Galicia. Boundaries shown are ca. 1914.

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Yiddish term for a Jew who lived in Galicia, a territory that existed from 1772 to 1918, as one of the crown lands of the Austrian Empire. In addition to the adjective that defines geographical origin, Galitsianer became a cultural identifier bearing, for the most part, negative connotations. Among the stereotypes attributed to the Galitsianer were the following: a troublemaker, a shrewd operator, a money grubber, a religious fanatic, a spineless compromiser, a speaker of popular, vulgar Yiddish, and someone ashamed of his or her origins who liked to pose as an Austrian. Jokes about Galitsianer men and women became very popular; some of these continue to exist despite the fact that Galicia itself disappeared long ago.

It would appear that these stereotypes were first created by German-speaking Jews after Galicia—originally a Polish territory—was annexed to the Austrian Empire in 1772. Galician Jews became the ultimate “other” for German-speaking Jews, with whom they associated all the shortcomings of traditional Jewry. There were several reasons why it was easy to single Galitsianers out: (1) the singularity of their archaic “Polish” dress—men wearing a long black coat, a shtrayml (fur-trimmed hat), and trousers stuck into their boots, women with a head covering inlaid with precious stones—the shterntikhl; (2) their social stratification, especially the large concentration among them of merchants and brokers; (3) the proliferation of Hasidim and Hasidic courts in Galicia.

In the second half of the nineteenth century, this negative image was strengthened by stories published by the Galician writer Karl Emil Franzos (1847/48–1904), a Jew from Czortków (now Chortkiv, Ukr.). His stories, especially the collection Aus halb Asien (From Half-Asia; 1876), which portrayed Galicia as a half-Asian country, overflowing with exotic characters, were responsible for the popularization of a negative image of Galician Jews among large sectors of German-speaking Jewish communities.

At the end of the nineteenth century, Galician writers also accused Russian Jews of spreading negative stereotypes. These accusations were given extensive expression in the first decade of the twentieth century when Jewish authors and journalists who had escaped from Russia found asylum in the region. The refugee journalists did not care for the Galician Jewish tradition of political cooperation with local parties and accused Galician Jews of an inclination to compromise and lack a sense of Jewish national pride. At the same time, Russian Jewish authors harshly attacked the local Jewish literature, calling it shallow and amateurish. The Jewish newspaper Ha-Mitspeh, which was published in Kraków, became a main platform for these mutual accusations.

In the following decades, Galician authors sought to combat the negative portrayal of the Galitsianer by stressing the Galician origins of renowned Jewish figures: historians, authors, artists, doctors, lawyers, rabbis, and other prominent individuals. The most famous of such books was Medinah va-ḥakhameha (A Land and Its Scholars) by Gershom Bader, which appeared in New York in 1934 and included the first part of an alphabetical listing of famous Galician-born Jews. The drafts for the second part of Bader’s book remained in manuscript (today in the YIVO archives in New York). Other books were published by organizations of Galician immigrants who settled in Argentina, such as Pinkes Galitsye (Galician Notebook; 1945) and Galitsyaner yidn: Yoyvl-bukh (Galician Jews: Jubilee Book; 1966).

Toward the end of the nineteenth century, an opposing trend could be discerned in the portrayal of Galitsianers, one that characterized them as a type of the authentic Jew who maintains a traditional way of life in the face of modernizing influences. Among the supporters of this trend were painters and writers, such as the artist Maurycy Gottlieb (1856–1879), of Drohobycz, and Izidor Kaufmann (1853–1921), who was born in Hungary but lived in Vienna. Gottlieb and especially Kaufmann painted a series of traditional Galician figures—men, women, and children, who stood out because of their handsomeness, the nobility of their bearing, and the respect they aroused in the viewer. Among the authors who followed this trend, the most prominent were Joseph Roth (1894–1939) of Brody, and Shemu’el Yosef Agnon (1888–1970), a native of Buczacz (Ukr., Buchach). To this category of literature one can add the Yiddish memoir and nostalgia literature, among them, Galitsye by Yoyel Mastboim (1929), and Galitsye mayn alte heym (Galicia, My Old Country) by Yoysef Tenenbaum, which was published in Argentina in 1952. Similar literature in German continues to be published to this day.

Suggested Reading

Hannan Hever, Producing the Modern Hebrew Canon: Nation Building and Minority Discourse (New York, 2002), pp. 6–11; Ezra Mendelsohn, Painting a People: Maurycy Gottlieb and Jewish Art (Hanover, N.H., 2002), pp. 11–45; Leonard Prager, “Galicyjsko-żydowska historia w zwerciadle trzech biografi: Mordechaj Gebirtig, Ignacy Schipper i Dow Saddan,” in Społeczeństwo i gospodarka, Galicja i jej dziedzictwo, 2, ed. Jerzy Chłopecki and Helena Madurowicz Urbańska, pp. 137–156 (Rzeszów, Pol., 1995), summary in German and English.



Translated from Hebrew by Barry D. Walfish