Re: Train travel Ukraine 19th-20th Century/ #ukraine

Ittai Hershman

On the question of train travel, I excerpt from a 2011 review essay in the NYRB by the historian Timothy Snyder that has stuck in my brain for obvious reasons:
"Her [Empress Maria Theresia] new, formerly Polish territory, christened Galicia, ran from Oświęcim (which she called Auschwitz) in the west to Lwów (which she called Lemberg) and its Carpathian hinterlands in the east. It was roughly divided by the San River into a western, primarily Polish half and an eastern, Ukrainian half. Her successors extended Galicia to the north, incorporating the ancient Polish capital Cracow in 1846. Like Auschwitz, Cracow became the namesake of an Austrian duchy, but both in fact lay within Galicia. …. when the revolutions of 1848 spread through Europe, Poles in Galicia pursued their own national liberation from the Habsburgs with rather less fervor than might have been expected. Indeed, some Polish aristocrats were envisioning a Polish civil society under Habsburg rule and the state investments that would be required to create its economic basis. Like other East European modernizers of the mid-nineteenth century, the Polish dramatist and aristocrat Aleksander Fredro lobbied for railways, advocating a rail line from easterly Lemberg, the Galician provincial capital, to westerly Auschwitz, near the border with Prussia.
Traditional Jewish life endured in Galicia because the state was unable to remake it; but the economies of the shtetls collapsed in times of poverty brought by crop failures in the country and mass production in the city. [By 1990] Christians and Jews were drawn from their shrinking plots or failing trades by the demand for labor in the New World, particularly in the United States, Canada, and Brazil. Baltic shipping companies based in Hamburg and Bremen sought to lure Galicians to their vessels. To this end, they employed agents who scattered throughout the province, using means fair or foul to attract immigrants to one company or another.
Galicians wishing to emigrate passed through Auschwitz. As Fredro had wished half a century before, Auschwitz was the train station that permitted Galicians to travel the province from east to west, to Germany—and so to the Baltic Sea, and the wider world. The main shipping companies had offices in Auschwitz; the Hamburg line, Hapag, used a hotel across the street from the Auschwitz train station, located in a neighboring settlement called Birkenau. Those who passed through the town found it hard to leave Auschwitz without booking passage to the New World. People who looked like peasants were arrested by the bribed police, taken to the Hapag offices for a mock interrogation, strip-searched, deprived of whatever money was found on their persons, and given a ticket that they usually could not even read.”

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