01 January 2007

Lvov, Ukraine: The struggle to reclaim Judaica lost under communism

A recent JTA story focused on the Judaica Collection at the Museum of History of Religion in Lvov, Ukraine.

Museums in Lvov hold many Jewish artifacts which once belonged to local synagogues and Jewish institutions -- and the city's congregations want them back. Today, there are some 2,000 Jews in the city, which is home to a Reform and two Orthodox congregations.

During the Communist era, artifacts, including Torah scrolls and ritual objects were confiscated from the community, and individuals donated items they could not keep or were afraid to keep in their homes.

The city's Museum of the History of Religion has a manuscript collection and more than 420 Torah scrolls and fragments; items date from the 15th century through to the prewar community.

The Museum of Ethnography and Crafts has an extensive collection of valuable ancient Judaica, from Torah scrolls and velvet scroll covers to silver pointers and antique Jewish headwear.

Each museum has about 1,000 items.

“Our congregation is trying to bring Jewish tradition back, and we need these Torah scrolls and religious objects,” said Valentina Zamichkovskaya, 67, a member of the Lvov Reform Jewish congregation.
Ukrainian authorities seem open to the possibility.
“We are ready to transfer some items to the Jewish communities upon their request,” Roman Kurash, a representative of the Lvov Regional Administration in charge of religious affairs, told JTA.
“Ukrainian authorities are ready to resolve the issue on the condition that these objects are used for religious community purposes,” said Alexander Sagan, a senior adviser to President Viktor Yuschenko.

Once part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire and then Poland - between the wars - it became part of the Soviet Union in 1939. When the second world war began, Ukraine's Jewish population was some 1.5 million (half were refugees from German-occupied Poland), with 200,000 in Lvov.

Only a few hundred people survived the Holocaust in Lvov.

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