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Jewish Heritage Signage: Lviv and Krakow, a Tale of Two Cities
By Samuel D. Gruber

ISJM, November 13, 2008

Click here for photos

In my presentation last week in Lviv,Ukraine, at the Center for Urban History of East Central Europe, I addressed the practical and theoretical questions of "Can Lviv Be Developed as a Jewish Heritage Center?" While part of the presentation and paper dealt with historical, political, and economic questions, a good deal of what I said was about simple practical solutions. I have been traveling to Lviv for almost a decade and in that time I have seen no significant positive change in the identification and reclamation of Jewish space, with the exception of the marking of the Kleparov Train station, from where Jews were deported.

There has been talk and there have been legal actions, but a visitor to the city today receives as little information about the Jewish past as he/she would have ten years ago, or even under Communism. There were many talks during and after the conference that suggest there might be changes, and I have and others have agreed to be part of an advisory committee to move these suggestion forward. But for now, the visitor is left very much at sea when searching for the location and history of Jewish heritage sites. To my knowledge, the only signs or plaques about Jewish heritage in Lviv are a few memorial inscriptions. These are commemorative, not didactic signs, and they focus more on the destruction of Jewish heritage rather than explaining the circumstances of Jews in the the city for centuries. Still, they are a welcome start, and an important recognition of the fate of tens of thousands of the city's Jews during the Holocaust.

There are three easy things that can be done almost immediately to reverse this situation. They are

1) the preparation and distribution of reliable guides and maps locating Jewish sites,

2) the preparation of on-line resources with guides, maps, histories and illustrations,

3) the installation of informative signs identifying the location of Jewish historic sites in Lviv.

Even though the Jewish past of Lviv is not unified and Jews themselves were often divided (most dramatically in the conflicts that led to the murder of Progressive Rabbi Abraham Kohn in 1848), it is important today that Jewish heritage take on a unified identity, so that all sites and program can be promoted and developed together, and that each historic site in some way is used to promote the others. In short, Lviv's Jewish heritage sites needs to be unified into a route that tells a coherent narrative. For the more interested and more discerning, there can be series of routes that delve a more deeply into the history, religion and art of Jewish Lviv. The concept is not difficult, and it has been pioneered already in many cities for many reasons and even in some cities for Jewish past.

In some cities, such as Krakow (Poland) some of what is in the guidebooks has also been created as signage on the streets themselves. In Krakow, Poland, since the mid-1990s there have been many efforts to both identify and reclaim Jewish historic sites. There have been guidebooks and annotated maps, the most recent a highly detailed map and guide of Jewish Kazimierz written by Jakub Nowakowski and produced by the Galicia Jewish Museum. In Krakow, the signage route for Jewish Kazimierz is just one of many designated historic routes in the city (there is a University Route, a Royal Route, etc.). Thus Jewish history is integrated into the overall history of the city and its populations. The same should be done in Lviv.

Happily, there is some movement to achieve these tasks in Lviv. The "Lviv Interactive" section of the website of the Center for Urban History of East Central Europe is expediting the inclusion of information about Jewish heritage sites. According to the Deputy Mayor of Lviv, the city is developing a comprehensive signage program for historic sites, too. But if they decide to install all the signs at once,I still expect a long wait.

Lest We Forget Lviv's Krakovsky Jewish Cemetery – Now a Bustling Marketplace
By Samuel D. Gruber
ISJM, August 8, 2008

Visitors to L'viv (formerly Lvov, Lemberg) for the Urban Jewish Heritage and History in East Central Europe, Lviv (Ukraine), October 29-31, 2008, will have a hard time finding the old Jewish Cemetery of that legendary city of Jewish life and culture. That's because the famous Krakovsky Cemetery (probably founded no later than the 15th century) has been hidden under an expanding marketplace (known as the Krakivsky Market) since early 1990s (I took these photos in 2006).

Click here for photos of the market see

The cemetery was devastated during the German occupation of then-Polish Lvov during the Second World War when the Jewish population of the city was killed, and the thousands of gravestones of the cemetery were removed, presumably for building and paving materials. After the war, when Lvov (now Ukrainian L'viv) became part of Soviet Ukraine, the cemetery area was used as an open marketplace. After the fall of Communism and independence of Ukraine in 1991, free-market and black-market commercialism increased on the cemetery site. Very quickly what had been an open space for casual display of fruits, vegetables, and flea market items became a bustling market area of movable stalls, booths and semi-permanent structures.

