Sites and blogs all over the world remembered yesterday the attempt of Sarajevo of ninety-eight years ago, which primarily shows that the centenary is nearing, and both authors and readers get increasingly interested in the Great War which basically determined the past century. Again and again they relate the same incredible story: how some amateur Serbian students, thanks to the impotence of the Austrian secret services, easily managed to kill Franz Ferdinand and his wife (and wound a dozen more people), and they publish again and again the pictures of the assassination: the press illustrations on the deadly shots, the police photo of the beaten Gavrilo Princip, the court hearing.

We do not want to present all this once more, only one aspect which did not appear in the commemorations: how “the other side”, the Russian press saw and represented the assassination.

Before you continue reading, think a minute, how you would expect the press of the enemy to present the assassination of a hostile heir to the throne by the assassins of a friendly country. With malice? That’s what he deserved, why did he go to Bosnia, whose annexation in 1908 – completely illegal in a Russian perspective – finally destroyed the Austro-Russian relations? In the voice of the final justice? With relief?

My childhood readings included my grandfather’s voluminous series, The Great War in writing and image, an impressive visual chronicle of the First World War, seen with Austro-Hungarian eyes. I just wondered why those volumes were published as early as in 1916. Why could they not wait two more years and give a more complete picture about the events? I did not yet know about the power of the thirst for information of the hinterland, neither that of the great publishing companies with important state support to quench it.

I saw with a great surprise that Russia overtook us in this enterprise. They already in 1915 published a six-volume album with an almost identical title: The Great War in drawings and pictures. After an outline of the international and domestic situation, the first volume begins with the attempt, dedicating four pages to it with the telling title The murder of Sarajevo.

The text of the first page summarizes the story which has been written many times since then. Two attempts were done against the Archduke visiting Sarajevo. First on the way to the town hall, the printer Nedeljko Čabrinović (in the Russian text Kabrinovich) throws a grenade on his car, but only two members of his train and a couple of bystanders get wounded. The Archduke arrives at the town hall, and then he continues his trip in the capital of Bosnia. At the corner of Franz Joseph Street the car loses its way (in the reality Governor Potiorek stops it, because it was following the original route instead of the one designated for security reasons after the first attempt), and at that moment Gavrilo Princip, an eighth-class student makes two deadly shots against the Archduke and his wife.

The text then gives a quick biography on Archduke Franz Ferdinand, who until 1901 stayed off any political activity, but then he started to follow an aggressive policy and discussed all questions with Emperor William of Germany, to whom he was also linked by personal friendship. Besides, he excelled in hostility towards Russia, in which he saw the main enemy of the Monarchy.

I do not think we expected such a restrained account from a Russian popular publication. The text presents the events objectively, it does not heroize the assassination, does not demonize in excess the Archduke, and regrets over the incomprehensible fact that anybody can consider Russia as an  enemy. The probable explanation of such a reserved tone is that a ruler’s murder is considered an absolute sin in a monarchy, even when it is done to a ruler of the enemy. Afer all, if we approve what happened there, in principle we allow it to happen here, too. And in Russia such a thing should never take place, never.

The same conclusion is suggested by the three illustrations accompanying the text. Franz Ferdinand and his wife leave the theater to drive to the town hall; Gavrilo Princip is dragged to the police; the Archduke and his family in a majestic tranquillity. All three are iconic photos in the era, and in fact, what other source could have a Russian publication relied on? Nevertheless they undergo a peculiar change of meaning only by virtue of being included in a publication of the other belligerent, where we would expect a less majestic image of the enemy’s ruling dynasty and a less condemnatory one of their assassin.

(At the sight of the many versions of the iconic photos in various publications, all cut in different ways, one wonders how the full original photos looked like.)

This general message in favor of all monarchies, however, is amply compensated by the subsequent two and a half pages. In these we see the Serbian ruler, Prime Minister and Commander in Chief, Serbian and Bosnian landscapes, the sites of the Serbian military successes, the Serbian infantrymen worthy of compassion. The reserved report comes to an end; happened what happened, these are our good friends. The classical European logic and rhetoric would hardly bear so sharply opposing claims in a row. But the visual propaganda targets exactly what still lies untouche below the layer of two thousand years of civilization.

A few hours after the publication of this post, Catherine sent us the three pages on the assassination of Sarajevo from the French counterpart of The Great War…, the first volume of L’album de la guerre, published by L’Illustration from 1914 until 1921. The similarities and the differences are both remarkable. Three of the Russian edition’s four illustrations – leaving the theater, dragging Princip to the police station, the view of Sarajevo – are also included here, which demonstrates the iconic nature of these photos. However, the text does not condemn the attempt, but rather – to found the image of the enemy – the stupidity and inertia of Governor Potiorek, which allowed it, and the subsequent demonstrations, during which the Croatian inhabitants of the city looted Serbian shops and homes.

Lemberg at home stretch

The program of our trip to the 4th Lemberg Klezmer Festival planned for 20-23 July is gradually being sorted out. We have just opened a Facebook page where we have published the information gathered so far and will continuously put up the new ones. Have a look at it from time to time, and subscribe for the news!

Lemberg’s empty places

This post has been originally written on the request of the Hungarian Jewish cultural review Szombat.
A city’s history is usually reconstructed on the basis of its still existing, visible monuments. In Lemberg/Lwów the case is the reverse. Here, the memory of the former Jewish inhabitants has been written into the city’s fabric in the form of the places left empty in the wake of the ravages of World War II. Their history must be reconstructed on the basis of the empty places and of the memories connected with them.

