Closing the Circle: From Stryi to Lviv via Drohobych

May 4. A last day on the streets of Galicia. We visit the old synagogue of Stryi. But above all, we are in the footsteps of Polish-Jewish writer Bruno Schulz in Drohobych. Then we return to Lviv. Our trip is close to its end.

The roads in Stryi confuse us. But finally we manage it, to find the old synagogue. It is located on a square in the former Jewish quarter. Small houses huddle together in the shade of the large building.

We are once again in front of one of these huge ruins, which apparently no one knows what to do with. A police tape warns pedestrians from falling bricks of the facade. The last attempt for a new use of the building was in the 80s. A swimming pool should be build inside. A bad idea that never became reality.

We continue north. Our final destination before Lviv (Lwow, Lemberg) is Drohobych. A pretty little town that I have already visited in October 2012. But my travel companions Petra and Achim do not know the place and of course Petra’s interest in literature leads us to the traces of Bruno Schulz. Here also I am to learn something new.

Bruno Schulz is considered to be the Galician Kafka. His life’s work is overseeable. Two volumes of short stories, a couple of graphics and paintings. Nevertheless, he is a literary legend, mainly because of the short story collection “The Cinnamon Shops”. His shtetl Drohobych transfomes in a surreal world in his short stories – still part of the curriculum in Polish schools.

During the German occupation Bruno Schulz had to do forced labor. He was “Hausjude” of an SS officer and had to keep the household of his oppressor. In the ghetto of Drohobych he was shot in 1942.

We look at the Ghetto Memorial. It is located on the last remaining section of the ghetto wall. The existence of such a memorial is a rarity in Galicia. In the wall sculptures are inserted, showing pained faces. Preceded by a kneeling bronze sculpture. However, there is no plaque that would say something about the background of this place. Who knows nothing about history is left alone with this monument. At the nearby market is a huge banner of Stepan Bandera, leader of the Ukrainian independence movement, anti-Semite and responsible for the murder of countless Jews in western Ukraine under German supervision.

Just minutes away is the home of Bruno Schulz. It is newly renovated, there is a commemorative plaque. A few hundred meters away is the Villa Landau, a beautiful building that once belonged to a Jewish family before it was confiscated by the SS. Here Bruno Schulz was forced to work for an SS officer. One of his tasks was to design the children’s room with illustrations of fairy tales by the Grimm Brothers.

The murals were discovered a few years ago by a German filmmaker. This had no effect in Ukraine, but brought the Israeli intelligence service on the plan that removed the frescoes secretly and brought them out of the country. They will be exhibited in Yad Vashem, the central Israeli Holocaust memorial and museum. A diplomatic scandal between Ukraine and Israel was the result. The Polish government complained too. The Israeli argument referred to the neglect of Jewish heritage in Ukraine. There were no clues why the work of Bruno Schulz should be better protected than neglected cemeteries and synagogues. Our journey has taught us that there is some truth in this argument.

We still have time to stroll through Drohobych, pass the Great Synagogue, the largest of the former synagogues of Galicia. Once a furniture store, the huge building is now like a ship run aground in the city. Also, a second synagogue we find. The building is for rent.

We continue to Lviv (Lwow, Lemberg) and close the circle of our trip. The wonderful George Hotel is fully booked since monthes – it is Orthodox Easter. We slip in the post-Soviet Lviv hotel. We walk through the streets of the city, meet our friend Alex for a beer. It’s nice to be here. We do not want to leave.

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6 thoughts on “Closing the Circle: From Stryi to Lviv via Drohobych

  1. Great blog, I’m happy to have discovered it.
    It’s also the first time that I can see photographs of Drohobych, an magical place for every Pole interested in literature. Very touching, really. As for me, Drohobych is a Mekka and I intend to visit the place of the greatest Polish writer once in my lifetime. It’s a pity (speaking diplomatically) that it won’t be possible to see Schulz’ frescoes there anymore.
    Regards from Berlin,

  2. Just back from an emotional trip to Drohobych where I accompanied my dear friend in search of any clues to the existence of her Jewish family pre-WWII. The tragic state of the Jewish cemetery in Drohobych haunts me and leaves me questioning why, yet I am encouraged by the reconstruction of the Great Synagogue. I am certainly saddened to learn the detailed account of the horrific murder of Bruno Schulz. The guide we had was not able to explain the circumstances when he pointed out the locations. My friend was able to locate the street on which her once wealthy family lived. However, the exact street number, as with the faces of so many Drohobych Jews, has disappeared.

  3. Dear Christian,

    I too will be taking a trip to Drohobych. I plan on visiting in May, 2017. I am in search of any information that I can find on my ancestors. All that I know is that my great-grandfather, Jon Swiatek, died in Drohobych in 1922. I have his death certificate. I have been told by some relatives that all of the remaining Swiateks were rounded up and sent to the extermination camp at Belzec where of course they met there demise. Any information that you could share from how to get there (I assume there is a local train from Lviv) and then how to get to Belzec would be appreciated. Do you know is there any ancestry or cemetery records kept in Drohobych that are accessible ?

      • Thank you Christian ! Through your suggestion I have found a wealth of information including a local guide. I think she may be invaluable. I’ll keep you posted about my journey !


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