The small Jewish community of L'viv protested, and asked for the cemetery to be returned to the community, and respected as a burial ground. In 1995 the city cited costs for moving the market at between $1 million and $2 million US dollars. Continued negotiations led to the recognition of the historic character of the site, and the signing of a protocol in 1996 stating the intent that the market should be moved and the cemetery restored in some way, to reflect its religious and historic significance. Several important political figures in the US and Ukraine (including now-New York Senator Charles Schumer) weighed in on the issue, calling for the restoration of the cemetery.

In 1997 US AID prepared a detailed review of the situation, reporting local estimates for the cost of removal of the market to another location, creation of the new market, and some form of restoration of the cemetery at between $4 and 12 million. Part of this was economic realism, but part was probably an attempt at political extortion. The municipality could say they wanted to do the right thing, but could not afford it.

In any case, no agency – private or public - was willing to put up that kind of money. And after a few years without moving, the market began to expand. What was once temporary has taken on a more and more permanent appearance. Part of that has been due to the erection of more and more market buildings, many of which have required some disturbance of the below-ground burials to allow their construction.

Now, a number of circumstances have people looking at the situation again. Some successfully negotiated projects removing structures from cemeteries in Poland have encouraged cemetery preservation groups. Renewed disputes about built-over cemeteries in Thessaloniki (Greece) and Vilnius (Lithuania) have brought the situation in L'viv back in mind to diplomats still pressing for property restitution laws and settlements (there is a big conference on this in Prague in June 2009). There is talk of a new international committee being formed to press to the issue, which some rabbinic leaders and governmental officials have been studying.

For now, the bustling market is more successful than ever, and more an essential, and seemingly traditional, part of L'viv's urban life. There are absolutely no indications anyway - signs, symbols, memorial – about the history of this site and guide books and on-line tourist sites rarely mention anything more than the colorful produce and handcrafts for sale.

Readers who have information or questions about the cemetery are encouraged to contact ISJM.

Ukraine: New Developments in Jewish Quarter in L'viv
By Samuel D. Gruber
ISJM, July 3, 2008
It is period of uncertainty for the future of the Jewish quarter of L'viv, Ukraine, as properties in and around the historic district become available for new development, including lots  adjacent to the site of the 16th century Golden Rose Synagogue.  So, last week in L'viv, protagonists involved in the planning and development of the future of the city's historic Jewish neighborhood (part of the larger historic center which is a UNESCO designated World Heritage Site) gathered together for a "roundtable" discussion sponsored by The Center for Urban History of East Central Europe.  Part of the regular Kolo Lvova series, last month's topic was "Around Staroevreiska Street: At the Heart of Lviv's Jewish Heritage," and drew about 20 people, most of whom are in some way stakeholders in the future of the area.  This discussion was seen as an important step forward for a area with a contested history, and where there has been a lack of clear process in planning efforts.

Later this fall (October 29-31) The Center for Urban History will also host an exhibition about historic Jewish L'viv (also known as Polish Lvov and Austrian Lemberg) and an international conference "Urban Jewish Heritage and History in East Central Europe."

Participants in last week's discussion included a representative of the city administration; Jewish activist Meylakh Shekhet, who heads the "Yevreiske Vidrodzhennia" (Jewish Revival & Rekindling the Jewish Flame), a Jewish cultural organization housed in premises adjacent to the historic Golden Rose (or TaZ) Synagogue; and Yuri Lukomski, the local archaeologist now at work excavating lots in the area. There were also several writers, artists, and museum experts present.

Importantly, the meeting also drew the local developer who recently purchased a property north of the former synagogue with the intent of constructing a hotel. That project and its impact on the archaeological record and on the overall appearance of the neighborhood has been the cause of great concern.  It is hoped that public interest – locally and internationally – in the fate of the district will convince the developer to cooperate with local historians, archaeologists and preservationists to create a project appropriate for the location.

The Center for Urban History provides a "neutral" space in L'viv where complex and often conflicting attitudes towards the city and its history can be explored.  While there was no specific goal for the discussion, and no specific results came of it, the organizers and participants believe it is an important stage in developing a consistent and open process. Tarik Amar, Academic Director of the Center, reports that there are plans to form a group of those interested in Jewish heritage to continue these discussions.

I will be reporting more about Jewish L'viv in upcoming posts.

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