Lviv’s Jewish Legacy

One morning shortly after my arrival in Lviv, I joined a *Free Walking Tour of Old Town” at the Neptune statue in Rynok. It was a cold, blistery day. Our tour guide Nicole suggested we stop mid-way through our tour for a coffee to warm up. The cozy coffee house she introduced us to had been a Jewish shop before the war. At the entrance the post-war plaster had been removed, revealing pre-war inscriptions in Yiddish, Polish and German.

That afternoon I visited the museum at the Hesed-Arieh Jewish Center, the All-Ukrainian Jewish Charitable Foundation. There I found a map called “Jewish Lviv: 100 Addresses”**. This tourist map identifies 100  buildings and sites related to old Jewish Lviv. It provided some historic background about the cafe my tour group had stopped at earlier that day. The map became an important source of Jewish information for me during my  Lviv visit.

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The Golden Rose Synagogue is a UNESCO World Heritage site incorporated into UNESCO Lviv – the Ensemble of the Historic Center. All that was left standing following its destruction by the Nazis in 1941 was a couple of walls and the foundation. On this foundation is a holocaust memorial consisting of a series of stone plaques.

On one of the plaques it read: “It’s a beautiful city, but also a graveyard for 150,000 Jews.”  It was written by Eli Brauner.  His ancestors built the Golden Rose Synagogue in 1582.

Since the end of the 18th century until 1939, Jews were about a third of Lviv population.  In 1939 Lviv’s population was 340,000 of whom 110,000 were Jews. Today there are about 1200 Jews out of a population of over 700,000***.

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Baczewski Restaurant which is just off Rynok Square, is the place to go in Lviv for a well-priced, first class breakfast buffet in a leafy courtyard, while being entertained by a classical pianist.

The restaurant and adjacent shop which sells fine spirits, celebrate the history of the wealthy Jewish  Baczewski family. Their family business of fine spirits has been in Lviv since 1782. The Baczewski factory was the first factory to launch the mass production of vodka in the world. The family escaped to Austria in 1939. The huge distillery in Lviv was destroyed during WWII. Production resumed in Lviv a few years ago.

I was told to arrive for brunch at 8am to beat the crowd.  The patrons at that hour appeared to be mostly tourists. A group of friendly, young American Jehovah Witnesses sat near me. 

As I left the restaurant one morning, the pianist was playing the Viennese Waltz. Baczewski Restaurant is a slice of European flavor in the middle of Lviv’s multi-cultural Old Town. What a treat!

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* Free Walking Tour – www.lvivbuddy.com

** Jewish Lviv: 100 Addresses – https://lia.lvivcenter.org/en/storymaps/100-addresses/

*** www.history.ucsb.edu/projects/holocaust/Resources/history_of_lviv.htm

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3 thoughts on “Lviv’s Jewish Legacy

  1. Many British Jews originally came from the part of the world you are visiting at the moment, Merrilee, so it is very interesting to read about Lviv today.

    I just heard Ukraine described on this morning’s early radio news as “one of the poorest countries in Europe,” and yet your descriptions are full of good people trying their best to improve their nation. The radio programme I listened to also pointed out that although some 15,000 people have died in Ukraine in the war with Russia, gun ownership and crime is lower than in some of our western countries, and the Ukrainian family unit remains strong. Some good food for thought there.

    Great photos, Merrilee, especially of the young people — including the smiling and happy American Jehovah’s Witnesses — at brunch in Lviv! Thank you so much for sharing!

    1. I can understand why Ukraine was described on the radio news as “one of the poorest countries in Europe” In the few weeks I traveled in Ukraine I felt like I was experiencing life in the Former Soviet Union, rather than life in a country that many consider to be European. Russian language was spoken in every major city I went (with Lviv being an exception due to their more European history). The low price for food, transportation, and lodging were considerably less than what I experienced recently in major cities in other Former Soviet Union countries such as Poland, Hungary, Chech Republic and Former East Germany.

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