Ukrainian mayor says synagogue ruins are not threatened

WARSAW (JTA) — The mayor of the Ukrainian city of Lviv denied reports that the preserved remains of the historic Golden Rose synagogue were being destroyed to make way for a controversial hotel.

"I want to reassure everyone that no construction has ever taken place at the site of the Golden Rose," Mayor Andriy Sadovyy said in his statement.

"Construction of a hotel in the neighboring Fedorova Street, which has drawn criticism from some civic organizations’ representatives, has nothing to do with the site of the former Synagogue,” he said.

The mayor also said that plans were going ahead for new memorials to Lviv Jews murdered in the Holocaust.

The Golden Rose synagogue was largely destroyed during World War II; what remains are its foundations and a wall bearing arches.

On Aug. 19, a Lviv district court ordered the Ukrainian Investment Company, the hotel’s builder and investor, to "stop any preparatory and construction works on the plot" on Fedorova Street and "vacate building machines from this territory."

The site of the envisaged hotel does not directly touch the Golden Rose ruins. But critics charge that it could compromise a mikvah, the foundations of a former kosher butchery and other buildings in the old Jewish quarter.

“It is a disgrace,” said Meylakh Sheykhet, the Ukranian director of the Union Council of ex-Soviet Jews, in a statement. “They are building the hotel over the very places where there are Jewish artifacts buried and where the mikvah once stood.”

The mayor’s press office said that his statement had been issued in response to an article by Tom Gross that was published by Britain’s Guardian newspaper and Canada’s National Post. Gross’ Guardian article was headlined "Goodbye, Golden Rose."

Gross wrote: "Last week I watched as bulldozers began to demolish the adjacent remnants of what was once one of Europe’s most beautiful synagogue complexes, the 16th-century Golden Rose in Lviv."

Although the "adjacent remnants" to which Gross referred apparently did not mean the actual preserved ruins of the synagogue building, many readers were left with the impression that the synagogue itself was threatened. Other media outlets picked up the story and said that the synagogue was being destroyed. Even Wikipedia at one point stated, "It [the Golden Rose Synagogue] was illegally demolished by the government of Ukraine in 2011 to build a hotel."

“After the publication of this information we have received inquiries from various countries of the world about the situation of the ruins of the Golden Rose Synagogue," Sadovyy said.

Sadovyy’s statement noted that Lviv staged an international architectural competition last year for memorials to mark three sites of Jewish history in the city. Winners, announced in December, came from Israel, the United States and Germany.

One of the sites, the so-called Synagogue Square, includes the ruins of the Golden Rose and the space in front of it where another synagogue and a beit midrash once stood. Sadovyy said that an international group of experts "is at work" on this project.

JTA has learned that Jewish representatives and city officials will meet in Lviv next month to discuss how and when to implement construction of the memorial there.

"It is extremely important to us, that, together with the Jewish community, civic organizations and everybody concerned with the fate of Lviv heritage, we resolve the issue of Synagogue fragments’ conservation as well as the issue of their worthy setting," Sadovyy said.

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