The Lviv Pogrom of 1941

Instructor: Nate Sullivan

Nate Sullivan holds a M.A. in History and a M.Ed. He is an adjunct history professor, middle school history teacher, and freelance writer.

In this lesson we will learn about the Lviv Pogroms of 1941. We will place this tragic event in historical context, and we will highlight the key themes and developments surrounding this event.

What is a Pogrom?

Unfortunately, humans can be capable of some pretty ugly things. It's important to learn about them though, so we can hopefully prevent them in the future.

When learning something new, it's often helpful to begin by defining terms. That is what we will do in this case. This lesson is about the Lviv Pogrom of 1941. A pogrom is a violent riot or massacre aimed at Jewish populations. The word is Russian in origin, and pogroms were most common throughout Eastern Europe during the 19th and 20th centuries.

A pogrom can be thought of as an act of terror against Jews. Pogroms typically involve burning down buildings, looting and pillaging, torture, and murder. They were sometimes well-organized and pre-planned, but sometimes erupted spontaneously. Now that we understand the tragic meaning behind this term, let's turn our attention to the 1941 Lviv Pogroms.

Operation Barbarossa and the NKVD Prisoner Massacres

Let's first look at the context. In June 1941, the Nazis launched Operation Barbarossa, which was the codename for the invasion of the Soviet Union. German tanks, planes, and infantry forces poured into Soviet-controlled Poland. The Soviet secret police, called the NKVD, panicked, and began massacring political prisoners and other 'enemies of the state' held in special Polish prisons.

Many of these victims were Polish or Ukrainian. When the Nazis rolled into the city of Lviv, the NKVD prisoner massacres were discovered, and exploited for propaganda purposes. The Nazis, of course, had no problem broadcasting the fact that those responsible for the prisoner massacres were disproportionately Jewish.

As a result, anti-Jewish sentiment spread like wildfire, particularly among Ukrainian nationalists, whose friends and loved-ones had been murdered in the prison by the NKVD. This sentiment was encouraged by the Nazis, and with their help, pogroms were organized. The Ukrainians and Nazis saw this as their opportunity to exact revenge.

The Pogroms

The first pogrom was carried out by Einsatzgruppe C and the Ukrainian People's Militia between June 30 to July 2, 1941. The Einsatzgruppen units were Nazi death squads who were responsible for the mass extermination of Jews and other groups. Sadly, Einsatzgruppe C was just one of the many. Mass shootings were the tactic of choice among them.

Meanwhile, notorious Reichsführer of the SS, Heinrich Himmler, organized the Ukrainian People's Militia to carry out the arrest and subsequent murder of Polish Jews. Thousands of Polish Jews were arrested and held in a stadium, until they could be transported to remote killing sites where they were shot and buried in mass graves.

Heinrich Himmler looks at a prisoner.

A second pogrom took place in late July, between the 25th to 29th. This pogrom has been called the 'Petlura Days', after Symon Petliura, a Ukrainian nationalist leader who was assassinated by a Jewish anarchist. Unlike the first pogrom, this one was carried out largely independent of German assistance. Ukrainians dragged Jews to public areas where they were shot and beaten to death. Within a few days it is believed some 2,000 Jews were killed.

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