L'viv, eighteenth century.

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(Yid., Lemberg; Ger., Lemberg; Pol., Lwów; Rus., Lvov; Latin, Leopolis), city in contemporary western Ukraine, about 65 km (40 miles) from the border with Poland. Jews lived in the city from the time of its establishment in the mid-thirteenth century; some, mostly merchants, were Sephardic residents who later mingled with Askenazic immigrants. In the mid-fourteenth century, after its conquest by King Casimir III, the town permitted Jews to establish a quarter of their own within the walls of a new section built by the king. Two communities thus coexisted: the original and the center within the new walls—known as the Vorstadt (suburban) community.

The Premodern Period

Lvov was situated on the medieval east–west trade route, and Jews played an important role in commerce, finance, and crafts. In the mid-fifteenth century, Jews were granted the right to sell wine, a business that remained in their hands for many years. In 1550, there were 352 Jewish residents within the city and 559 in the suburb. The community also included Karaites, who built a synagogue for themselves in 1582.

Two men and a girl in a marketplace, L’viv, ca. 1930. The poster on the wall behind the girl advertises the Yiddish newspaper Togblat (Daily Paper). (YIVO)

During the reign of Stefan Batory (1576–1586), Jewish community leader Yitsḥak ben Naḥman built a synagogue known as Ture Zahav (Golden Columns; it was also called Di Goldene Roize in Yiddish, after the name of the builder’s wife), which ultimately was opened in 1609 after a long property dispute with the Jesuits. In this period, Lvov was the leading community on the Ruthenian Jewish regional council and sent representatives to the Council of Four Lands. Jewish–Christian relations were marked by great tension over economic affairs as Jews attempted to break the Christian monopoly on the local market. In the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, Jews were also active in international trade, particularly in wines, with Walachia and Hungary.

In 1648, there were approximately 4,800 Jews in the city, representing about 25 percent of the population. During the Khmel’nyts’kyi uprising, the Jews of Lvov were heavily hit by the effects of war, plague, and famine; in 1664, Jews suffered a major pogrom. Two prominent rabbis who served in the city in the seventeenth century were David ben Shemu’el ha-Levi (Taz), author of Ture zahav, a commentary on the Shulḥan ‘arukh, and Ya‘akov Yehoshu‘a Falk (1680–1756), the author of Pene Yehoshu‘a.

Though in the latter part of the seventeenth century Jews succeeded in breaking the burghers’ monopoly on the local market, especially in the sale of foodstuffs, wine, cattle, and leather goods, the city’s general economic decline affected the Jewish population. During the eighteenth century, its standing as the leading Ruthenian community eroded following the rise of Jewish communities in the wealthy private towns of Żółkiew and Brody.

Torah mantle. L’viv, 1779. Scarlet silk velvet (front), scarlet and yellow silk velvet (back and borders); silk fringe; metallic thread ribbons; cut-out sheet silver letters. The silver letters spell out a Hebrew inscription: “May the Lord remember the soul of ‘Azri’el son of Yosef for his sons’ vow to dedicate this mantle to the Holy Benevolent Burial Society in his memory, the year [5]539 [1779].” (Museum of Ethnography and Crafts, L’viv)

Tensions between Jews and Christians remained high in the 1700s: in 1728, the Reizes brothers were victims of a blood libel accusation; and in 1759, a public debate between the Jewish community and the followers of Jakub Frank was staged in the city’s cathedral. Intense Jewish preparation and political maneuvering in Lvov and Warsaw ensured that no harful consequences resulted.

The Austrian Period

In 1772, with the first partition of Poland, Lemberg came under Austrian rule and served as the administrative center of Galicia. Jewish life was regulated by the Judenordnung of Maria Theresa (1776), and then by the Toleranzpatent of Joseph II (1789). In place of traditional communal government, the Jewish community—now known as the Kultusgemeinde—was governed by a seven-member council. In 1792, a total of 11,765 Jews lived in the city; in 1800 there were 13,302. After the death of Joseph II in 1790, Jews were subjected to renewed restrictions on trade and the purchase of property.

In 1782, the first Jewish German school for boys was established, and by 1790 there were four boys’ and one girls’ school. Pioneers of the Haskalah in the city included Herz Homberg (the school inspector) and the schools’ teachers. In the ensuing decades, the numbers of maskilim grew and included Yehudah Leib Mieses, Binyamin Tsevi Notkis, Yitsḥak Erter, and Shelomoh Yehudah Rapoport. The Hasidic movement reached Lemberg in the late eighteenth century, with Rabbi Tsevi Hirsh Rosanes banning Hasidic sheḥitah (ritual slaughter of animals for kosher meat) in 1792.

