(Non)-saving work

ID: 204
The Nazi military economy made extensive use of forced labour of the population in the occupied territories. For some time, it created an illusion of salvation. An external help was still a key to survive and such cases were rare.

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.

The Nazi military economy made extensive use of forced labour of the population in the occupied territories. Thus, the deportation of Poles and Ukrainians for forced labour in the Third Reich was a mass phenomenon. The labour exploitation of Jews was especially brutal: there were a number of enterprises in Lviv where they had to work only for food rations or for the opportunity to temporarily avoid death.

For some time, a work certificate could save one from execution or deportation to death camps. There were cases where Jews survived the Holocaust with the help of their co-workers or managers of forced labour enterprises. For example, Volodymyr Kachmarsky left the service in the Ukrainian auxiliary police in May 1942 and became the technical director of the Solid shoe factory (located at ul. Trybunalska 16, now vul. Shevska). The company carried out German military orders, but was unofficially run by the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church. Kachmarsky helped save his Jewish acquaintances — the Fink family (Abraham, Fejga and Anna), whom he first hired and hid in the factory building basement after the liquidation of the ghetto. Henryk Kuroń, an activist of the Polish Socialist Party, during the war worked as a technologist at a German lamp factory on ul. Żulińskiego (now vul. Filatova). He helped save his Jewish co-worker, Sabina Rapp, by passing medicine and food for her, obtaining forged documents, and finding a hiding place after the ghetto was liquidated.

At the same time, with the launch of the Nazi operation "Reinhard", aimed at the total extermination of Jews in the General Government, the status of a German company employee no longer protected against murder and rescue cases were rather exceptional. Although the killings of Jews deprived the Nazis of their labour force, extermination became a priority over exploitation. The famous science fiction writer Stanisław Lem (1921–2006) worked during the war as a mechanic and a welder in the German company Rohstofferfassung garages on ul. Gródecka Boczna (now vul. Korotka). The company was engaged in the restoration of metals from damaged military equipment. Thanks to false "Aryan" documents, he managed to avoid arrest and forced relocation to the Lviv ghetto. However, the fate of other Jewish workers of the enterprise was tragic:

The company was located on ul. Gródecka Boczna, and this was a good location, because there were Luftwaffe barracks nearby. The German guard walked along the sidewalk, right up to our garage. No one could get in there, especially the Ukrainian police, that is, the so-called "blacks", so, in a sense, we were under German cover. (...) Jews worked in the office upstairs; they actually did nothing, just paid to get an ausweiss [certificate]. The situation was the opposite of normal: the firm did not pay them, but they paid the firm. It all ended badly: all the Jews were taken away. It seems that the German owner of the firm, Zigfried Kremin, tried to save them like Schindler, justifying it by economic needs, but [Otto von] Wechter told him — not Wechter himself, of course, but some government official from the District of Galicia, which was a separate subdivision of the General Government, — that politics is more important than economics, Politik geht vor der Wirtschaft. and there is no talk about it. [...] We worked in terrible conditions in winter: in an unheated shop with a huge concrete floor. We poured used oil into the car crankcases and set it on fire to make it a little warmer.
(Świat na krawędzi. Ze Stanisławem Lemem rozmawia Tomasz Fiałkowski, Kraków, 2015)

Stanislaw Lem came from an assimilated Jewish-Polish family (Lem's family home was at ul. Brajerowska 8, now vul. Bohdana Lepkoho). In 1945 he left for Krakow with his parents. Stanisław Lem mentioned and wrote very little about his experiences during the war. At the same time, researchers of his work believe that the author encrypted his deeply traumatic experience of the period under Nazi occupation in Lviv in many futuristic literary plots. As the history of the company where Lem worked shows, rescuing Jews through work was in most cases illusory and quite unlikely. Situations when non-Jewish staff assisted them at the risk of their own lives were exceptional.

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Vul. Shevska, 16 – hotel "Leopolis" (former Krochmalevycziwska house)

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1. Agnieszka Gajewska, Zagłada i Gwiazdy: Przeszłość w Prozie Stanisława Lema, Wydawnictwo Naukowe UAM, 2017.
2. "Historia Pomocy — Kuroń Henryk", Polscy Sprawiedliwi (accessed on 16.11.2018).
3. Świat na krawędzi. Ze Stanisławem Lemem rozmawia Tomasz Fiałkowski, Kraków, 2015.
4. Миколай Глинський, "Як Голокост вплинув на творчість Станіслава Лема", Culture.pl, (accessed on 16.11.2018).
5. Юрій Скіра, "Переховування євреїв монахами Студійського Уставу на взуттєвій фабриці "Солід" у Львові в 1942–1944 рр." Історико-культурні студії, 2016:1, с.113–117.

Anna Chebotariova
Translated by Andriy Malsiukh