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For my internet presentation of the city of Brody in Austrian times click here. (German only)

The Town of Brody in the Long Nineteenth Century. A History of Failure?

Brody, a town today lying in Western Ukraine, became part of the Habsburg Empire following the First Partition of Poland in 1772. Until Austria-Hungary’s collapse at the end of the First World War the town was right on the border with Poland (until 1795) and later with Russia (until 1918). This thesis embraces a timespan of almost 150 years, excluding the First World War. It examines Brody’s economic and social history in the first two sections; the third section is dedicated to the perception of the town’s Austrian past. The most important material which serves as the basis for this work are archival sources mainly holdings in L’viv, Vienna, Paris and Kraków as well as published sources such as statistics, administrative handbooks and travel reports.

At first glance, Brody’s performance throughout the long nineteenth century would not qualify as a success story: The city transformed from a centre of international trade and cultural importance into a peripheral town at the Galician-Russian border. Brody lost its position as major commercial hub in east central Europe and failed to embrace an urbanisation and modernisation that was so characteristic for cities in this period. When we think of the urban space in the second half of the nineteenth century we imagine growing cities, urbanisation and industrialisation. If these developments arrived in Brody at all, it was much later than in other Galician towns.

From the Galician perspective, the economical transformation of Brody was desirable, because the city’s former international orientation had led to a certain self isolation from its Galician surroundings. From a regional point of view Brody’s shrinking proved the city’s successful integration into the social and political realities of the Crownland. At the end of this decade long process L’viv had replaced Vienna or international commercial cities such as Leipzig, Berdyčiv or Odessa as Brody’s focus point. Successfully “galicianised” by the outbreak of the First World War, Brody was everything a Galician city could be: It was a regional commercial centre with a branch line railway station and a branch office of the Austro-Hungarian National Bank like several other Galician middle-sized towns; it was one of the more important border-crossing towns such as Pidvoločys’k or Husjatyn; and it was a local educational centre such as Ternopil’, Ivano-Frankivs’k or Kolomyja. Put simply, the difference between 1800 and 1900 was the indefinite article replacing the definite: Until the mid-nineteenth century Brody was the centre of trade between eastern and western Europe, the border city between the Austrian and the Russian Empires and the Galician educational centre with a clear supraregional orientation.

Nevertheless, several features distinguished Brody from other Galician towns even at the beginning of the twentieth century, some of which were vestiges of Brody’s former economic importance. Brody continued to be the seat of one of the three Galician chambers of commerce and thus ranked in the same category as L’viv and Kraków. The town’s ethno-confessional composition also continued to be an important exception. No other Austro-Hungarian town was so predominantly Jewish, with Roman-Catholic Poles and Greek-Catholic Ukrainians never accounting for more than a third of the total population. Moreover Brody continued to play a certain role in Jewish thinking, in Rabbinic-Talmudic scholarship as well as in the spread of the Haskalah in east central Europe. In close connection with the strong support of Brody’s Jewish elites for the Enlightenment, the German language kept its importance many decades longer than in other Galician cities. However, by the outbreak of the First World War Brody’s Jewish elites had switched from an orientation towards the German-speaking centre of the Empire to a certain degree of auto-polonisation. Special to Brody was also the strong commitment of the city and its environs to Russophile currents, whereas in the rest of Galicia the Ukrainian national movement rapidly gained popularity at the turn of the century. The local high school (Gymnasium) also deserves special attention, as not until 1907-1908 did Polish replace German as the language of instruction, and even then the shift occurred only gradually. Coincidentally, the last Matura (A-levels, high school diploma) to be held in German was in June 1914. Among the pupils graduating in 1913 was Joseph Roth, who in his later literary works often referred to his hometown, thus highlighting the importance of Brody in the German speaking world.

The dichotomy between the extraordinary Brody and the typical Galician Brody wittingly or unwittingly shaped the city’s perception in travel reports, literature and mental images. Today there are different ways of remembering Habsburg Brody. They mostly but not exclusively run along ethnic lines and omit the non-national. Contemporary Austria often monopolises the supranational idea of the Habsburg Empire, which a hundreds years ago was rightly called “Austrian”, for its own, now national, narrative. This is why we find Ukrainian, Polish, Jewish but also Austrian lieux de mémoire in present day Brody. Those places and spaces are often separated from each other along national lines – sometimes however, they overlap.