Jewish Lvov

[Maggie Burke]

The city of Lvóv (Lviv) emerged in the 13th century in the Galician-Volhynian principality, in what is now Ukraine. From the mid-14th century, the city became a major trade hub, and was one of the most multi-cultural cities in the area, functioning as a “crossroads of trade routes” (Nadel-Golobič, 345).

Lvóv was one of the economic centers of Poland from the 14th to 17th centuries, and during that time it received a charter for self-governance, becoming partially independent, despite the fact that it was a “royal city” (Czaplicka, 22). The Jewish population, however, was accorded special legal status, in which they were independent from the local authority, paying taxes directly to the king. The purpose of this arrangement was that the Jews of Lvóv wanted to be subject to their own religious courts rather than the state secular and Christian courts set up by the city government (Nadel-Golobič, 365). A secondary result of this, however, was that the Jews were subject to different trade laws than their neighbors. This engendered distrust and resentment among the Gentile merchants of Lvóv, and in the late 1400s, Jewish merchants began to be subjected to stricter and stranger trade restriction within the city, including limits on the objects which they could trade or sell at the markets and what amount of each item they could sell or buy (Nadel-Golobič, 369).

Despite these tensions and trade restrictions, the Jewish community in Lvóv proper and the surrounding suburbs flourished. Soon, Jews were one-third of the population of medieval Poland, and one-quarter of the population of Lvóv (Nadel-Golobič, 368). With this rise in numbers and an increased standard of living, the Jewish community in Lvóv began to form an intelligentsia. The first phase of Jewish intelligentsia in Lvóv dealt with Jewish nationalism. In the early 1500s the Union of Brothers was formed, which advocated complete assimilation with the Polish majority. This was met with extreme backlash, and a nascent Zionist movement emerged (“From Assimilation”, 526).  Divisions within the Jewish community not only developed between the nationalist and assimilationist, but also between the more Orthodox and more secular. In a shift from earlier Orthodox Jewish identity, the intelligentsia in the mid-1700s was more secular, leaning towards the German school of thought which advocated the development of Jewish culture outside of the religious arena (“Jewish Assimilation”, 518).

By the end of the 19th century, most of these factions had all but died out, with the exception of the Zionist movement. In fact, Majer Balaban has called Lvóv the “mother of Israel” (Hrytsak, 47). Alfred Nossig, a prominent Zionist theoretician was one of the leaders of the emerging Zionist political movement in Lvóv in the 1880s, although he appears to have spied for the Gestapo during World War II (“Alfred Nossig”).

The Jewish community in Lvóv was to come to an untimely end, however. Beginning with pogroms in 1919, inter-ethnic conflict in the area increased after World War I (Czaplicka, 35). Although the Jewish population swelled at the beginning of WWII as increased Polish
nationalism drove refugees from other areas to Lvóv, the Germans moved into Lvóv as part of their occupation of Poland, murdering the Jewish population (Hrytsak, 58). By the time the Soviets took over the area and began their own ethnic deportations, Jews made up less than 2% of the population of Lvóv (Hrytsak, 59).

Today, the ghettoes established under German occupation in Lvóv are memorialized in Holocaust museums around the world, and databases have been constructed with the names of those who died there (Lvov Ghetto Database). The present-day Jewish population has been steadily decreasing, even in recent years. In 2001, the Jewish population in Lvóv was only 0.3% (“Lviv”).


Works Cited:

  • Eleonora Nadel-Golobič, “Armenians and Jews in Medieval Lvov: Their Role in oriental Trade 1400-1600,” Cahiers du Monde russe et soviétique 20, no. 3/4 (1979): 345-388.
  • John Czaplicka, “Lviv, Lemberg, Leopolis, Lwów, Lvov: A City in the Crosscurrents of European Culture,” Harvard Ukrainian Studies 24 (2000): 13-45.
  • Ezra Mendelsohn, “From Assimilation to Zionism in Lvov: The Case of Alfred Nossig,” The Slavonic and East European Review 49, no. 117 (1971): 521-534.
  • ______________, “Jewish Assimilation in Lvov: The Case of Wilhelm Feldman,” Slavic Review28, no. 4 (1969): 577-590.
  • Yaroslav Hrytsak, “A Multicultural History through the Centuries,” Harvard Ukrainian Studies 24 (2000): 47-73.
  • “Alfred Nossig,” Holocaust Education & Archive Research Team, 3 May 2012,
  • Lvov Ghetto Database, 3 May 2012,
  • “Lviv”, Wikipedia, 3 May 2012,

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