Zolochiv, a town located 60 kilometers east of Lviv, was at one time a thriving Polish-Jewish-Ukrainian town. Then, in just three years, its Jewish population perished in the Holocaust.
The Jewish presence in Zolochiv dates back to 1565. For centuries, Zolochiv was home to numerous artisans, tradesmen and notable rabbis.They lived throughout the city and were instrumental in its political, economic, and social development.
With the outbreak of the second world war, large numbers of Jewish refugees fled from western Poland to Zolochiv. By then the town was occupied by the soviets, who deported many of the refugees to the interior of the USSR and conscripted young men into the Red Army. At that time an estimated ten thousand Jews and another ten thousand Poles and Ukrainians lived in Zolochiv.
Before the Soviets retreated in 1941, the NKVD, Stalin’s secret police, murdered several hundred civilians and buried the bodies in four mass graves. Many were Ukrainian nationalists, along with some Jews and Poles. After the Nazis occupied Zolochiv, they blamed Jews for the murders and a pogrom ensued.
In just three days more than three thousand people were killed, 2,000 of them in front of the Zolochiv Castle, the site of the NKVD’s earlier mass murder.
In December 1942 the Nazis established a ghetto, housing roughly 7–9,000 Jews. By April of 1943 most of its inhabitants had all been taken outside the city, shot, and buried in mass graves — many of them still alive.
In August, twenty seven hundred Jews were herded into cattle cars and sent to the Belzec death camp. In a second mass expulsion in November twenty five hundred more died.
Many Jews went into in hiding, but were hunted down and killed. On July 18, 1944 the Red Army liberated Zolochiv. By the end of the war, there were no more than 200 Jews left. Most fled immediately.
In a New York Times article published in 2006, a Holocaust survivor who was a small child, recalled that horrific time.
“We survived through the unimaginably courageous acts of good people. Millions around us were passive; hundreds of thousands collaborated. But thousands of Ukrainians helped Jews survive.
Among those were Metropolitan Andrei Sheptyts’kyi, of the Greek Catholic church, his brother Klementi, and the good teacher Mikola Dyuk who hid us in the unlit attic and then a storeroom of his village schoolhouse for 15 months.
The writer took his family to Zolochiv, to remember … to put the horrors of the past behind them … and to commemorate the Jewish life that once thrived in Zolochiv.
The Hasidic cemetery in Zolochiv was created in the second half of the 16th century. The last known Jewish burial was in June 1941. During the second world war the cemetery was vandalized, and the Stone Synagogue, built in 1724, was destroyed.
Today the local municipality now owns the property. There are no visible tombstones, and no mass graves. The borders of the cemetery have shrunk considerably, as some of the land was appropriated for commercial and industrial use.
In 1995, Jewish community groups from across Ukraine and the diaspora fixed the walls and gates. Now, occasionally organized individual tours and Jewish private visitors stop by.
On July 23, 2006 Jewish and Ukrainian community leaders dedicated memorials to the 14,000 Jews of Zolochiv who perished during the Holocaust. These include a monument in the Zolochiv cemetery and a plaque on Zolochiv castle. A memorial plaque commemorating those killed by the NKVD prior to the Nazi invasion was also unveiled.
Despite the horror of its recent history, Zolochiv is a beautiful town. Please come visit, remember, and celebrate the memory of what once was, and what we hope will once again be in the future.
—Narrated by Renata Hanynets, Lviv