In one house: neighbours, housekeepers and concierges

ID: 201
Hiding Jews in apartment buildings was associated with a constant risk of blackmailing or denunciation by neighbours. The role of housekeepers, caretakers and concierges was special, as they often acted as intermediaries between the police and residents. 

The theme ellaborates on multiplicity of reactions of Lviv residents to the Holocaust. It was prepared as a part of the program The Complicated Pages of Common History: Telling About World War II in Lviv.

After the ghetto was created in November 1941, Lviv, like many other cities occupied by the Nazis, was divided into "Jewish" and "Aryan" parts. This brutal segregation was aimed at isolating the Jews from their neighbours and was a step towards the destruction of the Jewish community. The ghetto was located in the northern part of Lviv, in the areas of Zamarstyniv and Klepariv, separated from the rest of the city by a railway embankment. The Nazis relocated 138,000 Jews to this area, where 20,000 to 30,000 people had lived: nearly 80,000 of them were moved from other areas.

It was not easy for the Jews to get even a small living space in the ghetto, and homelessness threatened immediate execution or deportation to death camps. Maurycy Allerhand mentions in his diary that Poles and Ukrainians who were relocated outside the ghetto often demanded high bribes for handing over the warrant for an apartment in the Jewish district.

After bloody actions and deportations to death camps, the ghetto population declined rapidly. Many houses of the Nazi Jewish district were empty. However, they were mostly uninhabitable. In the spring of 1943, a dramatic note could be found in the underground newspaper Słowo Polskie:

Apartments in the post-Jewish district are uninhabitable. After all, it would be possible to put up with the lack of floors, ceilings, doors, windows, door handles and stoves, if there were at least stairs, but they are often missing...

According to historian Grzegorz Hryciuk, this apocalyptic picture was the result not only of Nazi cruelty. In the former ghetto, brutal looting flourished: everything having any value on the black market was taken away.

Some Jews dared to hide on the "Aryan" side of the city, which was a very difficult task. Candidates for hiding outside the ghetto had to have at least one and preferably several or all of the following advantages: an “Aryan” appearance, financial resources, false documents, good knowledge of Polish, Ukrainian or German (with no accent) and Christian religious traditions and, above all, acquaintances and contacts among non-Jews.

Hiding Jews in apartment buildings was associated with a constant risk of denunciation by neighbours. The buildings in the city’s central part were very dense, so there were few places to hide. Apartments on the ground and top floors that had direct access to the basement or to the roof in case of a need for a quick escape were the best. However, due to the danger of disclosure by neighbours and inspections, they were only suitable for temporary hiding.

The role of housekeepers, caretakers and concierges was special, as they often acted as intermediaries between the police and residents and could show the apartments where Jews lived or hid. Sometimes, they provided assistance by warning about a search or by providing information about the absence of Jews. Thus, Barbara G. mentioned the friendly relations between her father and the Ukrainian housekeeper at ul. Słoneczna 31 (now vul. P. Kulisha), who did not allow rioters to their apartment in the first weeks of the Nazi occupation. Mrs. Rudnicka, a housekeeper at ul. Sobieskiego 32 (now vul. Brativ Rohatyntsiv) kept personal belongings of the Allerhand family, which she gave back to them after the war.

Often, in exchange for help or silence, the housekeepers received a material reward from the Jews. Ben Zion  Redner recalls that, before the relocation to the ghetto, the Jewish residents of his building were protected from searches and looting by concierge Jan Pelikan. For this service, he every week collected money and valuables as payment from all the apartments where Jews lived. Pelikan had a blue and yellow armband, which meant belonging to the Ukrainian People's Militia, a paramilitary structure created on the initiative of the OUN-B, whose members took an active part in anti-Jewish violence in June-July 1941.

According to witnesses, denunciations were quite common. Thus, Yevhen Nakonechny recalls that his family did not dare to take a neighbour’s Jewish girl into hiding. The caretaker of their house at vul. Kleparivska 5 warned all the residents: any information about Jews hiding in the house will be passed on to the police; in case of negligence she was threatened with imprisonment.

The name of Zofia Chominowa, the concierge of the house at ul. Jabłonowskich 8a (now vul. Shota Rustaveli) was immortalized by Zuzanna Ginczanka (1917–1944/45), a famous Polish poetess of Jewish descent who died during the Holocaust. In the summer of 1942, after Chominowa’s report, the police carried out a few raids in search of Jews. In addition to Ginczanka, her husband and Blumka Fradysówna, a friend of hers, who was hiding using forged Romanian documents, were also at risk. Thanks to a bribe offered to a police officer and the help from other neighbours, Ginczanka managed to avoid arrest for a while. From this period her poem Non omnis moriar ("I will not die entire", another name - "Testament") comes. In it, the poet points to Chominowa as an informer.

