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Tluste - Life and Times

One finds, elsewhere on this website, descriptions of the history of Tluste from the perspectives of the three principal ethnic groups comprising the town’s population. The following pages attempt to give a more detailed account of what everyday life would have been like for the citizens of Tluste between ca. 1880 and 1930, in terms of social structure, peasant life, commerce, transport, education, and health issues. They also highlight the decades-long connection to Tluste of a number of families whose businesses prospered as the town underwent a marked transformation during that half-century.

Map of Southeastern Galicia c. 1900  - adapted from Hryniuk (1991)In 1880, the total population of southeastern Galicia – comprising the counties of Borshchiv, Chortkiv, Husiatyn, Terebovlia, and Zalishchyky – was just over 360,000. About 65-70 percent of the population was Ukrainian, about 16-20 percent were Poles, and 14 percent were Jews  (1).

Four-fifths of the population was primarily dependent on agriculture and forestry for its livelihood. Four grain crops – wheat, rye, barley and oats – predominated. In Zalishchyky county, which included Tluste, maize was also widely cultivated; and tobacco growing was also said to be profitable. The relatively mild climate and rich soil in the vicinity of Zalishchyky town, 25 km south of Tluste, also favoured the cultivation of high-revenue crops such as early ripening tomatoes, apricots and grapes.

The remaining one-fifth of the population, mainly inhabiting small towns, provided services to the rural areas (i.e. industry and crafts, commerce and transportation, non-agricultural day labour, and government administration).  

Social structure

Southeastern Galicia, also referred to by some as “Southern Podillia”, was a region of marked social contrasts. It was said that “[g]reat mansions shared the countryside with the villages of the peasants and the largely Jewish market towns; large and very large estates adjoined the small plots of the peasantry”  (2).

Tluste was absolutely typical in this regard. In 1880, Tluste had a modestly growing population of about 3,300 citizens: two-thirds Jewish, one-fifth Ukrainian and about one-tenth Polish (see also: Census Data). Along with about 20 other towns of southeastern Galicia, Tluste was large enough to be granted the status of “market town”. This status was officially conferred upon suitable communes by the imperial (Austrian) authorities and, after 1859, at the county level  (3).

Map of Tluste (1858) showing Poninski land

In 1891, the major landowner in Tluste was a Polish nobleman by the name of Prince (i.e. Fürst, in German) Poninski, who owned a mansion and a farm. A map of Tluste from 1858 reveals two large tracts of land in the Poninski name – one starting about 200 m west of the Roman Catholic church, and the other large tract located north-northwest of the town's cemetery.

It is speculated that Prince Poninski may have lived in what some call today the “Polish palace”, a formerly elegant building situated southwest of the town reservoir.

Poninski's immediate predecessor, at the end of the 18th century, was another feudal lord by the name of Slonetskiy. The nearby villages of Anielowka, Karolowka, and Rozanowka are reportedly named after his three daughters - Aniela, Karola and Rozalia - while modern-day Slone, a few kilometres southwest of Tovste, bears his own name.

The interaction of these nobleman with the local community is an area of research in need of further investigation, however Hryniuk offers some general insights in this regard  (4). “The wealth of the large landowners was reflected in their political pre-eminence. Their power was feared; they received deference, but rarely respect and admiration. They lived separate from the people in every way. In their mansions, their children were tutored privately while village children went to the local school”.

Peasant life

Life was rather different for the Ukrainian peasantry. It was still customary, towards the end of the nineteenth century, for three generations of a Ukrainian family to live in a single dwelling (i.e. a married son, with wife and children, living together with the parents).

A typical house was built of logs and beaten clay mixed with straw, with a roof made of thatched straw. It was not uncommon for this simple, but durable construction to last more than a century, if built properly. Indeed, even in Tovste today one finds remnants of such houses still standing – perhaps transformed, with roofs made of modern construction materials; or, if no longer used as dwellings, assigned to animals or for storage.   Traditional Ukrainian khalupa

In his marvellous account of Galician life, Generations: A Family History, Picknicki describes the construction of these traditional village houses (khata or khalupa) in considerable detail  (5). Typically they had only one or two rooms – the living area and a storage room or komora. A huge clay oven (pich), white-washed and attractively decorated, dominated the interior. The floors were made of packed clay and the furnishings were very modest.

