D. Kahane

The devil's game began

On the Massacre of Jews during the First Days of the Occupation

At the time Lvov was occupied by the Germans, 135,000 Jews resided in the city. Among them there were refugees Poland, who managed to flee in September 1939. Besides that, many Jews moved to Lvov from small towns in western Ukraine after Soviet rule had been established there. Lvov had never had so many Jews before.

It began on Tuesday, July 2, in the morning, when the Soviet troops left Lvov. The city had three prisons stuffed with inmates. Inmates were of different sorts, but most of them were either criminals or political prisoners. Many of them were sentenced to death, and their corpses were buried in the prison courtyard. The Germans opened the prison gates and released most of the inmates.

The Gestapo decided to make use of what had happened in the prison under the Soviet rule for the purposes of propaganda. In presence of special commissions, Jews were made to dig out the corpses of prison inmates. The action was shot by film operators to be shown later as evidence of the execution of innocent people by the "Jewish Bolsheviks."

The devil's game started. The Germans were seizing Jews in the streets or at home and forcing them to work in prison. The arrests of the Jews were also conducted by the newly created Ukrainian police. The Ukrainians and Poles were ready to help the Germans. The operation was over in three to four days. Every morning about a thousand Jews were brought and distributed among the three prisons. Some were ordered to break concrete and dig out corpses. Others were shot in the small inner courtyards of the prisons. But even those "lucky ones" who were working often did not come home. Some fainted because of the stench of open graves. These people were dragged away and also shot. Guards in gas masks were German soldiers and officers. From time to time they would cheer themselves yelling, "Revenge is sweet!" The "Aryan" residents of Lvov participated in this brutal show. Their crowds wandered along prison corridors and courtyards, observing with satisfaction the suffering of the Jews. There could be heard hysterical outcries, "Shoot them! Shoot the murderers!" Here and there volunteers could be found to help the Germans in the beating of Jews. During the first days of the occupation of Lvov more than 3,000 Jews were killed in the Lvov prisons. Among them one of the best known and popular rabbis of Lvov - Doctor Yehezkel Leaven and his brother, the rabbi of the town of Zheshkov, Aaron Levin.

The story of the death of the rabbi, Doctor Levin, deserves attention. Immediately after the seizure of Lvov by the Germans, the city was filled by rampaging Ukrainians. Information about pogroms conducted by Ukrainians started coming in to Lvov from surrounding towns. Rabbi Yehezkel Levin decided to address a complaint to the archbishop of Ukraine, Sheptyts'kyi, known for his sympathy towards Jews.1 Accompanied by two representatives of the Jewish community, the rabbi went to the residence of the archbishop on the Iura Hill on the morning of July 2. The archbishop talked to the delegation immediately upon its arrival and promised to send a pastoral letter to his parish, in which he would warn the Ukrainians against murders and plundering. Yet, he admitted his inability to influence any matters concerning the Germans.

At the end, the archbishop suggested that Levin stay with him, since the streets were dangerous. At this time the rabbi of the town of Podhaitsy, Lilienfeld, a close acquaintance of the Sheptyts'ki family, was staying at Sheptys'kyi's house. The rabbi expressed his gratitude but rejected the offer. At the gates he was awaited by a priest, who was supposed to see him home. On Kollontai Street he sent the priest back. He walked into his house and went up the stairs. At the door to his apartment he was met by two policemen. They arrested him. He never came home.

Gitelman, Zvi, Bitter Legacy: Confronting the Holocaust in the USSR. Bloomington: Indiana University Press. 1997. pp. 278 - 280

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