by two partners – the Pole Nicolai Jonasovitz and the Novi Zbaraz Jew, Efraim David – from the end of the 16th century. According to the deal, which detailed a three-year contract, the lease included the inhabitants of the city, the manors, the debts and the income, for a payment of 9,100 gold coins.
Very little is known to us regarding the financial character of the Jewish community of Zbarazh, but there is no doubt that this was a community that was capable of supporting a large number of talmidei hahamim, and many important Torah figures were the product of this city. Among the most striking figures, one can mention R. Moshe b. R. Lemel Segal of the 17th century (R. Moshe died in 1696) and R. Moshe b. Eliezer Rokeach (author of ‘Ma’aseh Roke’ach’) and R. Abraham Leibush Bernstein of Brody in the 18th century  )R. Abraham later served as rabbi of Brody and Galicia at large). They were joined by R. Shaul, son of R. Meir Margaliyot (author of ‘Me’ir Netivim’), R. Meshulam Faivush Heller, author of ‘Derekh Emet,’ ‘Yosher Divrei Emet’ and ‘Likutim Yekarim’, and R. David Shlomo Eibeschitz’s teacher and the halakhic decisor and sermonizer R. Ze’ev Zvi b. R. Yehiel Michel of Zloczow, who was a maggid meisharim in Zbaraz and whose letters were printed in his books ‘Tiferet Zvi Ze’ev’ and ‘Razin De’oraita’. One of the most striking figures of the 19th century, R. Yosef b. R. Moshe Babad of Tarnopol, who authored the famous book ‘Minchat Hinuch,’ also served in Zbarazh for a time, but as a result of a slander was banished from the city by the authorities and accepted to a rabbinic position in Snyatyn in 1842 (R. Yosef died in 1874).
In addition to these, beginning at the end of the 19th century, the Jewish community saw significant Zionist and Enlightenment activity. During the years 1890-1910, the “Young Zionist” society was established in Zbarazh, with the purpose of collecting money to establish a ‘Galician’ settlement in Israel, and various other Zionist organizations, such as ‘Achvat Zion’ and ‘The Judah ha-Levi Society,’ also operated in the city. In 1903 a Women’s Association was instituted, whose purpose was the advancement of the Hebrew language and of Jewish history, and the city also hosted a ‘Toynbee Hall’ club, which operated in several cities in Galicia, and which offered courses and lectures. A ‘Safa Berurah’ school for the study of the Hebrew language was founded in the city, and in 1908 the ‘Association of Hebrew Speakers’, whose members spoke only Hebrew amongst themselves, began its operations. The most important Jewish school in Zbarazh was the Hebrew school ‘Hinuch’, which was founded already in 1907 and continued its operations even after the First World War. The school’s popularity and influence were vast, and the majority of the Jewish community of the city – from assimilated Jews to the ultraorthodox – sent its children to be educated there. The school hosted 520 students, both male and female, about 200 of whom were scholarship students. The school also held evening classes for adults, as well as hosting a public library. The ‘Ivriya’ organization also operated out of the school.
One should also mention, in the realm of literature, that Zbaraz was the birthplace of Velvel Zbarazher, a well-known popular poet and comic, as well as the birthplace of the famous scholar of Polish literature, Wilhelm Feldman (1868-1919). Zbarazh was also the birthplace of the Polish-writing author, recipient of the 2008 Israel Prize for literature, Ida Fink (1921-2011).
With the granting of rights to Jews in 1874, Zbaraz was one of 45 cities in Galicia whose municipal institutions did not include Jews. Within thirty years, however, in 1904, a Jewish mayor, the pharmacist Yaakov Krok, was chosen for the third time. It appears that the political status of the Jews was complex and knew ups and downs.

