Austrians in Galicia: Тhe Hirsch Family

One of the most interesting revelations for me in researching my family history has been discovering ancestors of different ethnic, religious, and linguistic backgrounds. Growing up in the Ukrainian diaspora, I had always assumed all of my ancestors were Greek Catholic Ukrainian-speakers, but the more I have learned about my family, and the more I have learned about Galicia, the more I have realized just how diverse the region actually was.

For some years now I have been researching my Polish side, but more recently I was surprised to discover that this Polish branch also stems from Austrians who came to Galicia at the end of the eighteenth century. In this post I describe what I was able to learn about these Austrian ancestors.

Austrians to Galicia in the late 1770s & Assimilation

My family is truly Austrian, in a sense that … it does not belong to any nationality, but…like other families of imperial bureaucrats and military personnel is a mix of different Austrian nationalities… My father, Johann Nepomuk von Sacher, born in Bohemia, early became a state bureaucrat, knew Czech as well as German; he, like many other imperial bureaucrats of his time, after the first partition of Poland, when Austria acquired Galicia, came to the province to work on the organization of the new regime here.” —Leopold von Sacher-Masoch, 1882

Beginning in 1772, when Galicia was incorporated into the Austrian Empire, thousands of Austrian bureaucrats from across the Habsburg Monarchy moved to Galicia. Replacing Polish administrators, they were responsible for bringing a new political culture and integrating the new province into imperial structures. Additionally, doctors, teachers, and other professionals were brought to the region. And finally, the annexation of Galicia meant an influx of military personnel from other provinces of the empire who were quartered in all the larger towns of Galicia.

The Austrians who moved to Galicia, and especially their children, tended to assimilate to the Polish culture. “Reciprocal assimilation between German-speaking bureaucrats and Polish aristocrats became increasingly common in the late eighteenth century and early nineteenth centuries, but the general trend favored Polishness over Austrianness. Mixed Austrian-Polish families became known for producing generations of cherishers of Polish cultures—especially Polish sons raised by German-speaking fathers; most in this category remained loyal to their Habsburg sovereigns, but many switched alliances along with languages, eventually coming to rank their Polish identity higher than their Austrian one,” The Politics of Cultural Retreat.

The Hirsch Family

My ancestors, the Hirsches, were originally from Linz, Austria, which is where my great-great-great-great-great grandfather George Hirsch was born. His son Mathias, born in 1774, was either also born in Austria or already in Galicia. Mathias married Margarethe (Małgorzata) Kinder, who judging by her surname was at least partly of Austrian or German descent. Mathias was a Napoleanic soldier, serving alongside the French army against Poland’s partitioners, which means that he quickly assimilated and fought for the Polish cause.

Mathias and his family lived for sometime in Lviv in the early 1800s. On the birth record of Mathias’s son Philipp, who was born in 1816 in Lviv, it states that Mathias was a chief military baker [for the Austrian Army]. It is thus likely that Philipp’s sister, my great-great-great grandmother Rozalia, was also born in Lviv.

Philipp Hirsch’s birth record form St. Anna’s Church, Lviv, 1816

Many of Philipp’s children were deeply embedded in Polish culture and had high ranking civil servant positions. I discovered that three of his children are buried in Lychakiv Cemetery, two in a family grave: Piotr (1845-1923) who was a councilor in Emperor Franz Joseph’s court in Vienna and the Director of the Directorate of State Forests and Estates in Galicia in Lviv; and Jan (1848-1925) who was a judge in the Court of Appeal in Lviv and councilor of the High Court. The third, Rafał Hirsch (1843-1933), a veteran of the January Uprising of 1863, is buried in the January Uprising Hill. I was surprised to find that his is the second most prominent grave on the mound, off to the side near the central monument to Szymon Wizunas Szydłowski.

Entry showing Piotr Hirsch’s position as a director of the Directorate of State Forests and Estates, Kopernyka Street in Lviv, from a Schematism, 1900
A young and old Rafał Hirsch
Hirsch family grave in Lychakiv Cemetery in Lviv
Rafał Hirsch’s grave to the left and Szymon Wizunas Szydłowski’s monument to the right

Another of Philipp’s children was Franciszek, who was an engineer in Rohatyn.

Grave of Franciszek Hirsch in Rohatyn

Mathias’ wife Małgorzata, my great-great-great-great grandmother, is buried in Ponikwa near Brody. This is also where some of her grandchildren were born.

Grave of Małgorzata Hirsch in Ponykva

Mathias’s daughter Rozalia, my great-great-great grandmother, married Witalis Józef Emilian, who was of Polish noble descent. Witalis and Rozalia’s children also had high ranking positions with strong Polish identities. (See also post about Polish-Ukrainian interethnic marriages in Galicia.)


A distant relative of mine Zbigniew has spent much of his life researching his genealogy, including the Bednawski family, which married into the Hirsh family. This is what he writes about the Hirsch family:

“The reason of the transfer [of the Hirsches] to the Lviv region called Galicja, must have been the partition of Poland between Russia, Prussia and Austria. The Austrians became occupants of a part of Poland and they sent to Galicja not only their army, but also all kinds of government officials. The Russians and Germans did the same. History has shown that persons representing these occupants very quickly assimilated with the local Polish population and gradually considered themselves as Poles and many of them became Polish patriots or even heroes. Some of them became Ukrainians. Our Hirsch forefathers are an example of such national change. The only power which supported the Polish fight for independence at that time was Napoleonic France. A significant part of Napoleon’s army was composed of the Polish army commanded by Prince Poniatowski. I understand that Mathias, father of Philipp, was one of these “Napoleonic” soldiers. Polish patriotism was embodied in Philipp’s son Rafał who took part in the January Uprising of 1863-4. This insurrection also failed with many dead and was followed by huge material losses, the confiscation of big land farms by the Russians, deportations to Siberia, etc. Many Hirsch descendants occupied in Lviv and other places in Poland after WWI very important positions in Courts and elsewhere. Many of them suffered during WWI from Russians. Some were by force transferred to Asian Russia, some died from hunger, some were freed due to an agreement between Polish General Sikorski and Stalin which formed a Polish army on the territory of Soviet Union. That army very soon moved via Iran, Iraq, Lebanon to Egypt and ended up in England. Many Polish civilians, including Hirsches, followed a similar way.”

Vushko, Iryna. The Politics of Cultural Retreat: Imperial Bureaucracy in Austrian Galicia, 1772-1867. Yale University Press, 2015.

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