Typical farmyard - reproduced from Picknicki (1990)   A typical farmyard would have had a barn, used for threshing and storing sheaves of grain; a stable for the animals; and other structures such as a sty and a chicken coop, a well or a cellar. According to Ukrainian custom, the yard would always be fenced.    


A Galician business directory published in 1891 offers a glimpse of what Tluste was like in those days  (6). As shown in this table compiled and adapted from the original directory, three guesthouses and a café were operating – more than can be said for the availability of accommodation one hundred years later in modern-day Tovste! There were a relatively small number of professionals in town: a lawyer, a notary, two druggists, an architect/master builder, and three business agents. A brick works was already established and there were two mills operating. A half-dozen dealers supplied Tluste and nearby villages with metal, leather, wood and building materials.

A dozen or so trades were each represented by at most one or two craftsmen (e.g. in cabinet making, carpentry, metal-working, shoemaking, tailoring, watch-making, weaving etc.). In this regard, there seemed to be little choice – and little competition – in the town.

Crowd in front of shop in Tluste There was a small retail sector offering, among other things: books, art and music; drapery, linen and underwear; fashion accessories; glass and china; and notions and materials (fabrics). The food sector was adequately represented by three grain and produce dealers, three egg dealers and importers, two grocery/delicatessen shops, dealers in flour and wine, as well as a butcher and a baker.

As reported in Austrian census figures for 1900  (7), Tluste was also home to a district court, a tax office, a finance oversight office, as well as four saving and lending institutions. The town was served by its own volunteer fire brigade and five gendarmes.

In that year, it was reported that Tluste had both Greek Catholic and Roman Catholic parishes, as well as a Jewish Community organisation (Israelitische Kultusgemeinde), whose members worshipped at the town synagogue. There were two Level-VIII elementary schools, evidently needed to accommodate an ever-increasing number of young children being born into the community. In addition to the two resident doctors and apothecary in town, there were no fewer than six registered midwives, and a veterinary surgeon.  

Transport network

Tluste had the advantage, already in 1880, of being fairly well connected within the regional road network, which was then the predominant mode of transportation for people and goods. The town was situated on an “imperial highway” that was built in the late eighteenth century and traversed Eastern Galicia. Built from a base of crushed stone and a gravel surface, the road ran northward from Chernivtsi through Zalishchyky, and onward to Chortkiv, Ternopil and eventually Lviv.

Major upgrading was undertaken on this and other highways around 1887, on account of their military significance. In that year, a new iron road bridge was built across the Dniester river at Zalishchyky. In general, road construction and maintenance was done though a compulsory labour scheme, which committed villagers to work as many as six days per year. This was eventually reduced to two days per annum in 1896. Adding to the chagrin of the villagers, private entrepreneurs had contracts to collect tolls on many of these roads (8).

Map of Tluste and vicinity - 1899In the 1890s, the Galician parliament (Sejm) took interest in fostering and financing the construction of local railways. Several new lines were built in the last few years of the nineteenth century, including a 51 km section that began just west of Chortkiv and ran south through Tluste to Zalishchyky.

Construction of this portion of the network began in 1897 and was completed in 1901. The map, opposite, traces the route as it snakes through Tluste. The chosen path, to the west of town, required the expropriation of property from a number of landowners. A two-story railway station was completed in 1899.

It has been reported that the construction of the railway through Tluste was overseen by Józef Potyra, a Galician of Polish descent. Though he did not originally come from Tluste, a large monument bearing his name can be found in the old cemetery.  (9).
Monument to Jozef Potyra

His descendants have reported that he travelled several times to the United States, where he may have been involved in various bridge construction projects and/or coal mining in the state of Pennsylvania.

