Ukrainian city remembers Jews on Holocaust anniversary

LVIV, Ukraine (AP) — The Ukrainian city of Lviv, once a major center of Jewish life in Eastern Europe, is commemorating the 75th anniversary of the annihilation of the city’s Jewish population by Nazi Germany and honoring those working today to preserve what they can of that vanished world.

City authorities presented the honored recipients Sunday with 75 glass keys — replicas of a metal key that once belonged to a Jewish synagogue and an American artist found at a street market in Lviv. The anniversary events, which included a concert performance at the ruins of former synagogues, come amid other attempts to revive suppressed memories of the Jews who once were an integral part of the region.

“God forbid our city once suffered such a misfortune,” Lviv Mayor Andriy Sadovyi said at the ceremony. “Today we cannot even imagine for a moment the pain, humiliation and grief that thousands of Lviv’s people suffered in the last century.”

Iryna Matsevko, deputy director of the Center for Urban History of East Central Europe and an organizer of the anniversary events in Lviv, said it was the first time the western Ukrainian city has acknowledged the historical preservation efforts in such an extensive way.

Consciousness is growing in Ukrainian society of the need to remember the Jews who were annihilated by Nazi forces, with the participation of local people in some cases, during the German occupation of Eastern Europe, Matsevko said.

Initiatives have included introducing Jewish history courses at universities, new research by young Ukrainian scholars and grassroots efforts by volunteers, such as the ones that recovered Jewish gravestones that were used to pave roads and returned them to cemeteries.

“This is part of the process of reviving the memory of the Jewish heritage. Of course, this process is slow. I want it to be quicker, but for the last 10 years we have seen how the Jewish heritage is returning to people’s consciousness and a lot of activities are taking place,” Matsevko said. “It is very important that people are being acknowledged for their work in Jewish heritage.”

Before World War II, Lviv and the surrounding area belonged to Poland. Then called Lwow, it was the third largest Jewish community in prewar Poland after Warsaw and Lodz, with most working as merchants, manufacturers or artisans. Before World War I, Lviv and the surrounding area were part of the eastern Galicia region of the Austro-Hungarian empire and the city was called by its German name, Lemberg.