Portraits of students and staff of the King Jagiełło school, including writer Bruno Schulz (to the left of the photograph of the school building), Drogobych, 1930. (YIVO)

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(Pol., Drohobycz), medium-sized city in the district of L’viv in western Ukraine. In early modern times, Drogobych belonged to the Polish Commonwealth, but in 1772, as a result of the first partition of Poland, it was awarded to Austria (later Austria-Hungary) and became part of the province of Galicia. In 1919, after an unsuccessful effort by Ukrainians to establish an independent state, Drogobych was incorporated into the newly independent Polish state. From 1939 to 1941 it was annexed to the Soviet Union, to which it was returned after World War II (as part of the Ukrainian Socialist Republic). In 1991 it became part of the now wholly independent state of Ukraine.

Although Jews had lived in or near Drogobych as early as the fifteenth century, an officially recognized community was established only at the end of the seventeenth century. Thereafter, the Jewish community grew rapidly, reaching 1,924 in 1765. In this period, Jews were involved prominently in the extraction, distribution, and sale of salt that was mined in the Drohobycz region. By 1869, the city’s 8,055 Jews constituted the largest single ethnic–religious group in this tri-ethnic town, making up 47 percent of the population; Ukrainians (29%) and Poles (23%) made up the rest. During the Austrian period, the Jews of Drogobych represented a typical East European community—they were mostly lower-middle and working class, religiously Orthodox, and Yiddish-speaking.

What made Drogobych unusual was the existence there, from the mid-nineteenth century, of an important oil industry, in which Jews played a major role. The extraction of black gold from the ground in the region created a boom-town atmosphere, which made Drohobycz a more prosperous and cosmopolitan city than most Galician centers, at least until World War I.

Drohobych’s Jewish community was also unique in that it produced a number of outstanding Jewish artists. Maurycy Gottlieb, a founding father of “Jewish art,” was born there, as was his younger brother, the École de Paris painter Leopold Gottlieb. So was Ephraim Moses Lilien, a friend of Theodor Herzl’s who is best remembered for creating a new Zionist iconography. Moreover, Drogobych was the hometown of Bruno Schulz, the Polish writer and artist. Schulz taught art in the local high school during the interwar years, and was killed by the Nazis in the Drogobych ghetto in 1942. 

After World War I, the Jewish community of Drogobych found itself once again under the rule of Poland, whose nationalist policy and antisemitic inclinations compared unfavorably to the more liberal practices of the now defunct Habsburg Empire. The number of Jewish inhabitants, which had reached 15,313 in 1910, declined by 1931 to 12,931. In 1939, the region of eastern Galicia, to which Drogobych belonged, was taken over by the Soviet Union, and in July 1941 the German army invaded. A bloody pogrom, in which more than 300 Jews were killed, followed on the heels of the German occupation. In 1942, thousands of Jews were sent to the death camp at Bełżec. When Soviet troops “liberated” the city in 1944, only 400 Jews remained alive. Today only a tiny remnant remain, and the nineteenth-century choral synagogue is still standing.

Suggested Reading

“Drohobitsh,” in Pinkas ha-kehilot: Polin, vol. 2, Galitsyah ha-mizraḥit, pp. 160–171 (Jerusalem, 1980); Nathan Michael Gelber, ed., Sefer zikaron li-Drohobets, Borislav veha-sevivah (Tel Aviv, 1959); David Horowitz, Ha-Etmol sheli (Jerusalem and Tel Aviv, 1970).

YIVO Archival Resources