District IV of the City: At Home But Without A Home

ID: 235
Place of isolation of Jewish community fron non-Jewish. Another form of control. Gradual extermination of Jews in a closed district and transforming it to Julag. Destroying Julag. 

This story elaborates on the theme Holocaust Topography, that was prepared as a part of the program The Complicated Pages of Common History: Telling About World War II in Lviv.

In November 1941, in accordance with the order of the governor of the District of Galicia, it was announced the creation of a Jewish section in Lviv — a ghetto.

The term "ghetto" comes from Venice as part of the phrase "Geto Nuovo" (New Foundry) — a closed quarter (island), where the Jewish community lived in 1516 and the city foundry was previously located. Before World War II, the word did not have a distinctive negative connotation. From September 1939, Reinhard Heydrich called for the concentration of Polish Jews in certain urban areas and the use of the term "ghetto." The ghetto, as a place of isolation, became a stage in the destruction of the Jewish community.

According to the requirements of Yuriy Poliansky, the chairman of the city administration, the ghetto was to cover the entire vicinity of vul. Zamarstynivska, the neighbourhood of Znesinnia, part of the neighbourhood of Klepariv and the area on both sides of ul. Słoneczna (now vul. Kulisha), near the Lviv-Ternopil railway line. The Nazis relocated 138,000 Jews to the area, which once housed 20,000 to 30,000 people: about 80,000 of the Jews were forced to move from the "Aryan" part of the city. By order, the Jews had to move there within a month, although the actual relocation of all the city's Jews to the ghetto took almost a year. This is how Rabbi David Kahane recalls this time:

According to the law, every Jew was entitled to 3 sq. m. of living space. Later, when the ghetto boundaries became even more narrow, even this meager space was reduced to 2 sq. m. Thus, 24-25 people were pushed into a two-room apartment.

Both poor and rich residents of the third district refused to accept new residents for free. They haggled over every square meter, every bed, every stool. The housing department officials, who were tasked to deal with this confusion, only complicated matters. Bribery quickly spread among them. For money a person could be given a warrant for moving into an apartment even against the will of its owner. In such cases, the police had to intervene to force the landlord to let in the person presenting the warrant. All this was accompanied by noise, yells and sometimes even a fight.

To get to the closed ghetto one had to pass a railway bridge separating industrial Lviv and the center. This border not only separated the former life from the future, but could also become the last point in a person's life as in front of the entrance, in the premises of the former Jan Sobieski school (now Iryna Kalynets school number 87, vul. Zamarstynivska 11) a selection of those who had the right to get within the boundaries of the new district was carried out. Philip Friedman, a witness to the events and a researcher in Jewish history, recalls as follows:

Jews were allowed to enter the ghetto only via ul. Pełtewna [now prosp. Chornovola]. Among the Jewish population, the railway bridge over this street gained the gloomy fame of the "bridge of death." Under the bridge on ul. Pełtewna, there were Ukrainian and German guards, who carefully checked the countless masses of Jews flowing in a continuous stream into the future ghetto. With carts and trolleys, wheelbarrows, baby carriages, bundles, sacks on their shoulders and suitcases, the Jews moved their property to a new place of residence in the ghetto. The desperate crowd of these unfortunate creatures was closely controlled by German and Ukrainian posts. If they did not like someone, he was dragged to the barracks, located nearby, and ordered to leave all his property on the street, at the mercy of fate. Everyone who wore old, worn-out clothes, looked sloppy or miserable, sick or exhausted and unable to work, who could not show a work permit, and, besides, women and children in general were all invited with a wide gesture to the old barracks. There they were welcomed with an introductory greeting: the beating at the hands of appropriately trained Jewish scum, whom the Germans had caught and forced to perform this function. Germans and Ukrainians contributed their share as well. In the evening, a group of victims was sent to the prison on ul. Łąckiego [later vul. Briullova/Bandery — ed.]. There they were stripped almost naked, thrown like bags on trucks and taken to the forest to be shot dead. In this way, in November and December 1941 the "bridge of death" swallowed several thousand victims, mostly women. This was the first large-scale planned German action against Jewish women in Lviv.

Not everyone could find an apartment in the ghetto, apartments often were subjects of bargaining and bribery. Friedman recalls that the ghetto had intolerable living conditions. Overpopulation, famine, and epidemics were not the only problems.

Living conditions in the ghetto were very difficult. For many weeks, a lot of families camped in the open air or lived in the courtyards and entrance halls of houses before finding a shelter. A "relief" came a few weeks later, after part of the "Aryans" had left the ghetto, and a certain part of the Jews either died or were killed in the so-called permanent actions. However, this did not solve the problem. One ghetto resident was officially allowed to use 3 cubic meters of living space. However, in fact, it remained an unattainable dream to get this extremely stingy living space. On average, each small room accommodated at least 10 people. At night they made their beds on the floor, used every corner for sleeping, built two-level scaffoldings of beds, one above the other, like bunks on a ship. As a result of the terrible housing congestion, various infectious diseases spread, in particular, typhus.

