Lviv, it is today the largest city in the Western Ukraine situated only 60 km from eastern Polish border. It was established as a wooden fort in the mid thirteenth century by Prince Daniel Halicki of Galicia, a former principality of Kiervan Rus (Russia). The first mention of Lviv in early chronicles comes from 1256, although some archaeological excavations date the first settlements around the city back to the sixth century.
Lviv very quickly became the centre of trade and commerce for the region. The city's favourable location on the crossroads of trade routes led to its rapid economic development.
The Galician territory was incorporated to Poland in the fourteenth century. Part of its nobility eventually adopted the Polish language and Roman Catholic faith. The vast majority of people remained Ukrainian Orthodox and later some of them joined the Greek Catholic Church that acknowledged the Pope's spiritual supremacy but adhered to the area's Orthodox forms of worship. From 1356 the burghers had the right of self-government, which implied that all city issues were to be solved by a city council elected by wealthy citizens.
The first Jews to settle in Lviv arrived from Byzantium and Khazaria in the tenth century. Much later they were joined by Jews from Germany and in the thirteenth century by Karaites as well. The Jews engaged in the region's transit trade in competition with Greeks and Armenians. Throughout the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries the community suffered from foreign invasions, mostly by Tatars. This was compounded by a series of natural disasters. Nonetheless, after the annexation to the Polish Kingdom in 1349 the Jewish community expanded, particularly the German element, whose language and culture ultimately prevailed. Jews became engaged in money lending, farming, wholesale and retail trades. This first community was led for a hundred years, from the second half of the sixteenth century by Yitzhak ben Nahman and his descendants. R.Yitzhak built a gothic style synagogue in 1571 which remained standing until WW II. A second magnificent synagogue, which survived until the Holocaust, was built in 1632 by the congregation outside the Lviv ramparts. Jews were constantly under the threat of attack. Most frequent were the riots of Jesuit students, but occasionally local garrison, nobility and peasants also participated in periodic depredations.
The first half of the seventeenth century appeared to be the most active period in the city's development, by that time there were 25-30 thousand people there. About 30 craft organizations were active during that time, involving well over a hundred different specialties. Starting in the second half of the seventeenth century there was a decline in Lviv's upgrowth.
During the Chmielnicki massacres of 1648-49 the city was under a month long siege. Jews hand in hand with Poles participated in its defence. Heavy tribute was paid to raise the siege after the Polish mayor refused to hand the Jews over to Cossacks.
A Tatar invasion in 1695 and the capture of the city by Swedes in 1704 claimed still more Lviv inhabitants lives. This period brought economic and social destruction of the city.
The Jewish community was facing a period of blood libels sponsored by the local Catholic church. All these events left the community saddled with debts and in throes of economic decline, contributing to the growing independence of shtetls (small Jewish villages) once under its juridiction.
The city enjoyed a short period of peace under King John the III Sobieski. He was also sympathetic towards the local Jewish community, but on his death in 1696, residence and trade regulations were again threatened.
Eighteenth century response to tragic events of the past brought spiritual turmoil with Frankists, Hasids and finally Haskala as main currents.
In 1772 during the First Partition of Poland, Lviv came under the Austrian-Habsburg rule with its "enlightened" monarchy. The old geographical term of Galicia was re-introduced in order to evade any Polish terminology which by all means was to be erased. New Galicia was encompassing the former territories of southern Poland now under Austrian rule. Lviv became an administrative capital of Galicia as the largest city, latter on Cracow would be the second one. Jews were earmarked for "Europeanization" in an attempt to turn them into "useful" and "productive" subjects while at the same time crushing them under a heavy tax burden and limiting their natural growth. Despite a marriage tax and residence restrictions, the Jewish population grew to 19,277 in 1826, mainly due to the influx of Jews from provincial towns, which lead to severe overcrowding and unhealthy living conditions.
In 1784, the first university was opened. Lectures were held in Latin, German and Polish. Jewish students were not allowed to attend until 1806.
