East West Street: On the Origins of Genocide and Crimes Against Humanity

Isabel Hull writes:

Before 1914, Lemberg was the fourth largest city in the Austro-Hungarian Empire. The multilingual, multicultural capital of the semi-autonomous province of Galicia, Lemberg was half Polish, a quarter Jewish and a fifth Ruthenian (Ukrainian). In addition to its cosmopolitan attractions (an opera house, a large museum, a university), it was also home to Austria’s easternmost fortress. Barely a month after the beginning of the First World War, that fortress fell to the Russian army, marking the start of decades of struggle to control (and rename) the city. It shifted back and forth between Austria and Russia during the Great War: ‘Lemberg ist noch in unserem Besitz’ (‘Lemberg is still in our possession’) became a cliché of Austrian propaganda, bitterly lampooned by Karl Kraus in his play The Last Days of Mankind – the phrase repeated again and again as Austria slides into oblivion. The new states of Poland and Ukraine battled for the city in 1918, touching off a pogrom that killed more than a hundred Jews. Poland emerged victorious and Lemberg became Lwów until 1939, when it fell to the Soviet Union as spoils of the Nazi-Soviet Pact (and became Lvov). When Germany attacked the Soviet Union in June 1941 it retook the city, which became part of the General Government of Poland, an area Germany occupied but didn’t annex. The region’s governor-general, Hans Frank, presided over the extermination of Polish intellectuals and almost all of Lemberg’s Jews. In January 1945, the city fell again to the Soviets, and after 1989 became part of Ukraine, once more under a new name, Lviv.

(LRB 16 June 2016)

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