Holocaust Education & Archive Research Team
Introduction to the Ghettos of the Holocaust
Lvov was the third largest Jewish community in pre-war Poland. Prior to 1939 nearly 110,000 Jews lived in the town. Germany invaded Poland on 1 September 1939.
On 17 September 1939 the Soviets invaded Poland too. The Soviet invasion was a result of the Hitler - Stalin Pact. Lvov capitulated to the Soviet army and remained under Soviet occupation until 30 June 1941. During this time the number of Jewish residents in Lwow increased to 160,000. Around 100,000 Jews living in German occupied Poland fled to Lvov and its environs.
Under the Soviet occupation, Jews officially had equal status with other nationalities. Some collaborated with the Soviet authorities, others were persecuted. In April 1940 hundreds of Lvov Jews and refugees were deported to Siberia when they refused to take up Soviet citizenship. Jewish political activists were arrested.
German forces occupied Lvov on 30 June 1941, following the German invasion of the Soviet Union on 22 June. The Ukrainian population celebrated the German occupation, by installing banners and garlands.
Lvov was renamed Lemberg and Dr. Otto Wächter became District Governor, and SS- Oberfuhrer Oberg, was the first SSPF, followed by Katzmann and Diehm.
Immediately after this occupation Polish and Ukrainian anti-Semites (of whom the Ukrainians formed the majority) organized a pogrom in Lvov, together with members of the Einsatzgruppe C.
Ukrainian nationalists informed the population of the town that these mass executions were retribution for the mass executions carried out in Lvov's prisons by the NKVD (People's Commissariat of Internal Affairs) during the last days of Soviet occupation.
The Ukrainians accused the Jews of helping the NKVD with the arrest and execution of "Ukrainian patriots". In truth, the majority of those killed were Polish nationalists and intellectuals, although there were also Ukrainians and Jews among the victims. During the four week pogrom nearly 4,000 Jews were killed in Lvov.
In the same month the Judenrat was established. Its first chairman was the lawyer Josef Parnes. He was executed by the Gestapo in November 1941 for his refusal to turn over Jews for forced labour. His successor was Henryk Landsberg.
On 25 July 1941 Ukrainian nationalists organized the next pogrom in Lvov - the so called "Petlura Days" (named after Semen Petlura, hetman of Ukraine at the end of WW1), who organized anti-Jewish pogroms in this country. After WW1 he was killed by a Jew in France, during the "Petlura Days" nearly 2,000 Jews were killed in Lvov.
On 2 October 1941 the first 500 Jewish men were recruited as forced labour for the German Armament Works (Deutsche Ausrüstungswerke - DAW Lemberg) in Lvov. They were employed constructing a work camp on Janowska Street.
On 8 November 1941, the German civilian administration issued the order to establish a ghetto in Lvov. All Jews were forced to move into the ghetto before 15 December 1941. The German police organized selections on Peltewna Street during this time. Nearly 5,000 elderly and sick Jews were selected and shot. This "action" was called "Action under the bridge". At this time there were between 110,000 and 120,000 Jews in the ghetto.
The first deportation of Jews from the Lvov Ghetto to the Belzec death camp was organized between 16 March and 1 April 1942. Prior to deportation the forced labourers were registered in the ghetto. Around 15,000 Lvov Jews were deported at this time to Belzec. Most were elderly and religious people, and women with children. They were assembled in the courtyard of the Sobieski School and after selection they were taken to Kleparow railway station, near the Janowska camp, from where the deportation trains departed for Belzec.
Officially this action was called "action against antisocial elements". Together with the deportations from the Lublin ghetto, which were carried out at the same time, this transport from the Lvov Ghetto was the first one during Aktion Reinhard.
After this deportation around 86,000 Jews officially remained in the ghetto. There were also a large number of "illegal" Jews in the ghetto. Workshops were set up. Large numbers of Jews worked for the Wehrmacht, Luftwaffe and the German civil administration outside the ghetto.
Between 10 and 31 August 1942 the "Great Action" was carried out. Prior to this action hundreds of forced labourers were taken to Janowska and to the small work camp on Czwartakow Street. During the "Great Action" between 40,000 and 50,000 Jews were deported to Belzec. The assembly points for the deportations were on Teodor Square, at Sobieski School and on the square in front of the Janowska camp.
Nearly 1,600 men were selected for forced labour and they were concentrated at the camp on Janowska Street. Other people were deported daily from Kleparow railway station to Belzec.
About 1,000 people were shot in the ghetto, among them the children from the orphanage and patients from the Jewish hospitals. The round-ups in the ghetto were organized by the SS, Ukrainian and Jewish police. On 1 September 1942, following the last deportations, the Gestapo publicly hanged Henryk Landsberg, chairman of Lvov’s Judenrat, and Jewish policemen. They were no longer needed after the "Great Action".
