The city of Lviv in western Ukraine inaugurated a controversial memorial monument on part of the former Golden Rose Synagogue complex.
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On Sunday, designated the European Day of Jewish Culture, hundreds attended the unveiling of the Space of Synagogues led by Mayor Andriy Sadovy, despite legal action against the monument by Meylakh Sheykhet, Ukraine’s director of the Union of Councils for Jews in the Former Soviet Union.
The project, which is supported by some Jews in Lviv, including the Chesed-Arieh association, features a memorial space with commemorative stone slabs on one area of the 16th-century Golden Rose complex, which the Nazis largely destroyed in the 1940s.
Started in July 2015, the Space of Synagogues project also includes the controversial cementing of some of the complex’s foundations and relics.
Sheykhet objected to the project, calling it a ruse to create a public park at the expense of a Jewish heritage site in a central area of the city. He said the project serves tourist industry interests but falls short of international commemoration standards.
“It’s a disgrace and a project that sells out on the memory of the murdered,” Sheykhet said.
But Sofia Dyak, director of the Center for Urban History of East Central Europe in Lviv, which is leading the project in partnership with the Lviv City Council, defended the project as “something dignified that exposes countless Ukrainians to the destruction of Lviv’s Jewish community” precisely because of its central location.
Sheykhet, who is among a handful of Orthodox Jews living in Lviv, has lobbied for the synagogue’s reconstruction in a city with a Jewish population of 1,200 – a vision his critics say is unrealistic. Dyak said the current commemoration project may be expanded in the future, but that right now, “something is better than nothing.”
In 1939, Lviv was home to 110,000 Jews — a third of its total population.
In 2014, a Ukrainian court issued an injunction against the city’s plan to move ahead with designs for memorial projects in three Jewish sites in Lviv, including the Golden Rose Synagogue complex. The designs were selected in 2010 in an international competition. The Higher Economic Court of Ukraine ruled that the plans did not conform to local and international standards and procedures.
But the city obtained permission from the Ministry of Culture to go ahead at Golden Rose with a design similar to the one selected in the competition and by the same German architect, Franz Reschke.
Sheykhet sued again, arguing the project violated the 2014 court ruling. A verdict is expected later this month. He said the courts were deliberately dragging their feet on his lawsuit while the project was being completed.
Dyak rejected the assertion, saying: “The project is fully compliant with the law or it would not have existed.”
The city also plans to create a memorial park on part of the Old Jewish Cemetery of Lviv — a plan that Sheykhet has vowed to fight because he and some rabbis believe it would violate religious Orthodox laws against disturbing Jewish graves.
The issue of commemorating sites and individuals connected to the Holocaust is divisive in Ukraine, where anti-Russian sentiment is rife and streets were named recently for pro-Nazi collaborators whose troops killed Jews.
Jewish leaders critical of this development have also spoken out against the perceived desecration of Holocaust sites, including in the city of Kovel, near Lviv, where a traveling zoo was set up this summer atop a mass grave of Jewish Holocaust victims.