Sept. 9, 2011 Update: Work on the hotel has been suspended as a result of the article below. Please see here:
Meylakh Sheykhet standing in front of another hotel built on the site of a place of mass death in Lvov (now called Lviv), the Citadel Inn
Sept. 4, 2011
* Exclusive report: Continuing now: The demolition of parts of the remnants of the adjacent buildings of what was once one of Europe’s most beautiful synagogues, despite it being a UNESCO-protected site, to build a hotel for soccer fans at next year’s European championships.
* Amazingly, the owner of another new five-star hotel elsewhere in Lviv, built over a major site of mass murder, is the deputy regional governor responsible for the preservation of culture and heritage.
* The last traces of the 420,000 Jews murdered by Nazis and their local collaborators in the Lviv region, are being buried under casinos and car parks.
(Please scroll down to the foot of the page to see the accompanying photos.)
THE FINAL INSULT TO THE JEWS OF GALICIA
This article appeared in a slightly edited form in The Guardian (Britain) and The National Post (Canada) online on Friday, and in their print editions, in a shortened form, yesterday.
Goodbye, Golden Rose
By Tom Gross
The Guardian / National Post, Opinion Page
September 2, 2011
LVIV, UKRAINE -- It seems parts of Europe are less tolerant now than they were in the 16th century. Last week, I watched as bulldozers began to demolish parts of the adjacent remnants of what was once one of Europe’s most beautiful synagogue complexes, the 16th century Golden Rose in Lviv. Most of the rest of the synagogue was burned down, with Jews inside, by the Nazis in 1941. Critics say the work has already put at risk the remaining, fragile sandstone walls of the synagogue and damaged other Jewish artifacts.
During the war, 42 other synagogues were destroyed in Lviv, which from the middle ages to the 20th century was known by its Latin name Leopolis and then by its Austrian (and Yiddish) name, Lemberg, before being called Lwow by the Poles and Lvov after the Soviets annexed it in 1945. The remnants of the Golden Rose are one of the few remaining vestiges of Jewish existence in Lviv, the majority of whose residents, in 1940, were Jewish.
It is not only morally wrong for bulldozers to drill through the last traces of this vibrant past without first giving the handful of remaining Jews here a chance to restore this site, or turn it into a place of memorial. It is legally wrong too. Ukraine’s own laws are designed to preserve such historic sites.
The Ukrainian authorities are not the only ones at fault. Where is the UN cultural organization UNESCO? The synagogue ruins were designated part of a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1998.
And where is the European soccer body UEFA? The Ukrainians are planning to build a hotel on the site to host fans and players at next year’s European soccer championships, the world’s third most-watched sporting event, which they are co-hosting with Poland. So much for UEFA’s much-hyped campaign to “Kick racism out of football”. (In addition to there being some residual anti-Semitism in Ukraine, the authorities seem to be motivated by cultural and historical crassness and illiteracy, and denial of the past, as well as real-estate greed.)
During the Holocaust, 420,000 Jews, including over 100,000 children, were murdered in Lviv and the region around it. The killing was so efficient that the Nazis organized transports of Romanian and Hungarian Jews to be brought here to be killed once they were done killing the Polish and Ukrainian Jews. There were almost no survivors.
Yet you will hardly find any reference to this in the official guide books or in the museums of Lviv. There is no monument to the murdered Jews in Lviv’s old town.
A few elderly people still remember. One Ukrainian woman who approached me last week as I stood at what used to be the ghetto entrance told me she remembered as a child seeing Jews whipped as they were forced to walk on their knees back and forth for hours until they collapsed and were then shot while Nazis laughed.
Few tourists make their way here these days but many readers may recognize the city since it is where Steven Spielberg chose to film parts of Schindler’s List. This formerly Austrian and Polish town still resembles parts of pre-war Krakow, where much of the film was set.
Others may have read Robert Marshall’s harrowing In the sewers of Lvov – an account of the only group of Jews to stay alive for any length of time in the sewers of Nazi-occupied Europe.
Ten Jews, including two children and a pregnant woman, managed to survive for 14 months among the feces, rats and darkness despite the Nazi use of dogs and grenades to flush out the other estimated 500 Jews who tried to hide there. (The pregnant woman’s baby, who was born in the sewer, died.)
This group of 10 survived with help from Leopold Socha, an illiterate former Polish criminal who, on release from prison, became a sewer worker and made it what he called his “life’s atonement” to save a few Jews by risking his life to bring them food as often as he could. (There is now a plaque to Socha at Jerusalem’s Yad Vashem.)
Leopold Sucha, left, and one of the children he saved: Krystyna Chirowski Chigier
The Lviv authorities know it is an outrage to destroy the remains of the Golden Rose, which is why last month they placed a tall fence around the planned hotel site and closed off most of the street so hide it from view. One of Lviv’s last Jews, Meylakh Sheykhet, and I had to mount a long ladder to peek over a wall and watch the drills at work.
For over 20 years, Sheykhet has almost singlehandedly been waging a campaign to stop the authorities destroying any more historic Jewish sites in this region and to encourage them to mark the sites of over 1000 mass graves with memorial plaques.
“It is hard to imagine these sites being treated less respectfully,” Sheykhet observed. “The Holocaust has not stopped here, the destruction goes on. Over the tombstones of some of history’s greatest rabbis, there are now movie theatres, discos and car parks. At the very least the authorities could put up some marker on these sites.”
Two years ago, another site of mass murder in Lviv, the Citadel – where tens of thousands of Jews and others were tortured to death – was converted into a five star hotel. Amazingly, the hotel is owned by Volodymyr Gubitsky, the deputy regional governor responsible for the preservation of culture and heritage.
Sheykhet failed to block the Citadel project. But he is campaigning to stop the destruction of the remains of the Golden Rose (as well as prevent the last preserved part of the Citadel being turned into a casino in preparation for Euro 2012).
In the 16th century, when the Golden Rose was built, Lemberg was a tolerant city where many ethnic groups lived side by side. Is the world today really so intolerant that it can’t countenance conserving the last remains of this once flourishing Jewish community and leave the murdered to rest in peace?
(Tom Gross is a former foreign correspondent for the London Daily and Sunday Telegraph.)
Among related reports, please see:
PHOTOS (taken Aug. 22 and 23, 2011)
Below: heavy building machinery at work on the edge of the Golden rose complex. Campaigners say the drilling is putting at risk the fragile remaining sandstone walls of the synagogue, and damaging other Jewish artifacts in the area.
Above: where the mikveh once was and other
Jewish artifacts may remain buried
A young Jewish man peers over a wall to view the hotel construction work
The discarded remains of a Jewish cemetery in Kaminka Buz'ka, a town where many famous rabbis lived, north of Lviv
Meylakh Sheykhet clutching a pre-war map of the Jewish cemetery in Kaminka Buz'ka
Meylakh Sheykhet standing at the entrance of the new five star hotel, the Citadel Inn -- a building where tens of thousands of Jews and others were tortured to death between 1941-44
Below: The new five star hotel, the Citadel Inn, the central building in a complex where over 140,000 people were killed from 1941-44, including Jewish prisoners and prisoners of war from several countries. Some bullet holes can still be seen on the outer walls. Jews were singled out for particularly sadistic torture and ill treatment at the citadel, and were kept apart from the other prisoners for this purpose.
Meylakh Sheykhet standing in front of the Citadel Inn
All photos above, copyright Tom Gross. Taken on August 22-23, 2011.
Media and blogs wishing to use these photos can do so with accreditation to Tom Gross.