Thursday, November 6, 2008

Jewish Heritage Signage: Lviv and Krakow, A Tale of Two Cities

Jewish Heritage Signage: Lviv and Krakow, a Tale of Two Cities
by Samuel D. Gruber

Jewish Heritage Route sign in Kazimierz, Krakow (Poland)

In my presentation last week in Lviv,Ukraine, at the Center for Urban History of East Central Europe, I addressed the practical and theoretical questions of "Can Lviv Be Developed as a Jewish Heritage Center?" While part of the presentation and paper dealt with historical, political, and economic questions, a good deal of what I said was about simple practical solutions. I have been traveling to Lviv for almost a decade and in that time I have seen no significant positive change in the identification and reclamation of Jewish space, with the exception of the marking of the Kleparov Train station, from where Jews were deported.

Inscribed commemorative plaque at the Kleparov Train Station, Lviv

There has been talk and there have been legal actions, but a visitor to the city today receives as little information about the Jewish past as he/she would have ten years ago, or even under Communism. There were many talks during and after the conference that suggest there might be changes, and I have and others have agreed to be part of an advisory committee to move these suggestion forward. But for now, the visitor is left very much at sea when searching for the location and history of Jewish heritage sites. To my knowledge, the only signs or plaques about Jewish heritage in Lviv are a few memorial inscriptions. These are commemorative, not didactic signs, and they focus more on the destruction of Jewish heritage rather than explaining the circumstances of Jews in the the city for centuries. Still, they are a welcome start, and an important recognition of the fate of tens of thousands of the city's Jews during the Holocaust.

There are three easy things that can be done almost immediately to reverse this situation. They are

1) the preparation and distribution of reliable guides and maps locating Jewish sites,

2) the preparation of on-line resources with guides, maps, histories and illustrations,

3) the installation of informative signs identifying the location of Jewish historic sites in Lviv.

Even though the Jewish past of Lviv is not unified and Jews themselves were often divided (most dramatically in the conflicts that led to the murder of Progressive Rabbi Abraham Kohn in 1848), it is important today that Jewish heritage take on a unified identity, so that all sites and program can be promoted and developed together, and that each historic site in some way is used to promote the others. In short, Lviv’s Jewish heritage sites needs to be unified into a route that tells a coherent narrative. For the more interested and more discerning, there can be series of routes that delve a more deeply into the history, religion and art of Jewish Lviv. The concept is not difficult, and it has been pioneered already in many cities for many reasons and even in some cities for Jewish past.

In some cities, such as Krakow (Poland) some of what is in the guidebooks has also been created as signage on the streets themselves. I include here photos from Krakow, Poland, where since the mid-1990s there have been many efforts to both identify and reclaim Jewish historic sites. There have been guidebooks and annotated maps, the most recent a highly detailed map and guide of Jewish Kazimierz written by Jakub Nowakowski and produced by the Galicia Jewish Museum). In Krakow, the signage route for Jewish Kazimierz is just one of many designated historic routes in the city (there is a University Route, a Royal Route, etc.). Thus Jewish history is integrated into the overall history of the city and its populations. The same should be done in Lviv.

Jewish heritage site signs in Krakow, Poland

Happily, there is some movement to achieve these tasks in Lviv. The "Lviv Interactive" section of the website of the Center for Urban History of East Central Europe is expediting the inclusion of information about Jewish heritage sites. According to the Deputy Mayor of Lviv, the city is developing a comprehensive signage program for historic sites, too. But if they decide to install all the signs at once,I still expect a long wait.

This blog will keep you posted...

1 comment:

Ruth said...

Sam -- fyi over the weekend I found a stack of the famously "hard to get" Jewish heritage brochure for L'viv on sale again -- at a new privately run tourist office, just off the Rynok. The initiation of cheap airlines flights (supposedly due to start soon, from England) should, I hope, bring people and spark other private (and public) initiatives to satisfy the new and growing market.