„Galician Venice” was the name of one of the oldest towns lying on the border of Lwów Land and Podolia. The name derived from the fact that the town lies on the banks of four rivers. Here is where the River Pełtew connects with the River Bug and the River Sołotwina and River Rokitna flow. In addition, the town was surrounded by ponds and swamps. The official name of Busk, however, stems from the work "stork" (Polish: bocian) which can be seen in the town’s coat of arms.
Busk was mentioned as early as the 11th century as one of the fortified settlements belonging to the Buzhane tribe. Also an autonomous duchy of Busk existed here, which later became part of the Duchy of Vladimir. A local line of the Rurik dynasty reigned in Busk. In the early 13th century, the town was incorporated into the Duchy of Belz. Yet in 1277, its splendor was lost after it was destroyed by Tatars[1.1].
In the 14th century, Busk was in the Crown of the Kingdom of Poland, still as part of the Duchy of Belz, and then as the county administrator’s seat in Belz Province. Until the 16th century, it was not able to flourish because of its location on the so-called Black Trail, that is a trail which the Tatars used during their raids.
In 1484, having become the seat of the county administration, Busk received town privileges. The Vlachs started settling in the town as well, leading to its development. In 1540, the Górka family members from Greater Poland (Polish: Wielkopolska) began to perform the duties of county administrators. One of them, Stanisław Górka (from 1573 on, in Busk) supposedly allowed Jews to settle in the town. It appears, however, that Jews had lived in Busk much earlier since the oldest preserved tombstone at the Jewish cemetery is dated 1510, and the earliest mention of Jews in Busk dates back to 1454[1.2]. The Górkas were pious Calvinists and turned Busk into one of the strongest centers of Calvinism in Rus’. Even the Catholic parish was closed for some time here, which was objected to by the townspeople and the consistory of Lwów. The Górka family also led to the considerable growth of the town. They opened a paper mill which operated up until 1788 and is said to have been the first paper mill in Ukraine. They established vineyards as well, built a castle and surrounded Busk with walls. In the 16th century, the town was divided into three main parts and those were the Old Town, the Middle Town where the county administrator had its office and the Church of the Holy Spirit was located, as well as the New Town with the Church of the Mother of God, houses of the nobility and some Jewish houses. It was also the main shopping centre[1.3].
King Stefan Batory proclaimed Busk a free royal town in 1582. This meant receiving the de non tolerandis Judaeis privilege, however it is unclear what the town gained from it, since Jews continued to live within the town walls in the New Town[1.4].
In 1655, the town and the castle were razed to the ground by Cossacks under the command of Khmelnitsky and the Moscow troops led by Buturlin. It was not until the second half of the 17th century, when the county administration was in the hands of the Jabłonowski family, that they were rebuilt. The new administrators ruled in Busk for four generations and during this time, Busk became, at first, the center of Sabbataism and then the center of Frankism. Local Rabbi Nachman Samuel Halewi was a great follower of the “third Messiah” Jakub Frank. It was he who represented the Frankists during the Lwów dispute, in which the Frankists argued (in the name of the Jewish people) that the Messiah had already come, that there was a Holy Trinity, and that they agreed to convert to Christianity. The Busk rabbi was among the 1,000 followers of Jacob Frank who solemnly converted to Catholicism in the Warsaw cathedral in 1759. He was baptized as Piotr Jakubowski and was ennobled. What is interesting, however, is the fact that Jakub Frank dissociated himself from the Lwów dispute and was not even present when it took place. Nevertheless, together with his followers, he received baptism. In view of the support, which the Jews of Busk gave to Frank, king August III named Busk as one of the main Frankist towns in the Polish Crown[1.5].
The Jabłonowskis sold the Busk county estates to Józef Mier, who came from a Scottish family. This happened in 1763, and in 1772, when the lands became part of Austria as a result of the first partition of Poland, Mier became the official owner of Busk, which, in that period, quickly developed as an industrial center. Mier built sawmills, glass works and potash factories. He brought in Czech and German specialists. In 1810, his son Count Wojciech Mier had a palace built in the town. The palace is still there. Busk was owned by the Miers until 1879, but it was not prosperous anymore. After a big fire in 1849 it did not manage to regain its economic importance. After the Mier family, Busk was owned by the Badeni family, with its most significant representative Count Kazimierz Feliks Badeni who became the governor of Galicia in 1888 and the prime minister of the Austro-Hungarian Empire in 1895-1897. He was called an Austrian patriot of Polish origin. He later settled in Busk and stayed there for good. Later, his son Ludwik Józef Badeni was the owner of the lands. The Jews of Busk cherished the memory of the Badeni family. According to the local Jewish legend Count Kazimierz Badeni spoke with them in Yiddish. He supported the poorer members of the community by exempting them from taxes[1.6].
