The second world [war] in Lviv—twelve locations and historical subjects

“The personal responsibility of concrete individuals, rather than peoples or nations that they represent”: the historian Oleksandr Pahiria talked about the concept and location of the exhibit ”Lviv ’43: City of (Non)Memory,” which recently concluded its run in Lviv.

Today we’ll be talking about an interesting exhibit that allows us to make the experiences of the Jews, especially during the Second World War, more visible. More on this from our guest, Oleksandr Pahiria, Candidate of Historical Sciences and an associate of the Territory of Terror Museum.

Iryna Slavinska:  According to my observations, this museum is also trying to experiment with the goal of actualizing the less visible Lviv contexts. Let’s illustrate this by using the exhibit as an example. 

Oleksandr Pahiria:  The exhibit open[ed] on Friday, 13 July, on Ploshcha Rynok [Market Square] in Lviv. The exhibit is called Lviv ’43: City of (Non)Memory. In fact, the exhibit recounts little-known aspects of the Jewish presence in Lviv. The most tragic history connected with Lviv’s Jewry is the Holocaust. The aim of the exhibit is to mark in the city’s urban space those places that are connected with the events of the Holocaust.

Iryna Slavinska:  How? Are these commemorative markers?

Oleksandr Pahiria:  There will be cube-shaped stands that describe certain locations and people who were involved in these locations.

Iryna Slavinska:  Just the very title is fascinating: City of (Non)Memory. Why nonmemory?

Oleksandr Pahiria:  For someone this may be memory; for someone else—nonmemory. The point is that the memory of the Holocaust was in fact erased from public consciousness because it was concealed during the Soviet period, and the Jewish victims of the Holocaust were diluted in a depersonalized perception of a civilian population that was killed during the Second World War.

In other words, this history did not become part of school programs. Here we have in fact a situation of amnesia connected with the Holocaust, even though these people were part of our society, part of our culture; they were our neighbors. We must restore this history, the memory of them, and know about the fact that they were part of this urban space.

Iryna Slavinska:  Before we continue discussing how memory is created, what is forgotten, what is remembered, let’s talk a bit about the heroes and heroines of this exhibit. So, the year 1943 in Lviv. Here we have a chance to roam around these places in radio format. Let’s talk a bit about addresses and the names that stand behind them.

Oleksandr Pahiria:  So, there are twelve locations throughout the city of Lviv, where these cube-shaped stands will be erected. These stands provide general information about a particular location connected with the Holocaust, and they list three individuals. We singled out four categories of people: saviors, victims, eyewitnesses, and perpetrators.

Iryna Slavinska:  Saviors. You mean people who are recognized as Righteous Among the Nations, right?

Oleksandr Pahiria:  Yes. Well, perhaps not all of them are recognized, but they were people who took part in operations to rescue Jews and risked their lives. We wanted to show the conditional border that separates these categories, especially in war conditions. People were forced to make choices every day. And the Holocaust is a history that shows various trajectories of people, stories of people, their modes of conduct in conditions of extreme violence, when violence invades the urban space and it is impossible to ignore it. Of course, some tried to hide behind a mask of indifference, to pretend that this had nothing to do with them.

In fact, the Holocaust is not exclusively a history of the Jews; it is the history of people who were all around the Jews and were involved in the capacity of saviors or perpetrators, who committed crimes. Here, we are not suppressing such dark topics in Ukrainian history and public memory as local collaboration. We are talking about its diverse ethnic coloration; about Ukrainians, Poles, and Jews who took part in various auxiliary structures, who committed various crimes against Jews, against the Jewish population.

Iryna Slavinska:  It’s entirely natural to talk not just about some ethnically determined responsibility, for example, for war crimes or hate crimes where the issue is genocide, like the Holocaust, and about individual responsibility. In this sense, just like Timothy Snyder said about the need to articulate the name of every victim, it makes sense to name every executioner, every person who took part in this.

