Ukrainian Jewish Heritage: Lviv Cemetary

Many distinguished figures have been laid to rest in Lviv’s Jewish cemetery.  Among them are Izaak and Róża Nachmanowicz, the founders of the Golden Rose Synagogue in Lviv.

The first mention of the old Jewish cemetery in municipal records dates back to May 27, 1414. The cemetery was established on lands that were bestowed upon the city by a royal privilege from King Władysław Jagiello.

For the next several centuries, the cemetery was shared by several Jewish communities … those of the outer districts, founded in the medieval Ruthenian principality, and by Lviv’s Jewish community, which originated during the construction of the new city center by Polish King Kazimierz III.

On August 22, 1855, the cemetery was officially closed. According to archival data, many Jews found their final resting place there that year after a cholera epidemic.

Once closed, the cemetery began to fall into decline. However, for a brief time in the 20th century, the Jewish cemetery regained its the status of a landmark.

In the 1920s the Lviv Rabbi Dr. Levi Freund together with architect Józef Awin established a Curatorship for the protection of Jewish Memorials within the Jewish community. In 1928 and 1931 the Curatorship organized renovation works on the old Jewish cemetery. After cleaning and restoration, 532 tombstones on concrete foundations were put in place in the cemetery.

The revitalization project was short lived. During the Holocaust, the cemetery was destroyed again. What the Nazis left unfinished, the Soviets completed.

In 1947, a food market, known as the Krakivskyi Market, was established on the site. The tombstones of the old Jewish cemetery were used for construction of the market walls. As well, surrounding streets were paved with Jewish tombstones, as was the courtyard of the prison in former Lonskiego St.

Today, there is little to identify what for countless generations had been a hallowed, sacred site for the local Jewish community. Quite simply, Lviv’s old Jewish cemetery, one of the oldest of its kind in Europe, no longer exists.

In its five centuries of history, twenty-five to thirty thousand people were interred in this cemetery, on a territory of around three hectares. It is our hope that the desecration of their final resting place will one day stop.

Our organization is doing what it can to ensure that it does. We fervently hope that at least a notable monument will one day stand in honour of their memory, and in acknowledgement of a centuries-old historical treasure that has been lost forever.

This is Renata Hanynets, at the Faina Petryakova Scientific Centre in Lviv, Ukraine. Until next time, Shalom.

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