Murder of the City

ID: 238
Violence against the urban landscape because of their relation to Jewish community. Aim to destroy people and memory about them in space and time.

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.

Before World War II, there were more than a hundred synagogue buildings in Lviv. Although many Jews were assimilated and did not care about attending synagogues daily or weekly, they remained a center for preserving the idea of Jewish tradition, a meeting place, a kind of community center where people from different walks of life, branches, or Judaist trends used to meet.

During the Nazi occupation, almost all synagogues in Lviv were destroyed. Researchers call this process an urbicide, i.e. violence against the urban landscape, when buildings or neighbourhoods are destroyed because of their connection to certain social and ethnic groups. Burning was accompanied by looting of synagogue relics and valuables. The aim of this policy was to destroy not only the Jewish community, but also the traces of its presence in the urban space. The Nazis tried to erase any mention of the Jewish presence from the urban space. At the moment when Lviv was to become "free from Jews", there should be nothing to remind new city residents about its Jewish past.

Among all the synagogues, it is worth mentioning two: one located in the very center of the city and the other located in the former suburb: the Golden Rose (Turei Zahav) and the Tempel.

The history of the Golden Rose Synagogue construction has been shrouded in myths and legends for more than five centuries. Built by Isaak Nakhmanovych in the late 16th century, the synagogue was important to the Jewish community as it embodied the idea of the struggle for tradition and the Jewish way of life; it even served as a kahal synagogue for some time.

The Tempel Synagogue, built much later, in 1846, also played an important role in the community life. This synagogue belonged to the progressive, reformist Jewish community of Lviv and became the first synagogue of a new type in Eastern Galicia.

Leszek Allerhand, a witness to the destruction of the Golden Rose synagogue, who survived the Holocaust in Lviv as a boy, recalls:

In the summer of 1941, I do not remember whether it was July or August, […] at night, someone called us and knocked on the door; two men in civilian clothes entered. They ordered us to look out of the window and close the door. We had to do so. The fire quickly broke out, especially in the first shrine, which was closest to us, and covered everything. We stood, forced to do so, looking at the huge smoke that covered everything. It was impossible to open the windows because one could suffocate, it was impossible to go out, because they watched that no one left the apartment. We opened the door, and the housekeeper said that those who were on guard were watching the gate first of all while the staircase was empty, so we could escape there. Besides, no one knew that those houses had a common courtyard with the houses on vul. Valova and that going through this courtyard one could get there, which was what we tried to do. [...] Smoke was spreading around the city, there was a smell of burning in the air: two synagogues were on fire.

During the Nazi occupation of Lviv, in the summer of 1941, other synagogues began to be burnt. Yevhen Nakonechny, a witness of these events, wrote in his memoirs as follows:

... the incredible news spread that German sappers were methodically destroying synagogues in Lviv. Regardless of everything the Germans destroyed the Golden Rose in the center of the city — a synagogue built in the Middle Ages by the famous architect Paul the Roman, who also built the Assumption church and the Bernardine church [now the church of St. Andrew — ed.]. Not far from us, the Germans destroyed the synagogues in the old Jewish cemetery and on ul. Bema. My Jewish neighbours were depressed by the destruction of the majestic synagogue called the Tempel in the Old Market (Stary Rynok) square...

My inseparable friend Josale had a bright soul, filled with a sincere, simple, untroubled religious feeling, which often occurs in adolescence and which sometimes returns in old age as a gift from heaven. The rumour of the destruction of the Tempel synagogue shocked him deeply. He couldn't believe it…

Finally, without any incidents, we reached the place where the Tempel synagogue once stood. The Germans first set it on fire to burn down the inner furnishings, then planted dynamite and blew up the building. The sappers did their job skillfully as the bricks did not scatter on the square and did not block the tram track passing nearby; large pieces of the synagogue walls fell apart evenly on the spot, as if subsiding.

Yosale stared at the ruins of the Tempel synagogue for a long time, walked around the perimeter of the synagogue, stood there thoughtfully and then asked bitterly: “How could God allow this?”

Of all the synagogues that existed in Lviv before World War II, four survived: the Cori Gilod synagogue on vul. Brativ Mikhnovskykh 4, Jakob Glanzer's Jankel Jancer Shul on vul. Vuhilna 1-3, the Szomrat Szabat on pl. Rynok 12 (in the courtyard) and the Levi Israel synagogue on vul. Lychakivska 225. During the Nazi occupation they were used as warehouses or stables. During the Soviet period, they were adapted to meet the needs of the new regime, although the synagogue of Jakob Glanzer operated according to its original purpose until the 1960s.

Currently, only the Cori Gilod synagogue is used as a place of worship. The synagogue was handed over to the Jewish community of Lviv, it was renovated and now works daily, providing for the needs of the religious community of Lviv. There is also a kosher kitchen and a mikvah (ritual bath) at the synagogue. The Jankel Jancer Shul was transferred to the Jewish community in 1989. It houses the Lviv Sholom Aleichem Society of Jewish Culture. For a short time in the 1990s, the city's only functioning synagogue was located there, which later moved to the Cori Gilod synagogue. The building is in emergency condition and needs urgent repairs.

The other two synagogue buildings do not belong to the city's Jewish community. The Szomrat Szabat was rebuilt as a residential building. From the synagogue, there remained a wooden staircase that once led to the women's section on the first floor. The Levi Israel was transformed into a shop and a military unit’s assembly hall.

In 2016, the first part of the Space of Synagogues project, an initiative to honour the history of Jews in Lviv and to raise awareness of the city's common urban history and common heritage by the residents and visitors of Lviv, was opened on the site of the former Golden Rose synagogue. The first part of the project includes the conservation of the remains of the Golden Rose synagogue, marking of the Beith Hamidrash Jewish School building’s foundation and setting up the Perpetuation memorial installation, with quotes from Lviv residents and people associated with the city who were of Jewish origin.

This is for the first time in Ukraine that the commemoration of Jewish history sites has been initiated by the city administration in cooperation with the Center for Urban History, the German Society for International Cooperation (GIZ) and partner Jewish organizations.

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Vul. Staroyevreiska, 41 – former Beth Hamidrash building

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1. Євген Наконечний,  "ШОА" у Львові (Львів, ЛА Піраміда, 2006), 284
2. Оксана Бойко, Синагоги Львова (Львів: Класика, 2008)
3. Leszek Allerhand on the Space of Synagogues
4. Lesze Allerhand at the Space of Synagogues, video
5. Sergey Kravtsov, Di Gildene Royze: the Turei Zahav Synagogue in L'viv (Petersberg, Bet Tfila, 2011)
6. Sergey Kravtsov,  Synagoga Nachmanowiczów. Architektura, Historia, Pamięć (Warsaw, Polin, 2017)

Cover photo: Progressive Synagogue on pl. Stary Rynok [now non-existent], 1863. Photo by Józef Eder. Legal regulation: Lviv Historical Museum. Source: Urban Media Archive of the Center for Urban History.
Olena Andronatiy
Translated by Andriy Masliukh