After returning to Tluste, Józef Potyra purchased land for the construction of a flour mill. He is reported to have died of heart failure in 1944, at the age of about 84. The fact that he was married to a countess by the name of Filomena Dolinska, 17 years his junior, might help to explain the extraordinary monument that was erected in his honour.

The construction work on the railway created opportunities for manpower and suppliers of building materials, boosting local economies for at least a few years. It is reported that there was resentment among Ukrainians that Poles tended to benefit more from the employment opportunities created from the construction boom and later, from the staffing of technical and professional positions  (10). However, the main economic advantage of the railways was seen in the rapid growth in the number of passengers and freight that they carried in the first few years of their operation.

Situated on the imperial highway, Tluste was also a hub for regional postal and telegraph services. Along with neighbouring Zalishchyky and Chortkiv, Tluste had a postal stable and stage point already in 1880. By then, the town also had its own post office and electric telegraph facility. The postal stable was still in place at the turn of the century  (11).  

Galician educational system

It is worth digressing briefly to examine the prevailing educational system and health care issues that impacted the lives of the citizens of Tluste.

Hryniuk (12) reports that when Eastern Galicia was incorporated into the Austro-Hungarian Empire in 1772, the Greek Catholic (Uniate) clergy had been the main educators in the villages. However the clergy’s own standard of learning was low. Empress Maria Theresa (1717-1780) and her successor, Emperor Joseph II (1741-1790) both recognized their importance and provided opportunities to enhance their educational competence. Each village was to have a ‘trivial’ or primary school and there was to be compulsory education for children 5-12 years of age.

In fact, the stated goal of compulsory education was not realised. During the nineteenth century, however, there was a steady increase in the number of church-administered schools in Galician villages, in particular after substantial autonomy was granted to the region following the Austrian constitutional transformation of 1867.

Nevertheless, the education system was still lacking in southeastern Galicia and it was in Zalishchyky county that the least progress was made. Between 1880 and 1900, the number of public elementary schools actually declined from 44 to 38. It was the only county in which one-teacher schools were still preponderant in 1900.

On the positive side, a new elementary school for Jewish boys opened in Tluste, supported by the Baron Hirsch foundation, and it accounted for much of the increase in the county’s school enrolment during the last decade of the nineteenth century. There was also a specialised school in Tluste that provided training in ceramics.   Building which once housed the Hebrew school for boys

The language of instruction in schools was often Polish, a source of complaint among Ukrainians in predominantly Ukrainian areas. Tluste had a four-teacher public elementary school, but there was only one parallel class in which Ukrainian was the teaching medium. More generally, the education system was beset by such problems as too few teachers, overcrowded schools, and few opportunities for regular progression from elementary to secondary and higher levels of education. There was, for example, no secondary school in all of southeastern Galicia in the latter part of the nineteenth century (13).

According to Hryniuk, the landowning Polish gentry “sought to expand greatly the availability of elementary education in the Land, but to restrict the actual amount of education in the villages to whatever the one-teacher school could provide. Peasants were to be made just literate, but further schooling was to be avoided for fear that a more advanced education would lead to the peasants getting ideas above their station in life… Teachers were bound to teach only the assigned curriculum. They were to cultivate the development of obedient, hard-working people, and not much else.”  (14).

Austrian statistics on the extent of literacy in southeastern Galicia paint a rather dismal picture, especially in Zalishchyky county, where the literacy rate between 1880 and 1900 was the lowest of the five counties. In 1880, just 7.7 percent of males and 4.1 percent of females were literate. Though these numbers increased to 20.2 percent and 12.8 percent, respectively, by 1900, the illiteracy rate was obviously heavily influenced by the number of people who had grown into adulthood before large-scale public schooling began in the region. Those who had received their schooling in the 1890s fared considerably better  (15).

Aside from formal public education, there were other avenues for educating the public such as: enlightenment societies (among them, ‘Prosvita’ and ‘Kachkovsky Society’); the periodic press (e.g. Batkivshchyna and the bi-weekly Chytalnia); and popular reading clubs, which served to convey knowledge by having literate people read aloud to groups of people who could not read. There were also ‘Agricultural Circles’ formed by Polish peasants which featured weekly meetings to discuss common agricultural problems and reading aloud of the press  (16).