In the first decades of the nineteenth century, maskilim tried to prevent the spread of Hasidism in the city, issuing constant reports and complaints to the authorities. This struggle continued in 1816, when a ban was issued anonymously against some of the maskilim. They, in turn, accused Rabbi Ya‘akov Meshulam Orenstein of authorizing the ban, illegal under Austrian law. After intervention by the authorities, Orenstein annulled it. In the first half of the nineteenth century, there were two Jewish publishers in Lemberg, which was a center for both Hasidic and maskilic books. During the 1820s and 1830s, the number of Hasidic minyans increased, and in the 1840s a synagogue was established that later became a stronghold of Belz Hasidim.

According to the occupational census of 1820, there were 17,931 Jews in Lemberg, representing 38 percent of the total population. About half were engaged in commerce, and included proprietors of restaurants, coffee houses, and inns; Jews were also owners of distilleries and breweries. The transit trade between Vienna and Russia was concentrated in the hands of Jews, who were frequent participants in the fairs of Brody and Leipzig, and who provided fashionable merchandise to the Polish nobility. A further 25 percent of the Jewish population worked in crafts, though in reality most Jews lived in poverty. Between 1839 and 1870, there were 15 Jewish physicians in Lemberg, including Jacob Rappaport, as well as a growing number of lawyers.

Remains of a Yiddish sign on a building in L'viv's city center: “Entire brushes, items needed for brushmaking, bought and sold.” Photographs by Piotr Piluk, 2004. (© Piotr Piluk)

By 1840, a well-established professional intelligentsia thrived in the city, and its members initiated the establishment of a progressive synagogue, the Tempel. In 1844, a contract was signed with Abraham Kohn of Hohenems to serve as preacher and religion teacher. Later he was appointed district rabbi with responsibility for the civil registration of Jews. Kohn established a school for boys and girls and within a few years it had almost 1,000 pupils. His successes led to tension between the Orthodox and the Progressives; following a series of violent attacks, Jewish zealots poisoned him during the height of the 1848 revolution.

The lifting of the residential and commercial restrictions that followed the 1848 revolution soon proved temporary. Aside from the cancellation of the tax on meat and candles in Galicia and the granting of voting rights for municipal elections, other prohibitions on Jewish life within the city were renewed. Not until 1860 did a gradual easing of the restrictions begin; they were finally removed in 1868 after the Austrian constitution of 1867 emancipated the Jews.

After 1867, Poles were granted home rule in Galicia, and Lemberg gradually took on a Polish character. The city itself developed economically, and the situation of Jews was better than in other cities, though poverty spread among the masses. The railroad encouraged migration to the city; however, many of the poorest Jews migrated west. In 1869, there were 26,694 Jews in Lemberg; in 1880 there were 31,000; and in 1900 the population reached 44,258. The number of Jewish students at the university also grew: in 1881–1886, there were 251 registered Jewish students, and in 1901–1906 the total reached 561. There was also continued growth in the number of Jewish lawyers and physicians.

Historians were prominent among Lemberg’s Jewish intellectuals. These included Ḥayim Natan Dembitzer; Salomon Buber; Yeḥezkel Caro, author of the first book on the history of the community of Lwów; and Majer Bałaban, the first professional historian of Polish Jewry. Following emancipation, political associations were organized, including the liberal Shomer Yisra’el Society, the Orthodox Makhzikey ha-Das Society, and the pro-Polish Agudas Akhim Society. These organizations set the scene for the development of more sophisticated means of political propaganda, including newspapers, pamphlets, posters, and mass rallies. In the 1890s, the Zionist movement, led by Adolf Stand (1870–1919), editor of Przysztość and Rocznik Żydowski, also entered the picture, as did the socialist movement. An increase in antisemitism in those years influenced the economic situation for Jews, and various organizations, including the Viennese Allianz, came to their aid. Free-loan societies and savings funds were established, along with home industries and vocational schools.

World War I

Sign for the prewar Jewish firm of Hirsch & Ebert, L'viv. Photograph by Piotr Piluk, 2004. (© Piotr Piluk)

In the summer of 1914, the Russian army conquered the city. Some 16,000 Jews fled, and the remaining population included significant numbers of refugees from elsewhere. Russian soldiers attacked Jews and plundered stores, and Jews were also summarily executed on trumped-up charges. In May 1915, the Russians withdrew and the Austrians returned. After the liberation, a committee for Jewish assistance was organized, and the community gradually began to function again. At the same time, Ukrainian–Polish tensions in the region intensified. From the late nineteenth century, Jews sided generally with the Poles, though Jews formed brief political alliances with Rusyns (Ruthenians) in 1873 and 1907. With nationalism on the rise, Jews were in a precarious, increasingly difficult situation as a minority poised between Poles and Rusyns. As a result, Jews declared neutrality when Poles and Ukrainians fought over the city in 1918.

Independent Poland

In November 1918, after the Poles concluded the conquest of the city, pogroms were perpetrated in Jewish neighborhoods, and Jews were punished for purportedly backing a Ukrainian position. Almost 100 Jews lost their lives. In that year Galicia became part of a reestablished, independent Poland, and Lwów was transformed into one of the most important Jewish centers in the country. By 1939, Jews constituted 33 percent of the urban population.