Oleksandr Pahiria:  Absolutely. In other words, an absolutely personalized approach to this history makes it possible to move away from political schemas, from accusations, from memory politics; that is, from the construction of a certain image of the enemy or image, say, of a person who commits a crime; the association of a crime with a certain nation. This provides an opportunity to look at this history from various angles, from various points of view, and to look at complex choices that people made in conditions of extreme violence. If you walk through these locations…

Iryna Slavinska:  You already mentioned the moment when war enters a city. It seems to me that any person living in a city, big or small, can orient himself absolutely calmly in his own space. To put it bluntly, Kyivites don’t need to be shown where the borders of the Podil are. But this cannot always be determined by street names; you simply know that here, on the right, you are still in the Podil, and now you are crossing the road and are no longer there. There are similar stories concerning the borders of other districts, and in Lviv—I trust I’m not wrong—there is an absolutely similar situation. When the issue is the war through the prism of the locations that you are presenting, is this the history of a particular quarter, a particular district, or something broader?

Oleksandr Pahiria:  These are locations that are scattered throughout Lviv and which are connected… Well, in particular, if you walk through these locations, this is Ploshcha Rynok, where the exhibit is opening. It will feature general information about the goal of the exhibit, about the chronology and geography of the Holocaust in Lviv, and those locations that are scattered throughout the city of Lviv.

The goal of the exhibit is to trace a certain trend in the direction of honoring the memory of the Jews, who perished during the Holocaust. Perhaps in the future it will become the base of certain tourist itineraries or booklets or maps that will enable tourists who come from Western countries to orient themselves in this complex and tragic history of Lviv, which is connected with the Jews of Lviv.

The first such location after Ploshcha Rynok is Markiian Shashkevych Square, next to the monument dedicated to the victims of Soviet repressions. This location is associated with a site of spontaneous violence against Jews: a pogrom that took place in Lviv from 1 to 3 July 1941, when the German army arrived in Lviv. This was a transitional period, when one regime was arriving, and another was departing. When a wave of indignation swept the city following the mass shootings that took place in four prisons in Lviv, the Germans capitalized on this emotional situation to stir up anti-Jewish passions. This pogrom was in fact engineered by the Germans; it was inspired by the Germans, but there were already Jewish, antisemitic, stereotypes that existed in interwar Poland, which became more entrenched during the period of Soviet rule; which associated Jews with the Soviet government. In fact, this tactical device of association by the Germans, I mean the well-known expression, so to speak, of the term zhydokomuna [Jewish commune], zhydobolshevyzm [Jewish Bolshevism], was used to transfer these crimes of the Soviet regime to the Jewish population, which had also fallen victim to those repressions in the Soviet period.

Iryna Slavinska:  Yes, here we can remind our listeners of the situation faced by urban residents in the vacuum, bluntly speaking, between the two occupying regimes. The case of Lviv is precisely this situation. First, the Soviet occupation then the Nazi occupation then the Soviet occupation once again. In talking about 1943, it could be useful to refer to Timothy Snyder’s Black Earth, which puts forward a very interesting concept of the double occupation, provides food for thought here.

We have two more minutes until the end of the first part of our conversation. Perhaps you could name a few more locations. So, we have Ploshcha Rynok, Shashkevych Square…

Oleksandr Pahiria:  So, next, Vitovsky Street talks about the structure and activities of the Nazi punitive agencies, the security police and the SD; this is a more general history.

Hrabovsky Street is the location of the Citadel, where Stalag 328 for Soviet prisoners of war was located. This part is also included in the exhibit as the history of a place of terror. But it is also connected with Jews because among the Soviet commissars and servicemen and officers there were also Jews, who were also selected from the general category of prisoners and were placed in a separate group of political leaders and Jews.

We also have Universytetska Street, which is connected with the killings of the intelligentsia in Lviv in July 1941. We know that during the war most Jewish university lecturers were destroyed, killed. Then there is 16 Shevska Street; this is Andrei Sheptytsky’s rescue operation; this is the location of the Solid Shoe Factory, which organized the operation to rescue Jews. Thanks to this shoe factory, which was the cover of the metropolitan’s rescue operation, approximately 150 Jews were saved.

Iryna Slavinska: A Lviv-style Schindler’s List?

Oleksandr Pahiria:  Yes, something like that.

Then we have Staroievreiska Street. It is connected with the destruction of the Jewish spiritual and material heritage. We know that out of the 35 synagogues that existed in Lviv before the war, only 4 survived. The most famous one is the Golden Gate Synagogue, also known as the Golden Rose Synagogue

Then we have 28 Prospekt Svobody; this topic explores the mass abuses and anti-Jewish propaganda in Lviv.

