When Bruno Schulz was born, in 1892, Drohobycz was a small Polish town in Galicia, then a province of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. Poland had lost its independence and was partitioned; it became independent in 1918, when Schulz was twenty-six years old. Drohobycz had a population of about thirty thousand, largely Jewish and Polish.
Schulz’s family was Jewish and spoke Polish. His father, Jakub, was the owner and bookkeeper of the textile fabrics shop described in his son’s stories. Bruno was the youngest of three children; he was educated at home and in a school named for Emperor Franz Joseph. The merchant profession to which his parents belonged separated them from the Hasidim, and Schulz never learned Yiddish; although he knew German he wrote in Polish, the language of his immediate family. After completing high school, he studied architecture in Lwów for three years, until the outbreak of World War I. He taught himself to draw and produced graphics, hoping to make art his career. Instead, he obtained the post of teacher of drawing and handicrafts at the state high school, or gimnazjum, named for King Wadysaw Jagieo, in Drohobycz. He was to teach in the school for seventeen years, until his death in 1942.
In the 1920’s it was only drawing and painting that Schulz practiced openly, in full view of his friends; he kept his literary works to himself, sharing them with few people in Drohobycz. It was through correspondence with friends in distant cities that Schulz began his literary career. Cinnamon Shops began in the letters he sent to Deborah Vogel, a poet and doctor of philosophy who...
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