Economic conditions worsened as Jews were cut off from such market cities as Danzig or Lipzig and excluded from grain trade which was essential in those territories. However, Jews were soon able to dominate wholesale trade between Russia and Austria. They also became army suppliers and played a part in the city's industrial development. The professionals together with the sons of wealthy industrialists and merchants became the first adherents of Haskala. At the same time Hasidism, mainly of the Belz dynasty began to spread in Lviv.
In the second half of the nineteenth century, construction, trade, transport and industry started to develop rapidly until the beginning of the first world war. Towards the end of the nineteenth century, Lviv became the centre of a new Ukrainian national movement. Many prominent cultural and political leaders lived in Lviv, among them Ivan Franko and Mykhailo Hrushevsky. It was a meeting place of Ukrainian, Polish, and Jewish cultures.
By the time of revolutionary events of 1848, two cultural and political factions had emerged in the Jewish community, the one pro Austro-German assimilationists and the Polish in orientation. In the late nineteenth century the Polish Socialist Party attracted many members from both those groups. The first Zionist groups were organized in the 1880s, producing numerous periodicals and founding various youth groups.
During this period Jewish culture flourished with an outpouring of Hebrew and Yiddish literature, including such writers as Yosef Hayyim Brenner and Gershon Shofman. In 1890, Yaakov Ber Gimpel founded the first Jewish theatre in Poland. Hebrew printing expanded with Halevi house producing a new edition of the Talmud in 1860-68 and the Herz and Balaban presses continuing to operate. In 1880 the Jewish population numbered 30,961 and in 1910, 57,387 (total population of Lviv at this time was an estimated 206,113).
At the outbreak of WW I, Lviv was flooded with thousands of Jewish refugees fleeing the barbarities of the Cossacks. The Russians took the city on 3rd September 1914 after the Austrians withdrew. About 16.000 Jews succeeded in fleeing. The 40,000 who remained were subjected to severe abuse, with 40 killed over the alleged shooting of a Russian solider and some taken hostage and exiled on the Russian withdrawal in May 1915. With the collapse of the Habsburg Empire at the end of WW I, Lviv was temporary proclaimed capital of the independent Republic of West Ukraine. In November 1918 the troops of the re-emergent Poland seized the city, and Lviv returned to Polish rule until the Red Army took control in September, 1939. In the struggle between Poles and Ukrainians for supremacy in Eastern Galicia, the Jews tried to maintain a position of neutrality while defending themselves with a 300-man militia.
Lviv remained one of the leading centres of Jewish education and culture in Poland. In 1939, Lviv had 340,000 inhabitants of whom 110,000 were Jews.
On September 17, 1939, the Soviets entered Lviv imposing their system on the city. Nationalization of property, Sovietization of education, deportations and gradual "Ukrainization" of administration were the harshest actions taken against Poles and Jews. Some 100,000 Jewish refugees from the German - occupied areas of Poland crowded into Lviv increasing the Jewish population. Large numbers who turned down Soviet citizenship were expelled to the interior Russia.
On June 22, 1941, about 10,000 Jews escaped from the city with the Red Army and nine days later, the Germans occupied Lviv. Like the Soviets who preceded them, the Nazis in Lviv faced local opposition from both Ukrainian and Polish forces. An increasingly powerful Soviet partisan movement also weakened their grip on the Lviv region. Reports from all sides of the fighting, and from the Nazi administration itself, described the violence of everyday practices. With the German entry, the rumour was spread that Jews had taken part in the execution of Ukrainian political prisoners. Shortly thereafter, the killing of Jews by Einsatzgruppe C, German soldiers, and Ukrainian nationalists began. By July 3, 1941, 4,000 Jews had been murdered. On July 8, the wearing of the yellow Jewish badge was ordered. From July 25 to 27, the Ukrainians murdered 2,000 Jews in pogroms that came to be known as the Petlura days. July 22 a Jewish council Judenrat was appointed and on August 1st Eastern Galicia was absorbed by the General Government. The Judenrat operated numerous departments for the welfare of the community but its primary function was to supply forced labour for the German war machine. At the same time, the Germans systematically destroyed the synagogues and the cemeteries. The first head of the Judenrat, Dr. Yosef Parnes, was murdered when he refused to supply a list of Jews to work at a labour camp in Janowska. The next leader was Abraham Rotfeld. In September a Jewish police force was established.