Then we have Sholom Aleichem Street. It explores the topic of the destruction of the cultural heritage. And it is connected with the history of the rescue of Jewish cultural monuments, history, and culture during the war. Ilarion Svintsitsky, the director of the museum before the war, managed to save a large collection of Jewish artifacts during the Nazi period. What is interesting is that the Soviet authorities also tried to destroy this collection, but the museum staff succeeded in falsifying documents indicating that the collection was destroyed. Thanks to this, they saved the collection. Then there is Saint Theodore Square. Its theme is Jewish life after the Germans’ retreat. Here we show how the Soviet secret services suspected that a clandestine Jewish center—a synagogue— existed in the city, and the measures that were implemented to repress and persecute Jews within the framework of the struggle against Zionism.

Chornovil Square is devoted to the topic of the Jewish ghetto. It must be noted that the largest ghetto in the occupied Soviet territories was in Lviv. It was the third largest ghetto in Europe, after the Warsaw and Lodz ghettoes.

Iryna Slavinska:  And the final location.

Oleksandr Pahiria:  This was the camp on Yanivska [Pol. Janowska] Street. In fact, it was a camp that was officially called a “forced-labor camp,” but which at a certain period, according to historians, had the elements and characteristics of a death camp.

Iryna Slavinska:  We have already sketched out an imaginary radio map of twelve locations. We are continued this radio excursion of the exhibit that will open in Lviv on 13 July. By the way, how long does it last?

Oleksandr Pahiria:  Until the end of September.

Iryna Slavinska:  This means there will be time. I was thinking that even the people who come to Lviv for the Publishers’ Forum will have an opportunity to stroll along these streets. I used the word “stroll.” To what degree can the twelve locations that you just described, and which are situated along that route be described as a stroll? What is the distance between them, and does this adventure require a whole day of walking around Lviv?

Oleksandr Pahiria: Of course, it requires trips, wandering from one corner of the city to another, but this gives people a chance to see the city and its beauty, and to become familiar with other places.

Iryna Slavinska:  I just want to ask you again. From one corner of the city to the other—is this according to Lviv or Kyiv standards?

Oleksandr Pahiria:  Lviv.

Iryna Slavinska:  In other words, for Kyivites this will be an excursion spanning a few city blocks.

Oleksandr Pahiria:  Yes, that’s right. In other words, it is designed in such a way as to unite these twelve locations into a specific itinerary. Unfortunately, I am not a resident of Lviv, so it’s difficult for me to orient myself fully as to the exact route. But it is also designed for tourists, who can use it later.

Iryna Slavinska:  In the vision of the Territory of Terror Museum, which is curating this exhibit, how essential is it to see all the locations. To what extent are they unified in a single history? Is it enough just to see one stand, at least one marked location in this type of project?

Oleksandr Pahiria:  Actually, no. They comprise part of a large puzzle that allows us to grasp the immense scale of the tragedy that befell the Jews of Lviv, and to show its multidimensionality, beginning with the fact that these are not just locations connected only with Jews. These are locations where prisoners of war were held; a total of 284,000 prisoners of war, half of whom died. This is the forced-labor camp, where other workers, Ukrainian, Poles, Russians, and others were kept.

In fact, this is an opportunity to look at the history of the war as such, and to take a partial look at postwar life and as the history of the Jews, the Jewish page of Lviv, which the Soviet authorities also tried to erase, in fact after the ethnic cleansing that the Germans carried out during the war.

You must understand that if we are talking about the total number of Holocaust victims, in order to speak about the scale of this tragedy, we talk about the approximately six million Jews who were killed during the war in Europe, a million and a half of whom were killed in Ukraine. One-third of this number was killed on the territory of Galicia, and another third was killed on the territory of Lviv, in the city of Lviv. Some of these Jews were deported to the Belzec death camp. In fact, through this history Lviv is connected with the European tragedy of the Jews. In other words, it is part of the Operation Reinhard whose goal was the destruction of Jewry in the Generalgouvernement. This is the very heart of the Holocaust in Europe, and Lviv was part of this history.

The specific features of the Holocaust in Galicia lay in the fact that there was a merging…it was a kind of border area, where a symbiosis of methods for killing the Jews took place. We know that in Reichskommissariat Ukraine the preponderant majority of Jews were killed by bullets; we had an exhibit in 2011 called “The Holocaust by Bullets.” But a certain symbiosis took place in Distrikt Galizien [transferred to the Generalgouvernement—Trans.]: Here the method of killing with bullets was combined with deportations to death camps and gas chambers.

