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To See What Ukraine's Future May be, Just Look at Lviv's Shameful Past
A seemingly cosmopolitan city is a nationalist stronghold and monument to ethnic cleansing, as its barbaric wartime treatment of Jews illustrated
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I used to visit Lviv, the beautiful, cosmopolitan-looking city in western Ukraine with its attractive mix of Italian, Austrian and Slavic architecture. It is in a much fought-over part of Europe and battles swirled around it in both world wars, but its ancient churches and cobbled streets somehow escaped destruction.

Appearances are deceptive because, though the buildings in Lviv have survived, the same cannot be said for most of its inhabitants. In 1939, the majority of the people in Lviv were Poles and Jews, with Ukrainians making up less than one fifth of the population. But the Jews were murdered and the Poles forced by Stalin to resettle in eastern parts of Germany ceded to Poland. Only the Ukrainians remained.

I thought about Lviv again last week when I saw a sentence in a newspaper referring to it as “a bastion of Ukrainian nationalism”.

I wondered just how much the writer knew about Ukrainian nationalists in Lviv and the strong evidence that, in 1941, they had played a leading role in one of the horror stories of the Second World War.

This was the Lviv pogrom of 1 July 1941, when thousands of Jews were dragged from their homes, beaten and executed by either German troops or their Ukrainian helpers. Ukrainian politicians and historians have denied complicity, but surviving Jewish victims, other witnesses and contemporary photographs prove that Ukrainian militiamen and mobs of supporters carried out the pogrom, though the Germans oversaw it and committed many of the murders.

Of course, it does not follow that the present generation of Ukrainian nationalists are ideological descendants of pro-Nazi Ukrainians. But the Lviv pogrom and Ukraine’s grim history of sectarian and ethnic slaughter does explain why many in Ukraine fear an ultra-nationalist resurgence. A rabbi in Kiev, Moshe Reuven Azman, last month called on Jews to leave the city and possibly even the country. “I don’t want to tempt fate,” he told the Israeli daily Maariv, “but there are constant warnings concerning intentions to attack Jewish institutions.”

What really happened in Lviv in July 1941 has been meticulously researched – drawing on a wealth of eyewitness information – by Professor John-Paul Himka, a Canadian-Ukrainian historian at the University of Alberta. In a study entitled The Lviv Pogrom of 1941: The Germans, Ukrainian Nationalists and the Carnival Crowd he concludes that the murderous assault on the Jewish community in Lviv – swelled by Jews fleeing the advance of fascism and anti-Semitism in other parts of central Europe – was primarily carried out by the militia of the Organisation of Ukrainian Nationalists (OUN) acting under German auspices. It happened quickly after the German occupation because the OUN wanted to show “the Germans that it shared their anti-Jewish perspectives and that it was worthy to be entrusted with the formation of a Ukrainian state”.

Lviv lies dangerously close to the ethnic, religious and military fault lines of Europe. And, as with other cosmopolitan cities, past and present, such as Beirut, Smyrna, Alexandria and Damascus, it was an excitingly diverse but potentially risky place to live. At different times it has been ruled by Poland, Austria (under the Habsburgs), the Soviet Union, Nazi Germany and, finally, an independent Ukraine. It had been known at different times, depending on which country it belonged to, as Lwow, Lemberg, Lvov and Lviv.

Between 1918 and 1939, it was part of Poland until invaded by the Soviet Union under the Nazi-Soviet Pact. At this time, it had a population of 312,231, of whom 157,490 were Poles, 99,595 were Jews, and 49,747 were Ukrainians. The Jews were well represented among the professions providing most of the doctors, lawyers and businessmen as well as dominating such trades as tailoring and barber shops. In the territory around Lviv, Ukrainians made up at least two-thirds of the population.

The German army captured Lviv on 30 June 1941, the Soviet NKVD secret police massacred several thousand political prisoners in the jails when they realised that the Germans could not be stopped. The next day, the pogrom started with Jews being compelled to dig up the rotting bodies of the dead prisoners. Others were ritually humiliated by being forced to clean the streets with tooth brushes or remove horse manure by putting it in their hats. “Judging by the photographs, gentiles in Lviv found the cleaners amusing,” writes Professor Himka. “To some extent, the pogrom was a carnival.” Women were stripped naked and beaten and hundreds of Jews were forced to crawl for miles to the prisons.

Kurt Lewin, a survivor, left a detailed account of what happened to him in one prison and he described “savage beatings by both Germans and Ukrainians”, said Simka. “One Ukrainian particularly carved himself into Lewin’s memory. Elegantly dressed in a beautifully embroidered shirt, he beat the Jews with an ironclad cane. Strips of skin flew with every blow, sometimes an ear or an eye.” When his cane broke the man chose a heavier piece of wood with which to beat a man to death.

lEdward Spicer, 22 at the time, recalled being caught by a group of Ukrainians near his home and taken to a nearby railway station: “First they were beating us all the way, then they pushed us down the staircase, until we were piled up one on top of another five-six high.” Later, the Jews were made to lie on the ground and anybody who moved was killed with a rifle butt. Many were later taken away in trucks by the Germans to be shot. Professor Himka says the Ukrainians co-operating with the Germans and spearheading the pogrom were members of a militia formed the previous day who often had no uniform and were identifiable only by blue and yellow armbands, worn on the left arm. The Jews were later forced into a ghetto and by the time the Red Army recaptured Lviv in 1944 only 200 to 300 of those Jews were still alive.