During World War I, Busk was conquered by the Russian army and became a front-line town after the Austrians retook it. During the Polish-Ukrainian war over Galicia, Busk was the main base of the small air force of the Ukrainian Galician Army. It is worth noticing that attorney Jewhen Petruszewycz was a native of Busk. In November 1918, as chairman of the Ukrainian National Council, Petruszewycz proclaimed in Lwów the establishment of the West-Ukrainian People’s Republic, which became the cause of the battles between the Poles and Ukrainians, first of Lwów, and later of all of Galicia. Petruszewycz was also the first president of this country. He emigrated after 1920[1.7]. Eventually, in 1920, near Busk, fierce battles were fought by the Polish troops against the Bolsheviks, during their retreat from around Lwów.
In the interwar period, Busk was a provincial town situated within Kamionka Strumiłowa County. Despite the fact it lies near Lwów, at that time it became part of Tarnopol Province. In 1939, it had 8,000 residents, of whom 2,500 were Jewish. There were two synagogues in the town[1.8]. The older one was built in 1796 and does not exist today and the Great Synagogue, which is still there, was erected in the years 1842-1843 thanks to the financial support of Lwów Hasid Jakub Glanzer.
When the Red Army entered Busk in September 1939, the Soviets arranged here a POW camp for Polish soldiers, who were forces to build the Lwów-Kijów road. Upon the attack of Germany on the Soviet Union, the local NKVD murdered 35 people that had been held under arrest. The Germans entered the town towards the end of June 1941. Tthe Ukrainians initiated a pogrom in the town, but they were stopped by a Greek-Catholic priest called Kaliniewicz [1.9]. The only people who could not be saved and were shot dead by the Germans were 30 men who were accused of collaborating with the Russians, while, in fact, the reason for that was some unfinished personal business. About 1,800-1,900 Jews were staying at that time in the town[1.1.8]. The local Ukrainian administration made the Jews to perform humiliating work. A Judenrat was set up; its goal was to help the Jews and bribe the Germans to made the repressions used by them less strict. On 21 August 1942, an action was carried out here, during which some of the Jews along with the Jews from the nearby village of Kamionka Strumiłowa were taken to the Bełżec death camp. Another, bigger action took place on 21 September 1942, on Yom Kippur, when the Germans organized a mass execution of the Jews of both Busk and Kamionka, in which about 2,500 people were murdered[1.10]. A bigger group of Jews and the Judenrat members stayed in Busk until 21 May 1943. Towards the end of 1942, a ghetto was formed in Busk, in which Jews from the nearby towns were gathered. In the spring of 1943, there were about 2,500-3,000 people here, including the escapees from the ghettos that were being dissolved at that time, for example, the one in Jaryczów. The rest of the Busk Jews were murdered near the town on 21 May 1943. A group of selected men was taken by the Germans to the Janowska camp in Lwów.
- [1.1] G. Rąkowski, Przewodnik po Ukrainie Zachodniej, part 3, Ziemia Lwowska, (Pruszków, 2007), pp. 255–256.
- [1.2] A. Shayari, History of Busk, in: Sefer Busk; Le-zekher Ha-kehila She-harva, ed. A. Shayari, (Haifa, 1965), p. 18.
- [1.3] G. Rąkowski, Przewodnik po Ukrainie Zachodniej, part 3, Ziemia Lwowska, (Pruszków, 2007), p. 256.
- [1.4] A. Shayari, History of Busk, in: Sefer Busk; Le-zekher Ha-kehila She-harva, ed. A. Shayari, (Haifa, 1965), p. 19.
- [1.5] Busk in: Encyclopaedia Judaica, (Jerusalem, 1974), vol. 4, p. 1536.
- [1.6] A. Shayari, History of Busk, in: Sefer Busk; Le-zekher Ha-kehila She-harva, ed. A. Shayari, (Haifa, 1965), 19.
- [1.7] Petruszewycz Jewhen Omeljanowycz in: Elektronna Biblioteka Ukrajiny [online] http://uateka.com/uk/article/personality/politics/432 [Accessed 14 November 2013].
- [1.8] A. Shayari, History of Busk, [in:] Sefer Busk; Le-zekher Ha-kehila She-harva, ed. A. Shayari, (Haifa, 1965), p. 20.
- [1.9] Jewish Historical Institute Archives, 301/477, account by Maria Steinberg.
- [1.1.8] A. Shayari, History of Busk, [in:] Sefer Busk; Le-zekher Ha-kehila She-harva, ed. A. Shayari, (Haifa, 1965), p. 20.
- [1.10] Jewish Historical Institute Archives, 301/1704, account by Izrael Hecht.