In Lviv, a Holocaust survival story gets lifted from the gutter

   In response to the article below sent out yesterday, our colleague Meylakh Sheykhet wrote the following --
        - Glenn Richter

        Sad to say - none of the Holocaust related sites of L'viv have been commemorated or protected by the City Hall from being built over or missused. The Mayor Sadovyy is one of the best known mayors of L'viv since the Ukrainian Independence who commercialized and sold out the Jewish memorial sites: the ancient old Jewish cemetery where many famous Jewish sages are resting, the killing sites of Holocaust where more then 500,000 Jewish martyrs are resting and have no signs and no protection, and the ancient Jewish Quarter - part of the UNESCO World Heritage UCSJ is trying to save from being commercialized.
        It is a big concern why Chaim Chessler decided to invite the Mayor to speak at the grand opening of Limmud. Limmud was actually a great gathering of Soviet Jews with famous actors and writers in Russian, also politicians who greatly contributed to Russian culture but not to Jewish culture.
        The really Jewish lectures had to compete at the same time with cultural events for  Russian culture and politics, and collected a small amount of listeners. To my lecture "the Holy Sites of Ukraine" out of 600+ Limmud participants came from 3 people at the beginning to 15 at the end. The same happened with lectures of other Jewish scholars and scientists who shared with me their disappointment and concerns that they spent a lot of time for preparation and traveling. Asked for the reasons why Limmud made such planning I answered that people come to Limmud mainly for entertainment and not for the Jewish education.  If it seemed for Jewish education Limmud would have much less participants.   
        Today the City Hall allowed the group from Odessa to make a festival of food mixed with low level restaurant type mockery of Jewish songs and music. A Barry Sisters song  on the sacral site of the Great synagogue of L'viv, where was opened another restaurant called Jewish by the non-Jewish owners, and  even where Limmud made its party for the conclusion of the Limmud Conference.
        Part of the responsibility is on shoulders of the local  JDC affiliation "Chessed Arye" which was announced as the main sponsor of the Limmud conference.  "Chessed Arye" closed its eyes and disregards the tragic situation with the historical Jewish heritage of L'viv, and became a strong ally to the Mayor of L'viv.
        Several events Limmud have been planned in the restaurants where the owners have also the anti-Semitic "the Zhidivs'ka Knaipa restaurant by the Golden Rose synagogue" also owned by the non-Jews. One of them was in "Kopalniya Kavy" (the Mine of Coffee) where the famous palace Lyubomirckych" was completely destroyed paintings and sculptures inside to turn it into to what it became now. The Ukrainian intelligentsia struggled to preserve the origin of this palace but in vain. What I am afraid was the meeting with famous Shenderovich, whom Limmud invited, became also as a sign of supporting the brutal business of using the cultural heritage for restaurants, which never happens in the world.   
            Recently UCSJ won a court case with the Supreme Economic Court of Ukraine. The Supreme Court's decree canceled the city hall's decrees which planned to make a mockery designs of the 3 holiest sites of L'viv: The Old Jewish cemetery, the ancient Jewish Quarter of L'viv and Yanowska concentration camp where 220,000 Jews were killed by the German Nazis according to the report of the Soviet Extraordinary Commission established right after the WW2. Nothing about that was mentioned in any speech at theLimmud Conference. 
            I doubt Chaim Chessler was properly informed about the tragic situation in L'viv about Jewish Heritage preservation.
Meylakh Sheykhet        

Armed with an Israeli attitude toward problem solving and 30 years’ worth of experience in working in Eastern Europe, Chaim Chesler doesn’t back down easily from a work-related dispute.

But even Chesler, founder of the Limmud FSU Jewish learning conferences, was taken aback by the intense resistance he encountered earlier this month from an elderly lady in the Ukrainian city of Lviv, who tried to stop him from leading a group of journalists on a tour of the city’s famous sewage pathways that Jews had used to escape the German occupation forces above ground.

“We were about open the manhole cover when this lady started screaming, cursing,” he said of the Nov. 6 face-off. “I thought she was going totally berserk and, frankly, I was getting a little bit concerned.”

Recovering from the initial onslaught, Chesler realized the conflict had nothing to do with the Holocaust and everything to do with the large sewer cover that he and his posse had just dislodged to enter the pathway.

In a country hit by a crippling recession and abject poverty, the group of journalists looked to the elderly lady like the sort of metal thieves that she and other Ukrainians have been fending off for years.

Part of the misunderstanding stemmed from the fact that while the tunnel Chesler visited is internationally famous as the scene of one of the Ukraine’s best-known Holocaust-era stories, among the local population it has been virtually forgotten. Because it is rarely visited and bears no plaques or other indications of its history, this place where Holocaust survivors emerged to the light of day after 14 months in the sewer is unknown to locals.

The sewer pathway in Lviv became internationally known thanks to the testimony of Krystyna Chiger, a Holocaust survivor who moved to Long Island,  N.Y. and whose harrowing account of survival in the sewer with her family served as the basis for the 2011 feature film “In Darkness.” A Polish production, the film was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film. Chiger also published an  autobiography titled “The Girl in the Green Sweater.”

Chesler had planned to bring Chiger over to the tunnel from which she escaped 71 years ago as part of the events of Limmud FSU’s first Lviv conference, but she couldn’t make the trip because of health concerns.

So Chesler, who visited  Chiger last month togetter with Limmud FSU cofounder Sandra Cahn, arranged to have Chiger speak to participants via video chat after the tour of the actual locale from which she emerged, at the age of 8, with her little brother, parents and six other individuals who survived thanks to the help they received from non-Jews who kept them alive underground.

“We had been without light or very little light for 14 months, so when we came out, the sun was shining, we saw everything in red light, orange-red,” she recalled. “We couldn’t see anything. My brother, who was 3 when we went under, started crying and told my mother: ‘Let’s go back.’ He had forgotten how the world looked like.”

Underground, the group was kept alive by Leopold Socha and his wife, Magdalena. A Polish sewer inspector who knew the tunnels well, he used his knowledge to keep the refugees safe after they escaped from the ghetto with help from his colleague Stefan Wroblewski. Of a group of 20 Jews who went underground, only 10 survived the war.

Socha died in a car accident in 1947. He was posthumously recognized as a Righteous Among the Nations — Israel’s title for non-Jews who risked their lives to save Jews during the Holocaust — in the 1970s.

Yet despite the underground rescue story’s international fame, the city of Lviv and Ukraine’s government have so far made no attempt to commemorate the place.

Lviv Mayor Andriy Sadovyi agreed to support a plan to erect a modern monument there sometime next year, according to Chesler, whose Limmud FSU group operates in cooperation with the International Fellowship of Christians and Jews.

The story carries special significance today in Lviv, which is considered the capital of Ukrainian nationalism and birthplace of the xenophobic Svoboda party.

“Especially here, especially today, the monument will a strong sign of Ukraine’s commitment to remember, also through this bittersweet story, the actions of the heroes who rescued Jews, but also the genocidal hate that led to the death of so many others,” Chesler said.

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