After the Catastrophe: the post-war life of the Jewish community in Lviv
The story is a part of the theme The Epoligue of the War, prepared within the program The Complicated Pages of Common History: Telling About World War II in Lviv.
mother and I returned to our house. All members of our large family —
grandparents in particular — died in the ghetto. Only my father, who returned
from Yavoriv, where he worked, my mother and I remained. We decided to leave
Lviv absolutely and without delay. My mother was afraid of the Russians. We
were even more afraid of the Germans, and this fear was very strong. Lviv and
all the towns around it were deprived of those whom we knew and who were
somehow related to us. By the first available transport — the war was still
going on — we left for Poland in March 1945.
(Memoirs of Leszek Allerhand, recorded on September 4, 2016 in Lviv, collection of the Center for Urban History of East Central Europe)
The Jewish community of Lviv suffered the most significant losses in World War II. In 1939 there were more than 150,000 Jews living in the city, which was a third of its population: as of September 1944, 3,400 Jews were registered in Lviv, of which about 800 had lived in the city before the war. Several thousand Lviv Jews survived the Holocaust outside the city but never came back.
Most of Lviv's synagogues and Jewish community’s buildings were destroyed. One of the few surviving shrines was the building of the Jakob Glanzer Schul at vul. Vuhilna 3. During the Nazi occupation, the building was used as a warehouse for products sold at the market on the neighbouring pl. Św. Teodora. In the postwar years, the synagogue became a meeting place for the officially registered Jewish community of Lviv. Its first head was David Sobol, a lawyer, and the rabbi was Berko Teichberg.
In addition to being a place of religious gatherings, the synagogue served as a social center for a community deeply traumatized by the Holocaust events. In the synagogue, Jews could receive material and food aid from the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee. From the summer of 1944, the building walls were plastered with announcements about the search for surviving relatives. The synagogue also became a temporary refuge for the Jews who were to be repatriated to Poland. Most of them were deprived of their pre-war property and did not want to stay in the city where their persecutors still lived and everything reminded them of the death of their relatives. For example, Lily Polman-Stern, who lost her father, brother, grandfather and grandmother in the Holocaust, recalls that "the city that once had such a noble name, Leopolis, tragically became a Necropolis for my mother and me."
In the summer of 1945, dramatic events unfolded around the synagogue. "Bloody calumnies" are spreading in the city, rumours that Jews are kidnapping Polish and Ukrainian children and killing them in the synagogue. An angry crowd gathers on pl. Św. Teodora, calls are made for the synagogue to be set on fire, and only militia intervention prevents a possible pogrom. The Lviv Oblast Prosecutor's Office initiates an investigation. The record of the interrogation of June 14, 1945 has been preserved:
By the order of the prosecutor of the Lviv region comrade Korneta, senior investigator of the Lviv Oblast prosecutor's office, 1st grade jurist Lavreniuk checked the [alleged] murder of children in the Jewish synagogue. (...)
Upon careful inspection of the building, no human corpses have been found, neither in the apartments, nor in the synagogue hall, nor in the basements and sewers.
large number of chicken feathers and drops of blood from the slaughter of
chickens have been found in the barn. No traces of the murder of children have
been found in the synagogue, the fact being confirmed by this report
Anti-Jewish violence caused by rumours of "bloody calumnies" was not uncommon in postwar Eastern Europe. The pogrom in the Polish city of Kielce in July 1946 began with rumours telling that a Polish boy, Henryk Blaszczyk, had been kidnapped. The victims of the pogrom were 42 Jews. In addition to the anti-Semitic myth, which dates back to the Middle Ages, researchers cite accusations of Jews collaborating with the communist regime, restitution of Jewish property, general social demoralization, and the devastating effects of Nazi propaganda among the causes of postwar anti-Jewish violence.
Thus, in post-war Lviv, Holocaust survivors had to face social tensions and hostility. Several hundred survivors, led by David Sobol, as well as a group of Lubavitcher Hasidim, decided to leave the city immediately after the anti-Jewish riots. Lev Serebriany became the new head of the community (till his arrest in 1947 on charges of being linked with the "Zionist underground"); later it was headed by Yakiv Makhnovetsky. During the "Khrushchev thaw" the synagogue was visited by representatives of diplomatic missions of Japan, Israel and the United States. In 1962, the Soviet authorities closed the synagogue on trumped-up charges of currency speculation; the premises were handed over to the Polygraphic Institute. There was a gym there. The synagogue paintings were brushed with oil paint, and the niche for the Torah (Aron ha-Kodesh) was bricked up. In 1991, the synagogue was restituted to the Jewish religious community. Today, the Sholom Aleichem Society of Jewish Culture is located there.
2. Михаил Мицель, Общины иудейского вероисповедания в Украине, Киев, Львов: 1945-1981, Київ, 1998
3. Elissa Bemporad, "The Blood Libel and Its Wartime Permutations: Cannibalism
in Soviet Lviv", Eugene Avrutin, Jonathan Dekel-Chen and Robert Weinberg (eds.) Ritual Murder in Russia, Eastern Europe and Beyond: New Histories of an Old Accusation, IUP, Bloomington, 2017
4. Tarik Cyril Amar, "Lvivʼs Last Synagogue", The Paradox of Ukrainian Lviv: A Borderland City between Stalinists, Nazis, and Nationalists, Cornell University Press, 2015
Translated by Andriy Masliukh