Iryna Slavinska:  In a global sense, perhaps the difference between the use of a gas chamber or shooting is not all that great, but there is also a conceptual difference. Along with the truly detailed bookkeeping, if such a metaphor can be used in relation to those who ended up in the death camps, when we talk about the Ukrainian territories, for example, tragedies like Babyn Yar in Kyiv, we are talking about mass shootings without any identification of names. I think that it is precisely because of this that there is an additional story line in these indiscriminate killings that occurred in one fell swoop.

Oleksandr Pahiria:  Yes. This is in fact collective responsibility. We are saying that these shootings that took place on the territory of Lviv began literally with the arrival of the German troops. They took place systematically, under various circumstances, but in fact the Holocaust led to the destruction of the Jewish community as such, the Jewish community of the city of Lviv. According to various estimates, of the 160,000 Jews who were living in Lviv at the start of the German–Soviet war, approximately 2,000 survived. This is two percent of the total number of Jews in the city of Lviv. This is the destruction of an entire community that ceased to exist, the memory of which was erased. The aim of this exhibit is to restore this memory to the urban space, remind people about the locations that are connected with the life and death of the Jews, their tragedy; to combine this with the history of Ukrainians and Poles, how they were joined in this history.

Iryna Slavinska:  Of course, interaction with the urban milieu is also a challenge. I remember the interview with Sofia Dyak, who heads the Center for Urban History, on the occasion of a commemorative installation that was installed on the site of the Golden Rose Synagogue. I remember that in this case a lot of support came from outside, because, for various reasons, the Ukrainian side did not feel sufficiently ready and able to finance the creation of such a memorial project. And, of course, as regards the simultaneous involvement of several districts, several city blocks in Lviv, it was probably necessary to hold talks with the local authorities. How did this work?

Oleksandr Pahiria:  The Territory of Terror Museum is a public enterprise; it is subordinated to the municipal council. So, this is a city council project, and it is being implemented by the local municipal authorities.

One of the museum’s missions is connected with honoring the memory, the history of the Holocaust and the Jews, inasmuch as the museum itself is located on the site of the former ghetto as well as a Soviet-era transit prison. Another important element of one of its future exhibits, which is at the planning stage right now, will be the history of the forced-labor camp on Yanivska Street, one of the main places where Jews and other nationalities were killed.

According to some historians, this is the only concentration camp that existed on the territory of Ukraine, although it was not that kind of camp, according to the classic definition. But it was…it had a certain hybrid form, combining elements of a forced-labor camp, a transit camp—it was a key one especially in the context of Operation Reinhard—and a death camp. We are talking about an extermination camp. This was the final period, 1943–1944, when all Jewish prisoners, the majority of Jewish prisoners were ultimately liquidated in 1943, and the city of Lviv was declared “free of Jews.” This is connected with the final stages of the Holocaust in Lviv. The Janowska camp was one of the final moments. What is interesting here is that the Germans tried to erase the traces of these crimes. They created Sonderkommando 1005, which was comprised of former prisoners; prisoners who were around at the time, and of Jews, and their task was to burn the bodies of killed prisoners. In other words, even before the arrival of the Soviet power, the Germans tried to conceal the traces of their crimes, but they were preserved. That is, these people survived, some members of this special unit, and they, especially [Leon] Weliczker, reported about the tens of thousands of burned corpses in the Janowska camp.  This was a huge catastrophe, an immense tragedy, and only now are we restoring this history or, say, actualizing it in the contemporary context, realizing that we ourselves need this, too, in order to reinterpret history and what happened in the twentieth century.

Iryna Slavinska:  Of course, this is not a simple topic. It is connected with a word that you already mentioned today. That word, “collaboration,” is not the nicest, to put it mildly, subject for memoirs, which is also frequently instrumentalized for anti-Ukrainian rhetoric. Here it is truly necessary to talk, on the one hand, about what concerns real historical events and, on the other, perhaps to choose the proper intonation, once again identifing executioners by name and avoiding manipulative subjects. How did you work with this?