At the beginning of September 1942 there were still around 65,000 Jews in the ghetto, among them around 15,000 "illegals". Some Jews hid in the sewers of Lvov and with help from local Poles survived until liberation.
Of special note is the heroic efforts of Leopold Socha, who helped save the Chiger and Margulies families, and others who hid the sewers from July 1943, until Lvov was liberated. Leopold Socha carried on looking after the families bringing them food, and he led them to safety, when the Soviets occupied the city, he died in 1946 in a road accident.
The heavily guarded ghetto was surrounded by barbed wire. The living conditions were extremely primitive with lack of water and medical aid and overcrowded accommodation. In late autumn 1942 a typhus epidemic spread throughout the ghetto. At the beginning of November all Jews were "barracked", according to profession. Only people with work cards could stay officially in the ghetto.
On 18 November 1942 the SS carried out a selection. Around 5,000 "unproductive" Jews were arrested and deported to Belzec. The Jewish hospital was liquidated and its head, Dr Kurzrock, was sent to the Janowska camp.
Between 5 and 7 January 1943 the next "action" was carried out. 15,000-20,000 Jews, including the last members of the Judenrat, were taken to the "Sands" where they were executed. The Germans proclaimed, that only Jews with a work permit could remain within the ghetto which was then reclassified as a forced labour camp. The Judenrat was dissolved. During this "action" the SS set fire to houses with the purpose of flushing Jews out of hiding. Many Jews were burnt to death.
The work camp within the former ghetto only existed until 1 June 1943. There were still "illegal" Jews remaining after the selections. During the final liquidation of the labour camp within the ghetto the Jews organized an armed resistance, killing and wounding several policemen. In addition to the SS, German and Ukrainian police units of the Hitlerjugend participated in the liquidation of the ghetto.
The SS and police blew up the ghetto buildings and set them on fire when they met resistance. They did the same to bunkers where large numbers of Jews hid.
Around 7,000 Jews were taken to Janowska camp and after selection most were shot on the "Sands". Probably some of the group were deported to Sobibor. 3,000 Jews were killed in the ghetto during its liquidation.
The last of Lvov’s Jews were gathered at Janowska, where they were executed on 18 November 1943, during the Aktion Erntefest. When on 26 July 1944 the Soviet Army entered Lvov, only 200-300 Jews had survived in hiding in the town and its environs.
One of Lvov’s most famous residents was Simon Wiesenthal who, with his wife Cyla, was moved from the ghetto to Janowska. Towards the middle of 1942, Wiesenthal and his wife were assigned to forced labour at the Eastern Railway Repair Shops.
Simon Wiesenthal's mother, aged 63, was deported in August 1942 to Belzec, and his wife's mother was shortly thereafter shot by a Ukrainian police auxiliary on the steps of her house in the ghetto.
Simon Wiesenthal survived the horror of Janowska and imprisonment in Groß-Rosen, Buchenwald, and Mauthausen. After liberation Simon Wiesenthal dedicated his life to bringing Nazis guilty of war crimes to justice.
He played a leading part in the arrest and trial of Franz Paul Stangl, commandant of Treblinka, as well as bringing to justice other Aktion Reinhard leaders like Hermann Höfle and Ernst Lerch.
Encyclopedia of The Holocaust – published by Macmillan Publishing Company New York 1990
The Destruction of the European Jews by Raul Hilberg, published by Holmes and Meier 1985.
Eksterminacja ludnosci zydowskiej w dystrykcie Galicja (1941-1943) by Tatiana Berenstein.
"Bulletin of the Jewish Historical Insitute in Warsaw", 1967.
Malopolska Wschodnia pod rzadami Trzeciej Rzeszy (Eastern Malopolska Under the Rule of the Third Reich). By Wlodzimierz Bonusiak - Rzeszow 1990.
Lvov Ghetto Diary. By David Kahane, published by Amherst 1990.
Deportacja ludnosci zydowskiej z Dystryktu Galicja do obozu zaglady w Belzcu. (The Deportation of the Jewish Population from Galicia District to the Death Camp in Belzec): by Aleksander Kruglov - "Bulletin of the Jewish Historical Institute in Warsaw", No. 3 (1989).
"Endlösung" in Galizien. Der Judenmord in Ostpolen und die Rettungsinitiative von Berthold Beitz 1941-1944. by Thomas Sandkuhler - Bonn 1996.
Justice not Vengeance. by Simon Wiesenthal, published by Weidenfeld and Nicolson London 1989.
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