Jewish Drohobycz

The writer Bruno Schulz is not much read in the English-speaking world nowadays, nor perhaps anywhere outside Poland and Israel. You can find pretty much his entire fictional output in a single volume English translation by Celina Wieniewska. 

Schulz was the small-town Jewish boy who never really made good, a kind of obscure provincial Franz Kafka with a runaway mind veering towards the fantastic. He came from a modest and alternately successful and failing middle class background. His father Jakub Schulz was a clothier and later a bankrupt; his mother Henrietta or Hendel nee Kuhmärker took over the family business. The family appears in the JewishGen Ukraine Database, the nondescript name Schulz drawing no attention to itself, just one more lost Jewish name among many.  But there is Bruno, born in Drohobycz in 1892 (actually 12th July 1892). It is not clear whether the civil authorities recognised the Jewish marriage of his parents, although the family is thought to have assimilated, as some family entries seem to be registered under the mother’s maiden name Kuhmärker rather than Schulz. It was not at all unusual for Galician Jewish births to be recorded under the mother’s maiden name both in the days of the former Austro-Hungarian Empire and during interwar Polish times; therefore, it is advisable to search under both names. 

Most summaries of Bruno’s family life refer to a single sister Hania and brother Izydor. However, there appear to have been two more siblings at least, namely Isak, who died as a three-year old boy in 1879, and Hinda, who also died aged three years of age in 1890; quite possibly there were others who died in infancy or childhood. Hania appears to have been born circa 1873 and to have married Moses Hoffmann in 1900; at the time of her marriage, according to JewishGen, she was spelling her name Anna or Chane. They had a son Ludwik in 1903. Izydor seems to have been born as Baruch Israel in 1881. He was a successful engineer with oil mining interests in Galicia; a 1912 directory shows that he was then residing at ulica św Bartłomieja in Drohobycz. He died in 1935. 

As for Bruno, he became an art teacher in the local school, wrote his fiction and received moderate acclaim for a while. Like Kafka he never married, although he had a string of female friends and correspondents and eventually was affianced to Józefina Szelinska, a Jewish convert to Catholicism who taught Polish and later worked in the bureau of statistics (perhaps the register office?). For her sake he renounced his religion, becoming officially “faithless”, but the intended resulting register office wedding never came to pass. Schulz survived the first Soviet occupation of Polish Galicia but was not to survive the subsequent Nazi occupation. 

As a modern poet once sang, “Every moment leads toward its own sad end”. Bruno Schulz was shot by a Nazi named Karl Günther while carrying a loaf of bread back home to the ghetto in November 1942.

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Research in Zhytomyr Archives, Ukraine

 Zhytomyr, or Zhitomir (also Shitomir in German), is a Ukrainian provincial capital, seat of the Zhytomyr oblast, but is of immense significance for family historians with German-Ukrainian roots and specifically for those from Ukrainisch Wolhynien. This is the region of Volhynia to the west of Kyiv formerly dense with German settlements and colonies founded during the 19th century. The German population was particularly concentrated in the triangle between the towns of Zhytomyr, Novohrad-Volynskyi (or Nowograd-Wolhynsk, previously known as Zwiahel or Swehl) and Korosten. 

Ukraine operates, in theory if not always in practice, a 75-year “modern era” closure period, meaning that records from before 1936 (at the time of writing) should be on open access in state archives rather than closed, for reasons of data protection and personal privacy, in register offices (known by the acronym RAHS and administered by the Ministry of Justice).  

The state regional archives in Zhytomyr are one of the most efficient and cooperative in Ukraine.  Among their holdings is an important collection of German Evangelical Lutheran parish registers for Wolhynien. These vital records all date from before 1936, of course, and are particularly strong for the period from about 1900 to 1920. The collection is not complete but includes, among others, births/baptisms, marriages and deaths/burials for the parishes of Emiltschin, Heimthal, Radomysl, Tutschin, Shitomir itself and Nowograd-Wolhynsk. There are also name indexes in the archive and a collection of police files which contain biographical information on individual inhabitants. 

The same archive also houses a number of records of interest to those with German Baptist roots, e.g. in Tutschin. 

Bluebird Research offers research services at Zhytomyr state archives and is also able to assist at other locations which hold Wolhynien Lutheran records, such as the St Petersburg archives which hold the bishop’s transcripts for the years 1836-1885 (the original parish registers being lost, only these contemporaneous copies survive). 

Please contact us for a free assessment if you are interested in professional family history research assistance in Ukraine or Russia.

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