The Opera House in the city where no one was safe.
Recently, researching a new project, I re-visited a city that I think was the riskiest place in Europe to live – not just during WW2 but during the 20th century as a whole.
It’s an elegant place – beautiful in many ways. Cultured, sophisticated and full of remarkable architecture – a city renowned for chocolate, coffee and honey. Site of one of the most prestigious universities in Europe – an artistic gem. If you haven’t visited this place, then I recommend you do.
I’m talking about a city that is now called Lviv and is now in Ukraine. But it wasn’t always called Lviv and it wasn’t always in Ukraine.
As a wrote in ‘WW2 Behind Closed Doors’: ‘It started the Twentieth Century in the Austro-Hungarian Empire, became part of Poland after the First World War, then part of the Soviet Union between 1939 and 1941, then part of the Nazi Empire until 1944, then part of the Soviet Union again, until finally in 1991 it became part of an independent Ukraine. At various times in the last hundred years the city has been called Lemberg, Lvov, Lwow and Lviv. There was not one group of citizens I met there who had not at one time or another suffered because of who they were. Catholic or Jew, Ukrainian, Russian or Pole, they had all faced persecution in the end. It was the Nazis, of course, who operated the most infamous and murderous policy of persecution against the Jews of the city, but we are apt to forget that such was the change and turmoil in this part of Eastern Europe that ultimately few non-Jews escaped suffering of one kind or another either.’
It’s important to remember, I think, that there are some cities in the world that because of geographical, cultural, religious and historical happenstance become enormously dangerous places to live. Jerusalem is one, of course, but Lviv (or Lemberg or Lvov or Lwow) is another. It was never dull living there in the Twentieth Century, it’s true. But it could also prove deadly.