The OUN militia did not confine itself to killing Jews. Later in the war, it murdered tens of thousands of Poles in western Ukraine. I was in Lviv in 2001 when Poland’s National Remembrance Institute was investigating the massacre of 35,000 Polish villagers in 1943.


I visited the Polish Consulate where an official named Wicenty Debicki did not directly answer my question about the investigation, but he gave a bit of personal biography. “I was born in Lviv,” he said. “I remember as a small boy having to hide from Ukrainian nationalist groups with my father, in 1944, because we were Poles.”

A Ukrainian woman translating Mr Debicki’s Polish interjected to ask in surprise: “But surely you were frightened of the Germans and Soviets as well?” After a long pause, he replied diplomatically that there was good reason to fear both.

Lviv presents itself as a beautiful city reflecting a culturally diverse past. In reality, it is a monument to ethnic cleansing and the appalling willingness of long-time neighbours to murder each other, as I saw earlier this year in Homs and Damascus – something those who want to heat up the conflict over Ukraine and Crimea’s future should keep in mind.

(Republished from The Independent by permission of author or representative)
• Category: Foreign Policy • Tags: Ukraine 
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  1. Chris says: • Website

    Not to disparage the treatment of the Jews by the Ukrainians but the Ukrainians’ treatment of the Poles in this region during the war and shortly after, as mentioned at the end of the article, was FAR, FAR worse than anything done to the Jews by Ukrainians.

    Google banderowcy and click on Images to see what Ukrainian UPA nationalists, Ukrainian police and Ukrainian SS did during and shortly after the war to cleanse Poles from what is now western Ukraine – some of the most savage acts of WWII.

    Don’t believe me? Do the search and look at the images, at least a couple of pages (a couple of the body pile pics are from the Ukrainian Holodomor). This is not just atrocity porn.

    Also, they came up with 135 torture methods, including how to manually dismember and butcher babies, listed below with images:

    My Ukrainian patriot friends claim it was the NKVD provocateurs – sure, maybe 1% or 2%

  2. Thomas says:

    ” it is a monument to ethnic cleansing and the appalling willingness of long-time neighbours to murder each other, as I saw earlier this year in Homs and Damascus – something those who want to heat up the conflict over Ukraine and Crimea’s future should keep in mind.”

    Keep in mind…???? It IS the reason that…. “those who want to heat up the conflict over Ukraine and Crimea’s future” want to “heat things up….. Wake-up….

    It’s divide and conquer in it’s purest form!!

    Check out Victoria Nuland giving cookies out to the demonstrators trying to depose the elected president… Victoria Nuland, wife of Robert Kagan, co=founder of the “Project for the New American Century” and co-author of “Rebuilding America’s Defenses” with it’s NEW PEARL HARBOR WISHLIST!!! These are the Neocons turning America into a WAR MACHINE,+Ukraine+cookies+demonstrator&tbm=isch&tbo=u&source=univ&sa=X&ei=zsMdU_bYJIvnkAedjYG4DQ&ved=0CDEQsAQ&biw=683&bih=317

  3. Anonymous • Disclaimer says:

    “The German army captured Lviv on 30 June 1941, the Soviet NKVD secret police massacred several thousand political prisoners in the jails when they realised that the Germans could not be stopped.”

    Why does this represent only one sentence, yet alleged reprisals against Jews merits quotes from several ‘eyewitnesses’ along with lurid details about how they were persecuted? I simply can’t believe you state this crime by the NKVD rather casually without any evaluation or significance yet this is precisely why reprisals were taken against the Jewish population.

    The fact that most of the interrogators and executioners involved in this atrocity were Jewish themselves and that the Stalin regime’s takeover of the region was warmly welcomed by the Jewish residents was not lost on the Polish and Ukrainians inhabitants. In addition, Soviet claims about ‘massacres’ or information about ‘massacres’ from old Soviet sources must be treated with extreme caution. Much like Katyn, these atrocities were more often than not actually committed by the NKVD and blamed on Polish and Ukrainian ‘nationalists’ in order to persecute, imprison and murder anyone opposed to Soviet rule.

    That people like you would still rehash these old propaganda lies in this day and age is shocking in the extreme.