It is possible that official data may overstate somewhat the extent of illiteracy in Galicia. For instance, it is surmised that some peasants, when asked by census-takers whether they could read and write, may have been inclined to answer “no”, out of fear that they would have to pay some sort of tax. Also there is anecdotal evidence suggesting that Galician immigrants to Canada were more literate than some gave them credit for – many having a command of Polish as well. Moreover, despite limited opportunities for higher education, some students evidently did receive advanced instruction and assistance to carry on their studies elsewhere (17).   

Health issues

Following severe epidemics of cholera, smallpox and typhus in the 1870s, health care in southeastern Galician villages improved in the last two decades of the century, but only after communicable diseases had taken a heavy toll. A smallpox epidemic that killed tens of thousands of people in Austrian lands in 1873 was met with an intensified preventive vaccination programme. By 1885, 57 vaccination stations had been set up in Zalishchyky county alone, where deaths from smallpox tended to be higher than elsewhere in the region. In 1889, for example, 244 people in the county died from a smallpox outbreak, which led to the closure of markets, shops and some schools in Tluste and elsewhere  (18).

Cholera was also a persistent problem, appearing in epidemic proportions over several years in the second half of the nineteenth century. There was a serious outbreak of cholera asiatica in the five counties of southeastern Galicia in 1893-95, killing several thousands of people before the epidemic was gradually brought under control. Zalishchyky county was declared free of cholera by December 1894, which allowed for the relaxation of trade restrictions that had been imposed until then.

Tuberculosis was also fairly widespread, particularly in Zalishchyky county; and other childhood diseases such as measles, scarlet fever, diphtheria and whooping cough also took their toll.

During the last quarter of the nineteenth century, the region’s health care system was insufficient to cope with these major health care problems. Although Zalishchyky town had a public general hospital, with 40 beds treating 400 patients annually, it was the only one in all of southeastern Galicia. Generally, the region was poorly supplied with doctors and public health facilities, apart from vaccination stations and a few public apothecaries, including one in Tluste. There were actually fewer doctors in Zalishchyky county through the 1880s and 1890s than there had been in 1873. As the population continued to grow, the doctor-to-patient ratio worsened. In 1900, southeastern Galicia had 48 doctors for a civilian population of about 425,000.

More positively, some of the larger towns had certified midwives to assist at childbirth, independent of doctors. They played an important role in the health delivery system and may have been an important factor in keeping the proportion of stillbirths to live births below the average for Galician as a whole. In 1900, Tluste had six such midwives  (19).

Advertisement for  land in CanadaIt was against this backdrop that, from the mid-1890s, Galicia began to experience a mass emigration of the population – first to Brazil, and then to western Canada, in the latter case encouraged by the prospect of owning 160 acres of land for registration fee of just 10 dollars (about 50 gulden). Small landowners of 2-5 hectares readily took up the challenge, despite having to make a substantial investment in the cost of their transport overseas. In his book, Generations: A Family History, Picknicki eloquently describes the origins of Ukrainian emigration to Canada, which was to have a marked effect on the settlement of western part of that country  (20).  

Transformation of Tluste

Notwithstanding the deficiencies in the education and health care systems before the turn of the century, as well as the wave of emigration described above, Tluste underwent a remarkable transformation over the following three decades. Evidence of a vibrant economic life is suggested in another Polish business directory, published in 1929 (21). A table adapted from that directory reveals an extensive professional, trade and service sector, alongside a modest manufacturing capacity.
  At that point, the town’s population was probably reaching a peak of around 4,000 citizens, with much the same ethnic balance as described earlier. The mayor was Marcin Kobiernik, whose initials can be found on the building that served then as the town hall (constructed in 1925, and pictured opposite); and which still stands in the centre of town, serving as a commercial bank. Tluste town hall in 1930

By 1929, the Makowiecka family had become the major landowners in Tluste, also owning the brickyard and one of the town’s five mills. Among the professionals in town, there were three doctors, three midwives, a pharmacist and a veterinary surgeon. The increasingly sophisticated local community attracted no fewer than five solicitors to set up practice, in addition to the local notary.
Former fort/cinema - Polish era  

Tluste now had its own cinema, ‘Swiatowid’ (pictured here); a cooperative society, ‘Narodny Dim’; and a single saving and lending bank, ‘Zwiaek Kredytowy’.

