Buchach has been home to a Jewish community since the early 16th century, and by 1552 14 Jewish families had settled there. It continued to expand over time as the town industrialised, and by the mid-19th century, there were 19 operating synagogues in the town. Although a fire in 1865 burned 220 Jewish homes, and a cholera epidemic in 1881 claimed 600 lives, the community continued its growth and in 1906, a Yeshiva was established.
By the outbreak of World War II, around 10,000 Jews lived in Buchach, with more Jewish refugees arriving after the Nazi occupation of Poland. On September 18th, 1939, the town was occupied by Soviet forces, who imprisoned and murdered civilians, while deporting many Jews to the Soviet Union before retreating in advance of the Nazi occupation in July 1941. Within a month of arriving, the Nazis carried out a mass execution of 400 local Jewish professionals. On October 17th, 1942, 1,600 Jews were deported to Belzec death camp, and a further 200 were murdered on the spot. Then, on November 27th, a further 2,500 were deported and another 250 murdered. Although some Jews were able to escape into the woods and join the partisans, the campaign of mass-murder continued in 1943, with 2,000 Jews murdered in February and a further 4,000 in April. A series of attacks and counter-attacks in early 1944 saw the town change hands between the Soviets and the Nazis repeatedly, and by the time it was finally liberated in July, fewer than 100 Jews remained.
Although this centuries old Jewish community was wiped out during the two years the Nazis held the town, its legacy lives on in the Buchach Jewish cemetery, as well as the memory of some of the important figures who were born there, such as Nobel Prize winning writer Shmuel Yosef Agnon and famous Nazi hunter Simon Wiesenthal.
ESJF first fenced the cemetery in 2018, with support from private funding and from the Auswärtiges Amt Foreign Office of the Federal Republic of Germany, before returning in July 2019 to survey the site as part of our European Commission-funded pilot project, “Protecting the Jewish Cemeteries of Europe”. This large cemetery requires regular cleaning and thanks to this new work, the cemetery is clear and preserved – a testament to the community who once lived and thrived here.