On November 8, 1941, the Germans ordered a ghetto to be established by December 15. During forceful deportations into the ghetto area, 5,000 elderly and sick Jews were mudered. Ghetto life in Lviv was similar to other ghettos established throughout occupied Poland. Many restrictions followed, slave labour and starvation were taking a high death toll. The ghetto was infested with disease and malnutrition. Poor sanitation and overcrowding were creating unbearable conditions.
Winter 1941-42, the Germans began sending Jews to labour camps in Jaktorow and Janowska. In February 1942, Rotfeld died and Henryk Landsberg took his place. In March 1942, the Judenrat was ordered to prepare transport lists to send Jews east to be relocated for work. A delegation of rabbis appealed to Landsberg not to cooperate, but he did not listen to their advice, believing if the Germans were hindered from carrying out the deportation, more Jews would be killed. From March 19, 1942 for a month, 15,000 Jews were sent to Belzec.
On July 8, 1942, 7,000 Jews without certificates of employment, mostly women and the old were sent to Janowska. From August 10, until August 23, 50,000 Jews were sent to a Nazi extermination camp in Belzec. In September the remaining Jews were relocated into a less populated ghetto. Landesberg along with a group of Jewish employees were later hanged by the Germans and Eduard Eberson was appointed as Judenrat chairman. In November, 5,000-7,000 Jews were sent to Janowska and Belzec. In January 1943 the Lviv ghetto was officially designated a Judenlager. Ten thousand Jews without work permits were murdered. Judenrat was no longer working. On March 17, 1,500 Jews were murdered near the city at Piasky, and 800 were sent to Auschwitz. Beginning on June 1, 1943, the Germans and their Ukrainian helpers sent 7,000 Jews to Janowska, where they were soon killed, and some 3,000 were murdered in the ghetto. Like most other ghettos in Poland, the Lviv establishment was dissolved in late 1943, and the remaining inhabitants were sent to various camps or marched into the forest and shot. The Soviets took the city on 22 July 1944. By the end of September about 3400 Jews had gathered there from among the survivors and those returning from the Soviet Union.
After WW II Allied leaders met at Tehran, Yalta and Potsdam and decided to commit the former eastern territories of Poland to the Soviet Union and partly compensate Poland with former German territories in the west. The frontiers shifted 120 miles west, and Lviv became part of Ukraine in 1944.
The Sovietization of Western Ukraine (including Lviv) was accompanied by totalitarian controls and terror by the NKVD, or Russian police force. From 1944 to 1948 large swaps of population were organized in order to get rid of the mixed population on those territories. Poles were forcefully moved west, while Ukrainians from Poland were re-settled east. A large part of those Poles were forcibly re-settled in Wroclaw. A large influx of communist workers to the Western Ukraine was organized in order to melt down and dissolve centres of opposition and traditional conservatism.
In 1946-7 the fourth Five Year Plan was put into action, but the mass collectivization of farms coupled with the after effects of the war and drought led to a huge famine in which over one million perished.
In Western Ukraine around 78,000 intellectuals and activists were deported to Siberia.
In 1948 the persecution of Ukrainian writers and publications began in a campaign to stamp out western influences and Ukrainian nationalism.
In the 1950's President Khrushchev was more lenient towards Ukraine then Stalin, and many were allowed to return from exile.
Since the late 1980's Lviv has become a centre of activities for Ukrainian dissent, as well as a leading force in Ukraine's movement to sovereignty and democracy.
On August 24, 1991 the Supreme Council of Ukraine adopted a Declaration of Independence.
Lviv is now a major economic and cultural centre of Ukraine.