Jewish Heritage Europe

Ukraine: Lviv honors dozens of Jewish heritage activists with 75 “keys to the city”

Photo courtesy of Marla Raucher Osborn

The city of Lviv has held an unprecedented ceremony honoring dozens of Jewish heritage activists for their work in preserving, promoting, and carrying out research and educational work on Jewish heritage in western Ukraine.

The ceremony Sunday (September 2) at Lviv’s city hall, called A Key to the City: Reclaiming the Memory of the Past, coincided both with the European Day of Jewish Culture and with events in Lviv commemorating the 75th anniversary of the liquidation of the Nazi ghetto and Janowska labor/concentration camp and destruction of the city’s Jewish community.

The 75 honorees included Jewish and non-Jewish activists, representatives of cultural and academic institutions, volunteer and public organizations, and individual initiatives that work with Jewish heritage in Lviv and in other cities and towns of former Galicia.

Each was presented with one of 75 glass keys that are replicas of  a large metal key with a star of David handle that once belonged to an unknown synagogue and which the American sculptor and researcher Rachel Stevens found at a street market in Lviv.

Volunteers in June led by award recipient Sasha Nazar recover a headstone used as paving in Lviv. Photo © Marla Raucher Osborn

The Associated Press quoted Iryna Matsevko, deputy director of the Center for Urban History of East Central Europe, which was an organizer of the anniversary events, as saying that this “was the first time the western Ukrainian city has acknowledged the historical preservation efforts in such an extensive way.” Other organizers included the new Memorial Museum of Totalitarian Regimes, Territory of Terror, the Hesed-Arieh Charitable Foundation, and the City of Lviv,

Marla Raucher Osborn receives award from Lviv Mayor Mayor Sadovyi and Ada Dianova, Director of All-Ukrainian Jewish Charitable Foundation “Hesed-Arieh” (Photo courtesy Marla Raucher Osborn)

Most of the 75 recipients were Ukrainians, but they also included several foreigners, including Marla Raucher Osborn, of the Rohatyn Jewish Heritage NGO, which focuses on several projects in Rohatyn including recovering gravestones and restoring the Jewish cemeteries; and the German photographer Christian Herrmann, who has focused much of his work on documenting Jewish heritage sites in western Ukraine.

We do not have the full list of all 75 at this time, but some of the others, as listed on the Rohatyn Jewish Heritage web site, included:

  • Rabbi Moshe Kolesnik, Rabbi of Ivano-Frankivsk and the oblast, for his decades documenting and preserving Jewish heritage throughout the Ivano-Frankivsk oblast and beyond, and advising and guiding individual heritage efforts in regional towns.
  • Volodymyr Kogut, researcher of Jewish history of his hometown of Rudky and the surrounding region (Lviv Oblast), for his volunteer efforts to document and promote the Jewish history of Rudky, and his leadership in preservation of Jewish heritage there.
  • Tetyana Sadovska, leader of the project “Historical Justice” in Radekhiv (Lviv Oblast), for her volunteer efforts to recover buried matzevot repurposed from the Jewish cemetery of Radekhiv, and her leadership in arranging a permanent return of the stones to the cemetery.
  • Ivan Yurchenko, architect, researcher, writer, and leader of a number of projects in the Ivano-Frankivsk Oblast, including a book on the Jewish cemeteries of Halych, exhibitions on the Jewish history of Halych at the regional museum, and clearing and documenting the Jewish cemetery of Burshtyn.
  • Laurence Kirsch, Director of the American organization the Bolechow Jewish Heritage Society, for more than a decade of Jewish heritage and commemoration work in Bolekviv, including fencing and restoration of the cemetery, roofing the former synagogue, and preserving the mass grave site in the Taniava Forest.
  • Daniela Mavor, Director of the Israel-based Drohobycz, Boryslaw and Vicinity Organization, for recovery and documentation of Jewish heritage and Jewish stories of the two towns, including major renovations of the grand synagogue (rededicated at an opening ceremony this summer), local cemeteries, and mass graves, as well as annual gatherings and travel for commemoration and intercultural exchange between Israel and Ukraine.
  • Mykhailo Vorobets, retired school teacher, local historian, and primary local partner of the project in Rohatyn, for his decades of volunteer work to document the lost Jewish community of Rohatyn, and his ongoing support of recovery of Jewish heritage in the town.
  • Oleksandr “Sasha” Nazar, Chairman of the Sholem Aleichem Jewish Culture Society and head of Lviv Volunteer Center, for his personal efforts to network regional Jewish heritage efforts via roundtable discussions and publications, for his inspiring leadership and dedication in both planned and quick-response Jewish heritage recovery projects, and for his long-term work to rehabilitate the former Hasidic synagogue of Lviv named for Jakob Glanzer.
  • Illa Firman, Director of the “Chaver Boryslav” Charity fund, for his long-term efforts connecting Drohobych and Boryslav Jews with Jewish descendants and international organizations, to promote heritage preservation in those towns and in other towns within the region.
Honoree Wito Nadaszkiewicz describes a cemetery project at a conference in 2016

The Center for Urban History web site writes that the inspiration for the ceremony was the artistic installation “A Key to the City” by Stevens, which consisted of 75 glass replicas of a synagogue key. The exhibition closed August 31.

Nothing is known of the origin of the original key, found by Stevens in a market.

[…] but it is the material evidence of those who were in this city before us, lived in these houses, who walked along Lviv streets to schools, parks, theatres, and synagogues. Most of the Jewish shrines of Lviv were destroyed; even their keys are not preserved. One of the them has become an accidental find on a street market, where things usually appear after they lose their owners. 

Creating an artistic installation with the synagogue key was a step towards restoring the memory of those whom it was important to. 75 replicas symbolize the years of oblivion and the importance of multiplying this memory. The glass keys are associated with luminosity as well as the fragility of life, which is easily breakable; they also reference to the murder of Jews in the ravine of Piaski near the Janowska Camp. 
Sunday’s ceremony was described as “a step towards restoring the memory of the Holocaust in Lviv.” The 75 glass keys presented to activists represent “a symbol of gratitude for preserving Jewish heritage. This is a testimony to the presence and role of those who affirm this memory today and whom it is important to.”

The key-giving ceremony was followed by a memorial concert at the site of the Janowska labor camp — where new informational signage also was unveiled .

This was followed by  a prayer concert at the Space of Synagogues memorial at the preserved ruins of the Golden Rose synagogue in downtown Lviv, which was inaugurated two years ago — and believed to mark the first time in Ukraine that a memorial commemorating Jews was initiated by city authorities and represents a public recognition of Jewish history as local history..

Visitors at the opening of the Space of Synagogues memorial, September 2016


Read detailed report of the event on the Rohatyn Jewish Heritage web site

Read the Associated Press article about the event


2 comments on “Ukraine: Lviv honors dozens of Jewish heritage activists with 75 “keys to the city”

  1. general history and so many tiny and fragile histories,lightened my memory reading word by word your article ,lightened my memory by “listening “ Avraham Ben Yitzhak two poems:אלול בשדרה,לא ידעתי נפשי.

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