Due to Nazi censorship and confiscation of the victims' personal belongings, there is very little testimonies or recollections of those who did not manage to survive the Holocaust. Shortly before the arrival of the Red Army, Ginczanka was shot dead in the Gestapo prison in Krakow. The reason for the arrest was again a denunciation, this time by her neighbours. The poem Non omnis moriar was preserved by the poet's friend, Ludwika Stauber. It became not only one of the most sharp testimonies of that time but also a legal evidence attached to the criminal case against Zofia Chominowa. The investigation was initiated by Ginczanka's friend Marcely Stauber in the first post-war years; what follows is a fragment of his testimony for the prosecutor's office of the special criminal court:

I met the Chomins in 1942 in Lviv; I lived in a house at ul. Jabłonowskich 8a. [...]: Franciszek Gil, Zuzanna Ginczanka with her husband, Fradysówna also lived in my apartment, as well as Eng. Olli with his wife. During that extermination operation, Ukrainian and German policemen entered the house looking for Jews. Some of the inhabitants hid; Ginczanka's husband Weinzier showed his work permit. The police did not find anyone else in the house and left. I looked out of the window at the courtyard and saw Chominowa calling the policemen who were already leaving and leading them to her apartment. Half an hour later, they left, came back to the apartment where I lived, and said that there was a Ginzburg woman hiding there (that was Ginczanka's real surname) and another Jew pretending to be Romanian. They could only get this information from the Chomins, whom they visited between the first and second visits to my apartment. Ginczanka had already come out of her hiding place, convinced that the Germans would not return. She was taken away, and Chominowa and her family watched it with pleasure, standing in front of the gate. However, Ginczanka managed to escape and returned home. She told me that Chominowa was horrified on seeing her and turned pale.
[Testimony of Marcely Stauber at the Prosecutor's Office of the Special Criminal Court, 7 August 1946]

In 1948, in Warsaw, Zofia Chominova was sentenced to four years in prison on charges of collaborating with the Nazis. The rather lenient verdict was based on the fact that Chominowa "had no particular hatred for Jews" (one of the witnesses even mentioned the defendant's cordial meetings with a Jewish acquaintance), instead, "she was too zealous in her duties as a housekeeper."

For Jews, shared living space and relationships with their neighbours could be both a source of rescue and a threat of being reported. The main motivation for the denunciations was not only anti-Semitism; the desire for material gain, personal hostility or the wish to curry favour with the Nazi authorities also played a significant role.

Non omnis moriar...

Non omnis moriar — moje dumne włości,
Łąki moich obrusów, twierdze szaf niezłomnych,
Prześcieradła rozległe, drogocenna pościel
I suknie, jasne suknie zostaną po mnie.
Nie zostawiłam tutaj żadnego dziedzica,
Niech wiec rzeczy żydowskie twoja dłoń wyszpera,
Chominowo, lwowianko, dzielna żono szpicla,
Donosicielko chyża, matko folksdojczera.
Tobie, twoim niech służą, bo po cóż by obcym.
Bliscy moi — nie lutnia to, nie puste imię.
Pamiętam o was, wyście, kiedy szli szupowcy,
Też pamiętali o mnie. Przypomnieli i mnie.
Niech przyjaciele moi siądą przy pucharze
I zapiją mój pogrzeb i własne bogactwo:
Kilimy i makaty, półmiski, lichtarze —
Niechaj piją noc całą, a o świcie brzasku
Niech zaczną szukać cennych kamieni i złota
W kanapach, materacach, kołdrach i dywanach.
O, jak będzie się palić w ręku im robota,
Kłęby włosia końskiego i morskiego siana,
Chmury rozprutych poduszek i obłoki pierzyn
Do rąk im przylgną, w skrzydła zmienią ręce obie;
To krew moja pakuły z puchem zlepi świeżym
I uskrzydlonych nagle w anioły przemieni.

Zuzanna Ginczanka

Non omnis moriar...

Non omnis moriar—my proud estate,
Meadows of bedsheets, all my fine linens
And dresses, bright dresses shall be my bequest.
Here I have left no heir.
Let your hand then pick through my Jewish possessions,
O brave spouse of a snitch, Ms. Chomina from Lviv,
An eager  informant, a Volksdeutscher's mother.
May they suit you and yours: why leave them to strangers?
This is no song, dear neighbors, nor an empty name.
I remember you the way you remembered me
to the coming Schupo, reminding them of me.
So friends, break out the goblets,
Drink to my wake and to your riches:
Kilims and tapestries, platters and candlesticks.
May you drink all night and as the day breaks
set off on your search for jewels and gold
In featherbeds, mattresses, sofas, and rugs.
Many hands make light work, so it shouldn't take long,
Clumps of horsehair and sea grass stuffing,
Clouds of torn pillows and billows of down,
Will cling to your hands, and turn them to wings,
And my blood will congeal fiber and feather
And transform into angels those now merely winged.

by Zuzanna Ginczanka.
Translated, from the Polish, by Joanna Trzeciak Huss.
First published in Consequence

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Vul. Rustaveli, 8-8a – residential building

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Cover photo: From the collection of Tanas Nykyforuk (Urban Media Acrhive).
Anna Chebotariova
Translated by Andriy Masliukh