Black market as a space of contact

ID: 203
In conditions of severe shortage of food and basic necessities, barter and illegal trade became the resource for survival for non-German population. The access of the Jewish population to the black market was very limited, which was often used by black marketeers.

The story is a part of the theme Reactions of Lvivians to Holocaust, which was prepared within the program The Complicated Pages of Common History: Telling About World War II in Lviv.

After the beginning of the Nazi occupation, the Lebensmittelkarte, food ration cards, were introduced for the civilian population of Lviv. There was a clear segregation: for Germans and Volksdeutsche ("ethnic Germans" living outside the Third Reich), there were separate shops and restaurants; for Ukrainians and Poles, there were "Aryan" shops and sharp restrictions on food supplies; Jews were doomed to starvation. As of 1942, the daily caloric content of the "card" products for the "Aryan" population was 378-634 kCal for adults and 259-578 kCal for children. For Jews, these norms were much lower. It is estimated that Ukrainians and Poles received 50% of German rations, while Jews received only 10%. Communication with the countryside was also broken: the police controlled the city's markets and confiscated foodstuffs from villagers who came to Lviv to trade. In a slightly better situation were the inhabitants of the suburbs, who had the opportunity to keep their own vegetable gardens and livestock. In the spring of 1942, there were 9 weekly markets in Lviv, where only fruits and vegetables were allowed to be sold, except for potatoes, sauerkraut, tomatoes and dried fruits. Jews were allowed to use only the market at Zamarstyniv. Officially, there was a maximum allowable price for food, but in practice black market prices for the non-German population were exorbitantly high.

In conditions of severe shortage of food and basic necessities (clothing, footwear, firewood, hygiene products, etc.), barter and illegal trade became the resource for survival (the so-called "pasek", from the Polish word meaning "belt"). The Krakidaly commercial area (where the Dobrobut market is located today) often is mentioned in memoirs as a place of illegal transactions during the war. Soldiers of various contingents (German, Hungarian, Italian, etc.) were also involved in the shadow economy as the townspeople exchanged money, valuables and local "moonshine" for army rations and smuggled goods.

At the same time, after the creation of the ghetto, opportunities for contact with non-Jews and the access of the Jewish population to the black market were very limited. Nazi propaganda accused the Jews of spreading illegal trade and brutally persecuted them. Under threat of execution, they were barred from visiting "Aryan" shops and grocery markets. Due to the travel ban, Jews could not go to the countryside to buy food there. Officially, they were allowed to use only special shops and bakeries subordinated to the Judenrat. Historian Filip Friedman, a Holocaust survivor in Lviv, notes that Jews in the ghetto received meager rations: 50-100 grams of bread a day, 100 grams of sugar a month, and 200-400 grams of the worst flour (so-called Judenmehl) every 3-4 months. The leading idea of most memories about life in the Lviv ghetto is the constant feeling of terrible hunger and mortality caused by it. The Judenrat tried to solve this problem with the help of charitable canteens, but there was a catastrophic shortage of food. Weakened by hunger and hard work, Jews lost their ability to work, which increased the risk of death during the bloody "actions."

The hopeless situation of the Jews was often used by black marketeers. The black market was a place where property looted or confiscated from Jews was sold. Food prices for Jews were significantly inflated, even by the standards of illegal trade. Non-Jews often bought clothes, shoes, and household goods, which were in short supply during the occupation, for nothing in the ghetto. Janina Masłowska recalls that in August 1942 they managed to exchange an expensive tablecloth for a plate of potato soup, which became a dinner for five people. Nelly Toll, a survivor of the Lviv ghetto, writes in her memoirs about Jewish men and women who worked outside the ghetto and, risking terrible punishments, tried to exchange expensive jewelry or huge sums of money for meat, butter, or cheese. Thus, wealthier Jews, who had savings to be spent on bribes, payments for hiding, buying food, medicine, etc., had a better chance of survival. At the same time, material resources were quickly depleted by looting, confiscation of property and high contributions. In addition, contacts with black marketeers were very risky; for example, Barabaszowa, a doctor, was arrested by the Gestapo for trying to buy a few kilograms of "illegal" potatoes from a ghetto guard.

As the situation worsened, the help of non-Jewish acquaintances became increasingly important. Despite food shortages, they often brought or transferred food to the ghetto or acted as intermediaries in black market operations, for a fee or free of charge. Thus, a pre-war neighbour of the Allerhand family, Władysław Głowik, kept their family values ​​and relics, exchanging some items for money and food for Leszek and his mother if necessary. The issue of keeping and feeding those Jews who could not leave their hiding places on the "Aryan" side and were completely dependent on their rescuers was especially acute. Transactions on the black market often aroused suspicion: even an extra bag of potatoes bought to feed more people could attract the attention of informers and blackmailers.

Thus, food shortages, poverty and hunger became additional challenges and factors of social demoralization during the Nazi occupation. The black market was partly a lifeline for wealthier Jews, while remaining an instrument for the exploitation of their tragic situation.

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"Krakidaly" market


1. Grzegorz Hryciuk, Polacy we Lwowie 1939-1944, Warszawa, 2000, ss. 253-324
2. Natalia Aleksiun, "Food, Money and Barter in the Lvov Ghetto, Eastern Galicia", in  Tönsmeyer, Tatjana, Haslinger, Peter, Laba, Agnes (Eds.) Coping with Hunger and Shortage under German Occupation in World War II, Marburg, 2018, pp. 223–249.
3. Nelly Toll, Behind the Secret Window: a Memoir of a Hidden Childhood, NY, 1993.
4. Taras Martynenko, "Szmalcownicy: Blackmailing of the Jews in Lviv as a Social Phenomenon", Baltic Worlds, 1/19, pp. 33-44
5. Євген Наконечний, Шоа у Львові — спогади, Львів, 2006.
6. Інтервʼю з Лешеком Аллерхандом, 15.07.2014, Колекція Центру міської історії Центрально-Східної Європи.
7. Філіп Фрідман, "Винищення львівських євреїв",  Журнал "Ї", 2009, №58 (accessed on 15.11.2018).

Cover photo: Market at the Zhovkivska "turnpike", interwar period. Source: Urban Media Archive, Center for Urban History, Ihor Kotlobulatov’s collection

Anna Chebotariova
Translated by Andriy Masliukh