Posted by Eric A. Johnson, Public Affairs Officer
During the last days of Elul, Ambassador Pyatt paid his respects to the hundreds of thousands of Jews who were brutally murdered by the Nazis in and around Lviv. Ambassador Pyatt left behind his first visitation stone at the monument honoring those Jews who died in the Lviv Ghetto. Although Lviv was already the third largest Jewish city in the region in 1939, its Jewish population doubled to more than 200,000 by the time the Nazis occupied the city in June 1941. Over that summer, the Nazis forcibly moved all of the Jews in Lviv to the northern end of the city beyond the train tracks. While the systematic killings of Jews began in the ghetto, the Nazi regime also started shipping Jews in cattle cars to the nearby Belzec Extermination Camp where as many as half a million Jews were mercilessly slaughtered.
Many of the Jews who were deemed “fit for work” ended up being moved from the Lviv Ghetto to the even closer Janowska Concentration Camp on the outskirts of Lviv. An estimated 200,000 Jews were worked to death or executed at Janowska over the next two years. Many of the Holocaust-related items on display in Kyiv’s World War II Museum today – including a horrifying bone-crushing machine – come from the Janowska Concentration Camp. Ambassador Pyatt left behind a second visitation stone in memory of those who died at Janowska at the huge boulder which marks one of the sites where the concentration camp’s victims were buried.
Home to almost 50 synagogues before World War II, the Nazis destroyed all but two during their occupation of Lviv. During his visit to Lviv’s old Jewish neighborhood centered along Staroevreyska Street, Ambassador Pyatt visited the sites of the former Great City Synagogue as well as the Golden Rose (Turei Zahav) Synagogue. Several years ago, the U.S. Embassy in Kyiv – through the U.S. Ambassador’s Fund for Cultural Preservation – gave a grant to help document the history of the Golden Rose Synagogue in order to help honor Lviv’s Jewish past. Ambassador Pyatt also visited Lviv’s only functioning synagogue – the beautifully-restored 1925 Beis Aharon V’Yrisrael Synagogue (known as the Tori Gilead Synagogue before the war), where he met with Rabbi Bald – the Chief Rabbi of Lviv and Western Ukraine – to discuss those issues important to Lviv’s present-day Jewish community.
Looking forward to the future, Ambassador Pyatt completed his visit of Jewish Lviv by visiting the building where Sholem Aleichem once lived. Born near Pereyaslav, Sholem Aleichem (born Sholem Rabinovich) died in New York City making him one of the many points of connection which continue to bind the U.S. and Ukraine together to this day. In October 2013, the U.S. Embassy will bring Joe Dorman – director of the wonderful documentary film Sholem Aleichem: Laughing in the Darkness (2011) – to Ukraine in order to present his film in both Kyiv and Lviv. This event will mark one more way in which the U.S. Embassy will help pay tribute to Lviv’s rich Jewish past.