Oleksandr Pahiria:  I personally worked on the Janowska camp topic. And in working with documents, I discovered an interesting fact that absolutely contradicts the idea and thesis of foreign historiography, particularly English-language historiography, according to which the entire auxiliary apparatus of the Janowska camp consisted of Ukrainians, that supposedly 90 percent of it consisted of Ukrainians. According to the materials of the Soviet secret services—and during the postwar period the Soviet secret services investigated these crimes—they managed to arrest 65 former Wachmann from the Janowska camp throughout the entire Soviet Union and various socialist countries. They were security guards who were recruited from among former Soviet prisoners of war, and this is a very interesting point. These people, whom Stalin had thrown into the Battle of the Kerch Peninsula in 1942, were abandoned to their fate, and in the trying conditions of the camps, faced with the choice of dying of hunger and thirst or abuse, they opted for a chance to serve in German auxiliary formations. So, these security guards were selected from various camps. One camp in particular was in Rivne; there was a training camp in Trawniki, which trained security guards for all the biggest death camps and concentration camps on the territory of Poland. These Wachmann, their story is very interesting. I familiarized myself with several of their criminal cases. They truly reveal the contradictory history of these people. On the one hand, they became victims of Nazism, they were in captivity…

Iryna Slavinska:  But they became executioners.

Oleksandr Pahiria:  But they became executioners. And this was a kind of voluntary-forcible cooperation with the Germans. Some did this for certain self-serving reasons; others did it to survive; still others were forced. So, if we analyze the 65 arrested Wachmann, 30 of them were Russians, 29 were Ukrainians, and the rest were of other nationalities. In other words, it is interesting; not everything is clear-cut with this category.

We know that there was a Ukrainian Auxiliary Police, there was a Polish Auxiliary Police; there was a separate Jewish one that existed inside camps or in ghettos. And there is a document that talks about this, and it also talks about the involvement of Jews in crimes. This is a truly complex topic for reinterpretation, but it is crucial here to concentrate on the truly personal responsibility of concrete individuals, not the peoples or nations that they represent. This was a personal choice that they made in difficult conditions. Their story must be assessed only in this context.

But we can say that the heroes or characters that we chose for this exhibit also demonstrate this blurred line between the category of executioner and the category of savior. For example, Volodymyr Kachmarsky, he was a member of the UVO [Ukrainian Military Organization] and the OUN [Organization of Ukrainian Nationalists], and he was in the Ukrainian auxiliary police in Lviv. But, regardless of his service in the interests of the German Reich, he helped Jews who were coming to the ghetto. In 1942 he abandoned the police and got a job; he became the technical director of the Solid Shoe Factory, which became the heart of the rescue operation that was organized by Metropolitan Sheptytsky. It is interesting that thanks to this new role, he was awarded the title of Righteous Among the Nations in 1984. In other words, this is a truly complex story that reveals the fine line between one role and another.

We have stories of Germans, for example, Rudolf Stefan Weigl, a Czech German and distinguished immunologist who was famous for having discovered a vaccine against epidemic typhus. He founded an institute; there was a Weigl Institute at Lviv University. So, thanks to this vaccine, he was able to save 5,000 Jews in the Warsaw ghetto, in the Lviv ghetto, in various concentration camps. He was a German who made a choice and who, as a physician, tried to save Jews by using this vaccine. There were various ways of duping the Germans in order to save Jews.

Going back to those security guards, not everything about them was simple and straightforward. From interrogation reports it is clear that some of them, of course, already under pressure from the Soviet investigations, perhaps, but they… that is, their testimony differs from German testimonies. The Germans—the Nazis, I mean—had a clear motive for destroying the Jews; for him this was not… He did not have a personal motive for killing; this was simply dirty, criminal work that he was forced to carry out…

Iryna Slavinska:  Although at the same time this probably does not exonerate anyone.

Oleksandr Pahiria:  Yes, absolutely. And what is interesting is that these people remained unpunished until approximately the 1960s. That is, some of them managed to conceal their crime, they even won awards for fighting in the war, and only in the course of continuing investigations was it possible to determine that their story about distinguished combat merit at the front turned out to be not entirely credible.

Iryna Slavinska:  I think this is a wonderful subject with which we will conclude our conversation; the subject of punished crimes. This marks the end of our conversation about the exhibit Lviv ’43: City of (Non)Memory, which opens in Lviv on 13 July and continues until late September.

This program was made possible by the Canadian non-profit organization Ukrainian Jewish Encounter.

Originally appeared in Ukrainian (Hromadske Radio podcast) here.

Translated from the Ukrainian by Marta D. Olynyk.
Edited by Peter Bejger.
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