A Unique Province
Galicia has special significance to those descended from Jewish grandparents, great-grandparents and great-great grandparents who immigrated from Zolynia. It was not just a political division of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. Galitzianers pronounced many words with distinctive Yiddish accents, developed distinctive style of cooking and of prayer, and were proud of the center of Jewish culture and learning that the province would become.
Galicia was also special among all the provinces of the Austrian Empire. It was the empire's largest province, and the most ethnically and culturally diverse. It was also the poorest province in Europe, with an underdeveloped economy that lagged generations behind much of the continent. Zolynia was located just west of the San River, the traditional dividing line between the western half of Galicia, where Poles were a large majority, and the eastern half, where Ruthenians (ethnic Ukrainians, today usually refered to as Rusyns) were in the majority, except for the provincial capital of Lemberg.
Officially, Galicia was called the Kingdom of Galicia and Lodomeria, and it was one of the empire's Crownlands. this meant that it belonged to the Emperor personally. For decades, Austrian monarchs attempted to play one minority against another, or the nobility against the middle class or peasantry, trying to maintain a balance of influence and primacy of the German monarchy.
The Austrian monarchs wavered back and forth between policies designed to integrate Galicia's Jews into the larger community and others designed to keep them separate. Sometimes Jews were used as a wedge between other Galicia ethnic groups and sometimes they were courted as allies of the crown. Numerous times, laws creating or eliminating restrictions on Jewish subjects were repealed only a few years later. It is difficult even to summarize the intrigues and contemporary politics that led to the empire's seemingly contradictory attitudes towards Galitzianer Jews.
Below is a timeline of major developments that had a particularly lasting impact on Jewish life in Galicia:
The bulk of the Malopolska ("Lesser Poland," meaning the lower portion of Poland) is reconstituted as Galicia. Galicia's population of 2.1 million includes about 200,000 Jews, to the dismay of Empress Maria Theresa. She will soon enact a series of stringent regulations restricting Jewish competition and contact with Christians.
In an attempt to create a more skilled, productive and profitable workforce, Emperor Joseph II issues the "Peasant Patent," abolishing Robot, the medievel-style serfdom in Galicia. Peasants now have some personal rights, such as the right to marry without the permission of the local lord and the right to move from town to town. Many of Zolynia's peasants remain bound to the Lancut estate through contracts that replace the old Robot.
Envisioning the transformation of Galicia's Jews into patriotic and taxpaying Austrians, Emperor Joseph II issues a secries of Decrees of Tolerance for all religious minorities. Trying not to alienate various powerful interests, the decrees are filled with contradictions. For example, Jews are now considered members of their civil community, but still are required to pay special taxes, including taxes on Sabbath candles and kosher meat. Jews are prohibited from leasing some businesses from landowners, costing tens of thousands of Jews their livelihoods, but some social and political opportunities are opened up to them. Marriage will now be regulated by the government, one of the many new policies resisted by Galicia's Jews, who consider marriage to be strictly a religious issue. Jewish children must attend special schools, with an emphasis on agriculture. Some of the policies will never be strictly enforced, such as the requirement for Jews to adopt Christian-style dress. After Joseph II's death in 1790, many of the regulations will be repealed or reworked, including the 104 special German-language schools for Jewish children. Some will remain on the books for decades.
Jews are required to adopt fixed, hereditary family surnames. Jewish congregations are required to keep records of births, deaths and marriages.
The empire officially divides the province into 140 Jewish congregations, each headed by a "kahal" of elders. The kahal will represent the the Jewish community in dealings with local authorities. Zolynia is one of the official congregations. Previously, it had been part of the Lancut Jewish community.
Only civil marriages are recognized in Austria. One must pass an examination on the Catholic catechism in order to purchase a marriage certificate. This attempt to discourage Jewish marriage will not be successful, but for many years it was very common for Jews, generally married by Rabbis only, to have children who were legally born out of wedlock.
Four out of ten Galician men have no regular employment.
Cracow is made part of Galicia. In 1849, the last changes to the borders of the province will be made (reflected in the map above). They will remain the same until the fall of the empire in 1918.
Industrial and technological revolutions have been transforming the lives of millions of Europeans. An economic crisis and continent-wide food shortages spark revolts in many countries. The traditional Habsburg strategy of playing local nationalities against one another breaks down and the empire is breaking into pieces. A new constitution declares equal rights and emancipation for all citizens, regardless of social groups.
With the revolution finally put down, important provisions of the 1849 Constitution is revoked. Jews again are prohibited from purchasing land in Galicia, and Jews are prohibited from serving in many professions and nearly all government positions. Christians are prohibited from working for Jews.
The political climate in Austria changes again, and Emperor Franz Josef spearheads a new reform movement. Jews are given the right to purchase real estate, to own taverns and to work as skilled craftsmen in all villages, towns and cities.
A new constitution grants equal civil rights to all citizens in the Austro-Hungarian Empire. Jews may now serve in virtually all public positions, and a majority on Zolynia's newly-elected town council is Jewish.
A new municipal code divides Galicia into 75 administrative districts, or Powiat. Zolynia is part of the Lancut Powiat.
Records of Jewish births, deaths and marriages will now be recorded in standardized formats throughout the province. The local chief rabbi is now responsible for collecting information within his Kahal, and transmiting the data to official local registrars.
Over the next half a century, over 300,000 Galitzianer Jews will leave the province for better prospects elsewhere. Most will go to the United States, especially New York City, but Galitzianers will end up in many large cities in Europe and the Americas. After the turn of the 20th century, more and more will also go to Palestine, in the Middle East.
One out of every four physicians and nearly two out of every four attorneys in Galicia are Jewish. One out of three male Galitzianer Jews are merchants, one out of three are skilled craftsmen and the earn their living as tavernkeepers, landlords and various other occupations.
A boycott of Jewish businesses is called by Catholic leaders.
For generations, Jews and non-Jews in Galicia had their own economic spheres, but emancipation and changes to the economic system have changed all that. Now they are in direct competition, and tensions are growing. Violence erupts across Western Galicia, including Lancut District. Gangs vandalize Jewish-owned property throughout the area.
Jews are banned from selling many locally-grown agricultural products, some of which are used to make alcohol, a vital source of income for Jewish families.
The sale of many types of alcohol is prohibited. Thousands of Galitzianer Jewish families lose at least part of their income, especially in rural areas like Zolynia. Across the province, 53% of Jews were engaged in commerce, 25% were craftsmen or involved in various types of industry, 11% were civil servants and self-employed professionals, and 11% had taken up farming.
Four years of war lead to the dissolution of the Austrian-Hungarian Empire. After a series of regional wars against Russians and Ukrainians, a new Polish republic is created. It includes all but a small part of former Galicia. The Polish provinces are reorganized and Galicia is no more.