There were three hotels, an equal number of restaurants, and five taverns licensed to sell alcohol.

The expansion of activity in and around Tluste brought with it an influx of new trades people as well. As compared to the situation in 1891, several new trades were represented in 1929. Most significantly, there were often several skilled craftsmen performing the same function – suggesting a high demand for their services. Dealers in raw materials (such as coal, glass, iron, leather, oils and lubricants, and wood) and hardware, including agricultural implements, were plentiful.

The retail sector also grew markedly, with many more shops selling fabrics, fancy goods, footware and ready-made clothing.

In the food sector, there were no fewer than ten butcher shops in town, in addition to two bakeries, as well as dealers in cattle, poultry, corn and fruit.

  Tluste streetscene - ca. 1915 (estimated)

It is interesting to search for continuity in families and their businesses between the directories of 1891 and 1929. Indeed, one finds several families who appear to be represented in both directories, though one cannot be absolutely certain without further research that it is not another family with the same name. In a few cases, successive generations are seen to continue the family tradition in a particular trade. Very often, though, the younger generation appears to have found a new vocation.  

Family ties

Examples of families associated with Tluste over these several decades include the following:

The Spitzer family had a very long association with Tluste that can be documented as far back as 1846  (22). In that year, Jankel Spitzer was recorded as owning property in under the title of House no. 3. Judging from the number, it was probably located right in the centre of town. A half-century later, the 1891 business directory indicates that M. Spitzer was a dealer in building materials. This tradition continued through 1929, with two members of the Spitzer family (Hirsch and one other unnamed individual) practicing the same trade. In addition to these two men, J. Spitzer was a dealer in wood, K. Spitzer owned a confectioner’s shop, and P. Spitzer ran one of the town’s five licensed public houses.

Home of Hirsch Spitzer and family - constructed 1932The Spitzers lived in a large Baroque-style house, built in 1932, on what is today Hrushevskoho Str.

Hirsch Spitzer is said to have been an acquaintance of Anton Navolskyy, the priest who shepherded the construction of the Greek-Catholic cathedral after his arrival in Tluste in 1930 (23). A dealer in wood and raw materials, Spitzer is reported to have donated wood for the construction of the church, refusing to accept payment for it. The transaction is mentioned in records from the church kept in the Tovste museum.

Baroque house - showing Spitzer insignia (inset)

The Spitzer house would later be the setting of a wonderful story of survival through perilous times and of enduring gratitude towards those who made it possible. See also: 'The Spitzer Story'.

Around 2003, the gray house was painted a garish blue colour and the Spitzer insignia, which had decorated the upper part of the house for over 70 years, was plastered over.

Former Lagodzinski  public house (inn)The Lagodzinski family can also be traced back to 1846 to one Teodor Lagodzinski, who was a small landowner at the time. In the 1891 business directory, Ant Lagodzinski was registered as a gunsmith cum can/tin maker, while A. [L]agodzinski (first letter thought to be a transcription error) was recorded as a locksmith / metalworker. By 1929, their offspring, or so it is presumed, had moved in a completely different direction. H. Lagodzinski was the owner of one of the town’s three hotels, while L. Lagodzinski ran a public house licensed to sell alcohol. The building is still standing today, on the main north-south thoroughfare, at No. 76 Ukrainska Str.