The Jews in the ghetto had different survival strategies: from believing that they had to follow the Nazis' commands in order to stay alive to trying to flee from the ghetto with false documents or resistance. Some Jews left the ghetto every day for various factories, where they worked for Germans, or to work at numerous private companies, municipal services, military facilities, at the railway and so on. Among them, there is a well-known story of William Loew, who, along with a few other Jews, worked at a roofing factory, got forged documents with a Christian name on the eve of the extermination of the Lviv ghetto and fled to Hungary; there he took part in underground activities, was arrested by the Nazis as a Polish spy and sent to Auschwitz, where he remained until the camp liberation by Soviet troops.

Many Jewish families in the ghetto were constantly moving from place to place. For example, during their stay in the ghetto, the Chiger family changed their place of residence several times, both of their own free will for the safety of the family and forcibly when they were moved to the Julag barracks.

The most difficult period in the ghetto was winter, when it was difficult to find food and heating. Friedman describes it as follows:

Among the impoverished and hungry Jewish population, which was deprived of warm clothing and often moved from place to place, diseases were spreading in the conditions of severe winter. Homeless and orphaned Jewish children, who had lost their guardians during the actions, roamed in the streets. Naked and barefoot, hungry and abandoned, they tried to keep themselves through their own ingenuity, begging, petty trade, theft. The corpses of children and adults who died in the streets from starvation, exhaustion and cold ceased to be an exception on the Jewish streets of Lviv. Social and individual assistance in these conditions was of little use. In Lviv, the Jewish Social Self-Aid, a branch of JSH, which had its headquarters in Krakow and was headed by Dr. Leib Landau and Dr. Max Schaff, had too little money to provide real help for this natural disaster. Thus, a terrible starvation killed several thousand people.

Among adults in the ghetto, there were children. Many families tried to hide their children in various hiding places (behind false walls under windows and in different places in apartments, in basements and attics). However, such measures did not always work. At the beginning of the ghetto formation, the Nazis tolerated the presence of children there. Subsequently, they conducted raids, one of the targets being actually children. Children in the ghetto often helped adults as due to their small height and size they could disappear from the ghetto unnoticed and look for food in the city’s Aryan part. The children often were also couriers and delivered messages and weapons to the ghetto, which they managed to buy from Italian and French soldiers.

Physical resistance, not always with weapons in hand, was often the last act against the Nazis, taken on the verge of despair. Some ghetto Jews collaborated with the Polish underground and anti-fascist guerrilla units of the underground Ivan Franko National Guard, which consisted mainly of members of the communist parties of Western Ukraine and Poland and Komsomol members. However, the non-Jewish resistance movement in Lviv and its vicinities was weakened by differences in the views of those involved in it — Ukrainians, Poles, Russians — right-wing, left-wing and centrists. Often the guerrillas did not want to deal with the Jews.

It is known from the report of SS Police Major General Friedrich Katzman that escapes of Jews to the guerrillas were constantly organized in Lviv. According to a Pole, arrested by the SS police in connection with the Jewish fugitives, one of the main functionaries of the Polish resistance movement in Lviv was a Jew named Horowitz who constantly helped the Jews of Lviv to flee to the Brody forests to join the guerrillas. To do this, Jews bought weapons, mainly from Italian soldiers; they also bribed German drivers to falsify the necessary documents and to take Jews from Lviv to Brody and provided fugitives with forged documents.

Spiritual resistance was usually seen when Jews were walking to be shot dead reciting prayers and declaring that they trusted their lives to God, or when spiritual and cultural life in a ghetto or a camp was established. In 1943, there was an underground typewritten newspaper. Six numbers were issued. The editor of the newspaper was Michał Hoffman and the technical manager was Abraam Warman. The newspaper received informational materials about international politics and the situation on the fronts from illegal radio listening and from the underground Polish press. The local section contained, in addition to information materials, editorials and appeals for organizing armed resistance and fighting against German criminals.

The ghetto lasted until January 1943. At that time, the Judenrat administration was abolished, and of all its subdivisions functioning until then, only the Jewish Order Service remained, which was directly subordinated to the security police and the SD. The last Judenrat data on the number of Jews in the ghetto indicated at 24,000. When it was announced that only Jews with work permits could remain in the ghetto, 12,000 women and men were granted this right. The ghetto area was reduced again, Jews were forced into barracks on ul. Pełtewna (now prosp. Chornovola), the area renamed "Jewish Camp number 2", or "Julag" (Judenlager). The administration in the area was transferred to the SS. This is how Krystyna Chiger describes this last period of the ghetto:

… After the so-called August action of 1942, the "open" part of the city was liquidated, and the Jews were driven to the fenced Julag. All of this was part of a German plan to displace us in smaller and smaller areas, to make it easier to control us, to make it easier to bully us, to make it easier to destroy us. Now we, the "remnants of Jewry", as my father said, were locked up within several streets behind a four-meter-high fence.