The First World War
Following the end of the war, during the Bolshevik conquest of 1920, there was relative quiet in Zbarazh, and the Jews did not suffer too much from thefts or attacks, beyond boycotts of Jewish stores. The relationship between Jews and non-Jews in the city was not good during the Polish rule, with the local police harassing the Jews and often beating them in the city streets. Even Yaakov Halperin, a member of the city council and an elderly man, was beaten in the street. In the general school, the local priest engaged in antisemitic activity, and in 1927 a government official with antisemitic ties was appointed commissar in Zbarazh. All of these factors led the Jewish leadership to turn to different government officials and to submit queries to the Sejm. The outside difficulties brought about the unification of the inner-Jewish political parties, and in the 1927 elections for the municipality the Jews submitted a party list that included all of the factions: the ‘Mizrahi’, the Zionist parties, the artisans and the ultraorthodox. In 1931 a Jewish mayor was elected, but in 1933 not a single Jewish representative was elected to the city council.

The Second World War
After the outbreak of the war in September 1939, hundreds of Jewish refugees from western Poland arrived in Zbarazh, and found refuge in the city with the help of the local community. Zbarazh hosted about five thousand Jews at the time, including the refugees. With the Soviet conquest, the communal Jewish institutions’ operations were halted, as were the activities of the political parties and public organizations. Only the synagogues were left untouched, and Jews continued to worship there. Wholesale trade was completely shut down, and retailers slowly closed their stores for business, and many artisans were forced to organize in unions. At the end of June 1940, many of the Jewish refugees in Zbarazh were moved to the Soviet Union. With the Nazi German conquest on 22.6.1941, a small group of Zbarazh Jews escaped eastward, with the retreating Red Army forces. The Germans entered the city on 6.7.1941, but riots took place already two days earlier, with the retreat of the Soviet forces, during which several Jews were killed by local Ukrainians. This came alongside the blaming of the Jews for the murder of Ukrainian political prisoners, who were killed by the Soviets before their retreat. In the middle of July 1941, the Germans demanded that a Judenrat be instated in Zbarazh, and this Judenrat cooperated with the Nazi’s demands. On 6.9.1941, Jewish men were instructed to present themselves in the square in front of the municipality, where they were surrounded by the Ukrainian police and S.S. units that came from Tarnopol. Following a selection process, 76 of the men, primarily educated men, were taken to the Lubianky forest, where they were killed.  During the winter of 1941-1942, Jewish men were taken from Zbarazh to surrounding labor camps, and during the summer of 1942 a few selections took place, during which Jews were killed in pits or sent to the Belzec extermination camp. In the fall of 1942, a ghetto was erected in Zbaraz and the Jews of the city, as well as Jews from surrounding villages, were placed in it. The ghetto was not closed yet, but there were limitations placed on leaving it, and finding food was difficult. The Jews of Zbarazh began preparing hideouts in the ghetto in preparation for future roundups, and some sought out hiding places in adjacent forest and with Christians acquaintances. Killings of Jews and transports to Belzec continued throughout. The winter of 1942-1943 led to a worsening in the condition of the remnants of the Zbarazh Jewish community, and hunger and illnesses took many a life. Alongside this, the news of changes to Germany’s detriment at the battlefront encouraged the Jews of Zbarazh to intensify their attempts to survive. Bunkers were built in nearby forests, but the difficulties of procuring food for a long-term escape, as well as the enmity of the local population, which was on constant lookout for escapees to the forests, made these preparations very difficult and limited the possibilities of escape via this route. On 7.4.1943, more than 1,000 Jews from Zbarazh and the vicinity who were found in the ghetto were executed near the city, and on 8.6.1943 the ghetto was finally destroyed. The last of Zbarazh’s Jews were put to death in mass graves near the city, and Zbarazh was declared ‘Judenrein’ by the Nazis. Only small groups of Jews were still in the surrounding forests, and several Jews were hidden by their Christian acquaintances. Among those who hid Jews from Zbaraz one must mention Josef Ivashkevich (the former principle of the school, who was killed in Auschwitz) and the former deputy mayor Schuber. These two individuals helped their Jewish acquaintances find shelter in the village of Kartovtza and supplied all their needs. The overwhelming majority of the locals, however, carried tales of hidden Jews and handed them over to the Germans. This phenomenon continued until the final days of the Nazi occupation, and even the retreating Wehrmacht soldiers, on their return from the Soviet battlefront, tarried in order to kill Jews who were hiding in the villages. Zbarazh was freed by the Soviets on 6.3.1944. Only a few of the city’s Jews survived, and these left for Poland, and from there to Palestine and other countries.