Ukrainian researchers have finally found the secret chamber within a subterranean sewer network in which dozens of Jews from the city of Lviv hid during the Nazi occupation of the Second World War, writes Adam Decker.
The team, which included archaeologists, was inspired to find the chamber after seeing a 2011 Polish film about the families who were hidden there by Ukrainians who brought them food and drink, including beer, as well as toys for the children.
Holocaust survivor Krystyna Chiger was 11 when she hid in the underground annexe to a rainwater depository below Lviv’s Cathedral Square.
She has recalled the awful conditions in which she and at least 20 other Jews lived for months, until their rescuers could move them on safely, but not until disease had killed about 50 Jews.
“It was very wet and dark,” she said in 1947.
“I was scared and shaking, but I tried to be calm and only asked daddy if we still had far to go.
“There were stones with yellow worms crawling all over. We put all our things over the stones and sat on top of them. It was awful there. Water seeped from the walls and it smelled bad.
I saw large, red rats, which ran by us. At first, I was very afraid, but later I got used to it.”
The researchers from Lviv University said they found both the chamber that housed dozens of Jews taking refuge as well as “relics” from their time there after watching In Darkness, an award-winning Polish historical drama about their survival.
Hanna-Melania Tychka, one of the archaeologists, said the finding was “surreal”, while digger Andriy Ryshtun said there had been “almost no places where people can stay for a long time… Water is flowing everywhere”.
He told local media that “the entrance to the left and right was walled up with blocks, so the chamber remained isolated”, adding that it was a rare remnant from medieval times that had been walled off and forgotten for centuries. “It could accommodate many people and we found clear evidence that people were hiding there from the Nazis,” he said.
A torch and nails had been driven into the stones to make rudimentary hooks, broken glass had been used to stuff holes to prevent rats from entering, and tons of earth had been used to conceal the annexe from the Germans, who were digging trenches nearby.
Thank you for helping to make Jewish News the leading source of news and opinion for the UK Jewish community. Today we're asking for your invaluable help to continue putting our community first in everything we do.
Unlike other Jewish media, we do not charge for content. That won’t change. Because we are free, we rely on advertising to cover our costs. This vital lifeline, which has dropped in recent years, has fallen further due to coronavirus.
For as little as £5 a month you can help sustain the vital work we do in celebrating and standing up for Jewish life in Britain.
Jewish News holds our community together and keeps us connected. Like a synagogue, it’s where people turn to feel part of something bigger. It also proudly shows the rest of Britain the vibrancy and rich culture of modern Jewish life.
You can make a quick and easy one-off or monthly contribution of £5, £10, £20 or any other sum you’re comfortable with.
100% of your donation will help us continue celebrating our community, in all its dynamic diversity...
Being a community platform means so much more than producing a newspaper and website. One of our proudest roles is media partnering with our invaluable charities to amplify the outstanding work they do to help us all.
There’s no shortage of oys in the world but Jewish News takes every opportunity to celebrate the joys too, through projects like Night of Heroes, 40 Under 40 and other compelling countdowns that make the community kvell with pride.
In the first collaboration between media outlets from different faiths, Jewish News worked with British Muslim TV and Church Times to produce a list of young activists leading the way on interfaith understanding.
Royal Mail issued a stamp honouring Holocaust hero Sir Nicholas Winton after a Jewish News campaign attracted more than 100,000 backers. Jewish Newsalso produces special editions of the paper highlighting pressing issues including mental health and Holocaust remembrance.
In an age when news is readily accessible, Jewish News provides high-quality content free online and offline, removing any financial barriers to connecting people.
Voice of our community to wider society
The Jewish News team regularly appears on TV, radio and on the pages of the national press to comment on stories about the Jewish community. Easy access to the paper on the streets of London also means Jewish News provides an invaluable window into the community for the country at large.
We hope you agree all this is worth preserving.