The Julag was finally destroyed in June 1943. The report by SS Police Major General Fritz Katzman stated that the liquidation, given the information on the growing number of weapons among Jews, should be carried out with the use of special measures to avoid the Nazis’ own losses. The term "special measures" meant that the Nazis were going to blow up and burn down the Julag's houses. The strangest thing for the Nazis was that, according to their estimates, about 12,000 Jews were supposed to live there at that time, but during the liquidation they found about 20,000 and pulled out from the destroyed hideouts the bodies of about 3,000 Jews who had committed suicide. Duen to "special measures", the Nazis lost only 7 people killed and another 18 died of typhus.

This territory, in particular the barracks, were given a "new" life before the end of World War II, when in 1944 the Soviet authorities established the Transit Prison number 25, one of the largest prisons of this type in the Ukrainian SSR. Its main purpose was to collect and deport prisoners to the Gulag concentration camps. It is suggested that those kept in the prison included Nazi prisoners of war, deserters from the Red Army, and those who had acquired Soviet citizenship at the beginning of World War II in the territories occupied by the Soviet Union under the Ribbentrop-Molotov Pact, now forcibly brought from Western countries. There is no official confirmation of this information. The prison consisted of 21 barracks, technical rooms for the administration, and a hospital. It was surrounded by a brick and wooden fence. The prison in this place lasted until June 4, 1955; a regional hospital for war invalids was built in its place later. Now the memorial museum "Territory of Terror" is located there. Some of the buildings remaining from World War II are used by business structures and by the city hospital.

In general, the Holocaust in Lviv ended in July 1944 with the arrival of Soviet troops. However, this marked the beginning of a long suppression of any information about the wartime events and the escalation of post-war violence. According to the Soviet narrative, only Soviet soldiers and peaceful Soviet citizens were killed during World War II in the territories that were under Soviet rule before June 22, 1941. Such a formal approach ruled out the possibility of investigating the Holocaust in Lviv before Ukraine's independence, and caused, among other things, manipulations with figures in the coverage of the number of Holocaust victims in Lviv.

Officially, the number of victims of the Nazi regime in Lviv was counted by representatives of the Extraordinary State Commission for the establishment and investigation of the atrocities of the Nazi invaders and their allies and the damage they caused to the communities, collective farms, public organizations, and state-owned enterprises of the USSR immediately after the liberation of the city from the Nazis. The Extraordinary State Commission itself was established by a Decree of the Presidium of the Supreme Soviet of the USSR on November 2, 1942, and functioned till 1951. According to current estimates, the reliability of the figures stated in the reports is questionable, the reports tending to round up and increase data, including those on the number of victims in Lviv. This can be explained both by objective (impossibility of uniform collection of information, approximate calculations of missing data) and subjective (deliberate falsification of crime perpetrators, attributing all the destruction to the Nazis, etc.) reasons.

The official figures from the commission's reports on Lviv can be seen in memoirs written immediately after the Holocaust. The same figures, due to lack of other information, were used in the early 1990s, when the new Jewish community in Lviv erected a memorial to the victims of the Lviv ghetto. One of the plaques on the memorial states that the ghetto claimed the lives of 136,800 Jews. A memorial stone near the Yanivsky Hybrid Camp lists 200,000 victims. However, recent studies on the death toll suggest an overestimation of these numbers. Modern methods have made it possible to challenge the results of the Extraordinary State Commission and to ask why this situation arose. Nevertheless, it should be noted that the correction of the figures, even to a reduction, does not diminish the crime against the city's Jewish community.

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1. Piotr Wawrzeniuk. "Lwów Saved Us: Roma Survival in Lemberg 1941–44", Journal of Genocide Research, 2018, volume 20, 327-350.
2. Давид Кахане, Рабин, Щоденник Львівського гетто (Київ, Дух і літера, 2003), 267.
3. Кристина Хігер, Данієль Пейснер. Дівчинка у зеленому светрі: життя у мороці Голокосту, (Київ, КМ Publishing, 2015), 256. 
4. Lili Chuwis-Thau. A jeśli cię zapomnę, (Warszawa, Żydowski Instytut Historyczny, 2002).
5. Філіп Фрідман. Винищення львівських євреїв. (Видання Центральної Єврейської Історичної Комісії при Центральному Комітеті Польських Євреїв № 4)
6. (reference to Loew: https://collections.ushmm.org/search/catalog/irn504802 Oral history interview with William Loew)
7. Friedrich Katzmann, Rozwiązanie kwestii żydowskiej w Dystrykcie Galicja (Warszawa, Instytut Pamięci Narodowej, 2001).

Cover photo: Railway bridge on vul. Zamarstynivska, the former entrance to the Lviv ghetto, post-WWII. Source: from the collection of Polish project Aktion Reinhardt Camps.
Olena Andronatiy
Translated by Andriy Masliukh