Two families recorded in the 1891 directory, Gärtner and Langholz, both appear to have had a long-standing connection to Tluste’s business community. Schewa Gärtner was the lone baker in town in 1891, while in 1929 his descendants or relatives were involved in the trade of fruit and mixed goods, as well as building materials. A. Langholz was one of three guesthouse/innkeepers in 1891. One of the descendants, Ch. Langholz continued in this tradition, as proprietor of a public house with spirit licence, while K. Langholz was a book dealer and an F. Langholtz (slight spelling difference) was a brazier.

* * *

There are indications of generational continuity in particular trades among at least three other families, spanning nearly four decades: family Horowitz (in carpentry); Pohorille (in ironmongery); and Reinisz or Reinisel (in book binding). Among the other families – most of them Jewish – evidently figuring in both directories over the 38 years (some with slight spelling variations), were: Buchhalter, Einhorn, Fiderer/Fiederer, Hertman, Katz, Klein, Kramer, Meiman/Maiman, and Platzker.

In terms of the historical genealogy of the town, one can also identify the names of Ukrainian and Polish families with centuries-long connections to Tluste, some going at least as far back as the mid-1700s, and still present today through many generations of descendents. Among them: Badlo, Chajko, Kowalczuk, Maydanyk, Melnyk, Slobodian, Smutylo, Szuturma, Trakalo, and Tymus. These will form part of a more detailed study at a later stage.

In summary, by the early 1930s, Tluste was a thriving market town in southeastern Galicia. Zalishchyky, its neighbour to the south, had by then established itself as an appealing resort town in its own right, attracting tourists to its beaches and boardwalks from other parts of Poland. Tluste had survived the First World War, including a brief occupation by Soviet forces; it had made it through the scourge of communicable diseases of the latter part of the nineteenth century; and gradual improvements in public health and education were being manifested in lower mortality rates and increased literacy.

It is perhaps not a coincidence that little appears to have been written about Tluste in the 1930s. Things were going well, and normal life was not fodder for introspective news coverage. Of course, the turn of events at the end of that decade would profoundly alter the landscape of Tluste forever.  


(1) Hryniuk, S.  Peasants with Promise: Ukrainians in Southeastern Galicia 1880-1900. Edmonton, 1991. p. 31

(2) Ibid. p. 18

(3) Ibid. p. 58

(4) Ibid. p. 18

(5) Picknicki. J.  Generations: A family history. Winnipeg, 1990. p. 103-5

(6) The 1891 Galician Business Directory (Kaufmannisches Adressbuch für Industrie, Handel und Gewerbe, XIV. Galizien, published by L. Bergmann & Comp., Wien IX, Universitutmetr. 6); last accessed on 14 August 2005 at:

(7) Special Orts-Repertorien von Galizien. Bearbeitet auf Grund de Ergebnisse der Volkszählung vom 31. Dezember 1900. K.K. Statistischen Central Commission. Wien, 1907. p. 758

(8) Hryniuk, S.  Peasants with Promise: Ukrainians in Southeastern Galicia 1880-1900. Edmonton, 1991. p. 41-5

(9) Pawlyk, J. pers.comm., 2005

(10) Hryniuk, S.  Peasants with Promise: Ukrainians in Southeastern Galicia 1880-1900. Edmonton, 1991. p. 52

(11) Ibid. p. 55

(12) Ibid p. 64-69

(13) Ibid. p 74-77.

(14) Ibid. p. 65-66

(15) Ibid. p 78-80

(16) Ibid. p. 86-107, 128

(17) Ibid. p 79-80

(18) Ibid. p 173

(19) Ibid. p. 180-81

(20) Picknicki, J.  Generations: A family history. Winnipeg, 1990. p. 53-55

(21) Ksiega Adresowa Polski (Wraz z w.m. Gdanskiem dla Handlu, Przemyslu Rzemiosl l Rolnictwa) – Directory of Poland, including Gdansk, for trade, industry, handicraft and agriculture (1929); last accessed on 14 August 2005 at:

(22) 1846 Summary of Landownership records for Czortkower Kreis- Markt Tluste; consulted at Central State Historical Archives of Ukraine, Lviv, in July 2001.

(23) Pawlyk, J. pers.comm., 2005