Leon Reich (right) with J. Tennenblatt, Alexander Hausmann, and Michael Ringel, photographed while being held hostage by a Polish military patrol (uniformed men, standing, first and second from left), Przemyśl, 1918. These four Zionist leaders from Lwów were taken hostage in order to guarantee the “good conduct” of Jews in Lwów following a pogrom in which Polish troops killed 73 Jews suspected of collaborating with Ukrainian forces trying to take control of the city from the Poles. (YIVO)

During this period, three Jewish high schools and—in 1920—an institute for higher Jewish education were founded. There was also a modern Orthodox school, a vocational school, and more traditional Orthodox schools for boys and for girls, as well as many heders and synagogues, including Hasidic prayer houses. The community had a lively cultural life, including its own theater and regular cantorial concerts. Many Jewish newspapers were published in the city, including the daily Togblat (Yiddish) and Chwila (Polish). Among the prominent figures during this period were the Zionist Sejm members Leon Reich and Henrik Rosmarin, the law scholar Maurycy Allerhand, and the German philologist Hermann Sternbach.

Jewish political activity was influenced by the community’s Austro-Hungarian legacy. The community council was composed of a coalition of the Orthodox and the progressives, with the Zionists usually in the role of opposition. In national politics, Jews of Lwów, including the Orthodox, generally took a moderate line toward the regime.

World War II

In September 1939, L’viv became part of Soviet Ukraine, and in 1941 the Germans conquered it. There were then about 150,000 Jews in the city, including many refugees from western Poland. Ukrainians, hoping for independence, welcomed the German occupation and took part in attacks and killing sprees, murdering some 2,000 Jews.

In August 1941, eastern Galicia was attached to the central government in Poland, and all restrictions then in force were applied to it. Labor camps were established in the city and its vicinity, and many Jews died or were murdered. In 1942, the city’s ghetto was established, and Aktions and deportations to the death camp in Bełżec and the forced labor camp of Janowska (itself also a death camp) began.

According to the diary of a synagogue rabbi, David Kahane, the Greek Catholic Archibishop of L’viv, Andrei Sheptyts’kyi, saved as many as 150 Jews by hiding them in his living quarters. Sheptyts’kyi also urged Heinrich Himmler not to include Ukrainian militia and police in the Aktions against Jews. Sheptyts’kyi, an avid Ukrainian nationalist, was viewed with suspicion by some Jews.

In July 1944, the Russian army liberated L’viv. According to the statistics of the Jewish committee that organized after the war, 2,571 Jews remained, many of whom chose Polish citizenship and left the city. Their repatriation to Poland continued until the end of 1945, and the city was almost entirely emptied of its Jewish inhabitants. After a stay in displaced persons camps, many refugees reached Israel and the United States.

Soviet and Post-Soviet Period

During the Soviet period, there were approximately 28,000 Jews in L’viv, most of whom had been born in other parts of the country. In the 1960s, the city’s synagogue was forced to close and all public Jewish activity came to a halt. At the end of the 1990s, Jewish life in the city, now part of an independent Ukraine, began to organize again and the synagogue was reopened. Although many Jews left, a few thousand remain. Social and cultural activities are mostly sponsored by outside organizations.

Suggested Reading

Danuta Dombrovska, Abraham Wein, and Aharon Weiss, eds., “Levov/Lwów—Lemberg,” in Pinkas ha-kehilot: Polin, vol. 2, Galitsyah ha-mizraḥit, pp. 1–47 (Jerusalem, 1980); Ze’ev Fisher-Shein (Zohar), Be-Sod yesharim ve-‘edah (Bene Berak, Isr., 1969); Nathan Michael Gelber, ed., Entsikopedyah shel galuyot, vol. 4, Lvov (Jerusalem and Tel Aviv, 1956); Jerzy Holzer, “‘Vom Orient die Fantasie, und in der Brust der Slawen Feuer . . . ’: Jüdisches Leben und Akkulturation im Lemberg des 19. und 20. Jahrhunderts,” in Lemberg, Lwów, Lviv: Eine Stadt im Schnittpunkt europäischer Kulturen, ed. Peter Fässler, Thomas Held, and Dirk Sawitzki, pp. 75–91 (Cologne, 1993); Anna Veronika Wendland, “Post-Austrian Lemberg: War Commemoration, Interethnic Relations, and Urban Identity in L’viv, 1918–1939,” Austrian History Yearbook 34 (2003): 83–102.

YIVO Archival Resources

RG 104, Eyewitness Accounts of the Holocaust Period, Collection, 1939-1945; RG 1160, Lionel S. Reiss, Papers, 1920s; RG 116, Territorial Collection: Poland 2, , 1939-1945 (finding aid); RG 1853, Evgenii Lendon, Collection, 1890s-1930s, 1987-1991, 1994 (finding aid); RG 225, Hersch Wasser, Collection, 1939-1946; RG 888, Kolbuszowa Relief Association, Records, 1919-1967.



Translated from Hebrew by Jeffrey Green