Buczacz and Krzemieniec: The Story of Two Towns During the Holocaust
Although most Jewish communities in Poland were in towns and not in large cities, historical research into the Holocaust in the shtetl is still in its early stages. There is a need for monographic works that will facilitate an examination of the eastern Polish shtetl on the eve of and during the Holocaust as a distinct phenomenon. This article contributes to this research through its comparative analysis of two eastern Polish shtetls – Buczacz and Krzemieniec – during the Holocaust. The towns were of a similar size on the eve of the war – 8,000 Jews in Krzemieniec (35% of the population); 7,500 Jews in Buczacz (32%) – and bore many other similarities. They both first fell under Soviet rule and were conquered by the Germans only in summer 1941. And the ultimate fate of the Jews in the two communities was the same. However, differences between the German authorities in each place (civilian in Krzemieniec; SS in Buczacz), and between the local non-Jewish populations (Ukrainians in both, but less hostile near Buczacz), and in the nature of the Jewish leadership (better regarded in Krzemieniec), led to different scenarios in various aspects of the Holocaust in the two towns. Some of the findings seem to contradict expectations. For example, there was more of an attempt at armed resistance and at escape in Buczacz, even though the terrain and the Jewish leadership would seem to have been more favorable in Krzemieniec. The article points to the difficulty in reaching broad generalizations regarding the shtetl, at least until much more research has been done.