  4. james says:

    i agree the jewish population was attacked by nazis in ukraine, but you have to do a little more history here, and to ask yourself why, and these goes back to the 11 million unkraines who died from starvation ” Holodomor ” by non other then the russia jew, like Felix Dzerzhinsky, who worked for the NKVD, ordered by Stalin, who himself was a jew on his mothers side, this is all on the internet. This is why many ukraines started to believe in the nazis.
    now you have george soros ( a jew ) and other jewish billionars supporting this in regime change in ukraine. Kinda make one wonder why the ukraines hate the jews

    but over all , this has nothing to do with religion, but this is for power and money and other things that goes much deeper. Please do some homework and you will see

  5. I agree with Stephan 100%. The perpetrators of most of the atrocities in this region were members of the NKVD (successor of the CHEKA). Tens of thousands of Poles were massacred by these Jewish-run NKVD in and around Lviv, as well as in the Katyn Forest.

    Some 10,000+ Polish officers were executed in the Katyn Forest by the NKVD shortly after the Soviet invasion of eastern Poland; the bodies of these slain officers and intellectuals were dug up by the Germans in 1943 after being informed of a mass grave by a Polish villager. Naturally, Stalin blamed the Nazis for this crime; but the Poles never believed him; they knew that it was his NKVD that perpetrated this atrocity.

    Both Stalin and his predecessor, Vladimir Lenin, hated intellectuals, and murdered millions of them, both within Russia and also in Ukraine and parts of Poland. Juri Lina, the Estonian writer and author of UNDER THE SIGN OF THE SCORPION, gave riveting details of the horrors visited upon Russia, Ukraine, Poland, and other parts of Eastern Europe by both the CHEKA and its successor, the NKVD.

  6. Steve says:

    Mass murder usually follows when states have as much power as the Nazi- Soviet model did. The state is considered sacrosanct and is the giver and taker of all life, liberty and property.

    Everyone is a suspect and potential saboteur. If there are no actual enemies, the state will invent them to serve as a scapegoats. Thus, there is always an enemy to be fought and destroyed all of which serve to maintain the state’s legitimacy among the public.

  7. Anonymous • Disclaimer says:

    Things like this going down is not restricted to WWII. In 1920, a new Poland had been formed in the east of the burnt-out Wilhelminian Reich. Lenin decided that that would not do and sent the Red Army westward – in order to rapidly export the Red Revolution by force of arms to Berlin and Rome. The haphazardly thrown together Polish Army tried a preemptive manoeuver into Belarus and Ukraine (earning the enmity of a good part of the red-revolution-friendly western press), then had to pull back against the hordes but finally managed to stop the Red Army before Warshaw. Meanwhile, in the burnt-out wastes of the WWI battlefield that was Ukraine, remaining civilians got it hard from marauding soldiers — but Jews in particular were disposed of with unrestrained enthusiasm by both sides. The whole area has too many bad memories.

  8. Anonymous • Disclaimer says:

    Thia article is a buncha hogwash!

    Where did this author get his history from ? probly from some k o s h e r “political correctness” mill..

  9. Thomas says:

    YIKES……………. What a can of worms the Neocon Victoria Nuland and her enthusiastic regime changers have opened up….!!!!!!

    For the, American military industrial complex…, anything to hurt Russia is good, and anything to assist them is terrible. Just as it was with Yugoslavia…. Anything to weaken and diminish them because they, more often than not, sided with Moscow…Now the Neocons are lending their destructive expertise gained under Stalin to this anti Russian enterprise…… In the end, it’s all about Israel. You see the friend (Russia) of their enemies (Iran, Syria and Lebanon) is their enemy. They don’t seem to worry about making such an dangerous enemy. That’s because they own an even more dangerous friend. Yes, Uncle Sam has sold his soul to the Nulands, Pearls and Wolfowitzes…. though uncle thinks of it as being rented…… With rent due just prior to elections… time….

  10. Friedolin says:

    I’m surprised that this trashy account was even published by At least the comments were loud and clear and lent a proper perspective to this sad part of history. Also, let’s not forget that the western Ukraine was part of Austria for over 100 years prior to 1918. The people in this region still feel more Western than Russian. Given a chance to vote, they would resolve this issue in short order, divide Ukraine and live happily ever after. :-)))

  11. Chris says:

    What is written in this article is standard history.

  12. Priss Factor [AKA "Andrea Ostrov Letania"] says: • Website

    Before WWII the Jews of Ukraine collaborated with Stalin in the mass killing and mass starvation of Christian Slavs.

    Communist Jews carried out a holocaust(known as Holodomor) against Ukrainians.

    If US was justified in killing millions of Japanese(even civilians–women and babies) for Pearl Harbor that took 3,000 lives, then surely Ukrainians had every right to get their vengeance on Jews who killed millions of Christian Slavs.

    If Jews carried out mass murder campaigns in America where 5 million Christian Americans were forced to starve to death, wouldn’t there be thirst for vengeance?

  13. fnn says:

    “What is written in this article is standard history.”

    Maybe it’s “standard history” because Holocaustianity (replacing Christianity) became the de facto state religion of the West some time ago. Atrocity porn is not considered “standard history” in other contexts.

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