The starting point of the story can be dated precisely: 1367. It was then that Casimir III, King of Poland gave permission to the first Jews to settle down in the city – re-founded just eleven years earlier after the great flood on its new, present place – and to specialize in long-distance trade.

The first Jewish quarter was the southern street – the present Old Jewish Street – parallel to the magnificent central market place of the city, rebuilt in the form of a regular square. The northern street parallel to the main square, the present Armenian Street, became the quarter of the Armenians also invited by Casimir. The complex cooperation between the two streets was an important component of the significance and wealth of the city. The wares arriving along the Armenians’ trade routes from Persia through Eastern Anatolia and the Crimea changed hands on the market place and the stores of the city, and continued their way through Jewish mediation to Europe, first of all to Poland and the German-Roman Empire. When Louis the Great, King of Poland and Hungary for a short time attached Lemberg to Hungary, he also provided the local Jews with the right of unrestricted trade between the two countries, and they also maintained it when under his daughter, Queen Hedwig/Jadwiga the city again became part of Poland.

The Old Jewish Street is today the whole southern street parallel to the main square. In the Middle Ages, however, only its eastern part was the Jewish quarter, from the city arsenal to the gate rising at halfway of the street, which separated the Jewish neighborhood from the Christian town, and which was closed for the night. The gate and wall cutting the street in two parts does not exist any more, but its empty place is still remembered by the city coat of arms with the charmingly deformed lion on the medieval house standing at the corner. That is, it would be remembered if the house were not covered by scaffolding and canvas since years, thus doubling the lack of the earliest memory of the Jews in Lemberg.

There is another kind of absence that vividly reminds of the former inhabitants of the neighborhood. Walking through the street, on many doorposts we find a little oblique hole, the trace of the one-time mezuzahs (for a detailed map of their localization see this post). Such hole can be clearly seen on seven doorposts, while on a couple of other places one can only guess it under the plaster, or assume that on the predecessor of a recently replaced gatepost it was still there.

However, the greatest hiatus is found at the eastern end of the street, on the last, empty lot in front of the old arsenal built together with the ancient city wall. By pulling away the metal planks covering the entrance of the lot, and making your way through the area covered by debris, weeds and cat carcasses, in the depth of the lot you will see the remains of Gothic arches towering up, attached to the brandwall of the neighboring house. This was the Golden Rose Synagogue, once Lemberg’s largest synagogue and one of the oldest synagogues in the whole Poland, which served as a model to several other prayer houses in the country, including the High Synagogue in Krakow. Its builder between 1580 and 1595 was Yitzhak ben Nachman, the local Jewish counselor of Stephen Báthory, Prince of Transylvania and King of Poland, and its master the Italian Paulus Fortunatus, who raised a large number of Renaissance buildings all over Poland. In 1606, during a land dispute the Jesuits confiscated the synagogue from the Jewish community, and gave it back only three years later for a ransom of 20 thousand golds. The Sir Ge’ula, that is, the Song of Liberation composed on this occasion by Rabbi Yichak ben Shemuel HaLevi became a regular part of the Purim prayers in Lemberg. In 1941 the synagogue was closed down and in 1943, at the liquidation of the ghetto blown up by the German invaders. Its ruins have lain untouched for seventy years. After the downtown of Lemberg was declared World Heritage (1998), the city authorities gave permission to a private investor to build a hotel on the property, which would have meant the final destruction of the remains. On an international protest, however, the permission was withdrawn. The site has since been waiting for a positive turn of its destiny behind a metal construction plank.

The eastern street running parallel to the main square bears the name of another merchant nation, just like the southern and northern ones: Serbian Street. Nevertheless, also here we can find the traces of mezuzahs on some stone gateposts. The western street parallel to the main square is the only one which does not remind of a nation but of a place: Krakow. However, this name does not refer to the city of Krakow, but to the Krakow neighborhood beginning at the northeastern walls of the city, which was the second Jewish quarter of Lemberg. This quarter was populated at the same time as the Old Jewish Street, with Jews coming from Germany and Karaites coming from the Crimea. But as the privilege of King Casimir addressed only the merchants of the Old Jewish Street, the inhabitants of the Krakow did local and regional commerce as well as small scale industry. Over the centuries the quarter became more and more extensive and populated. Its last description can be read in the monumental Lemberg monography by Witold Szolginia, Tamten Lwów (“That” Lwów, 1996) whose translation we have already published.

Szolginia’s description sets before us a densely built and populated quarter. It is therefore surprising that in the northern part of the Krakow, right behind the opera house, we find today two large squares. The first one has even no name: it is just a large gap between the food market and Syanska Street, today used as a playground. Only a barely noticeable plaque at the corner of the playground recalls that until 1943 on this lot stood the Great Suburban Synagogue, built in 1633. The site has remained vacant ever since.

A little higher up, over the former Fish Market, at the corner of the Stary Rynok there stood the Reform Synagogue, built between 1843 and 1846 on the model of the Reform Synagogue of Vienna. The synagogue, which was a forerunner of the haskalah, the Jewish enlightenment, as well as of German culture, was erected with a powerful support of the Austrian authorities in midst of the suspicion and hostility of the local Orthodox and Hasidic communities, and it divided for decades the Jews of Lemberg. It was blown up together with the other two synagogues in 1943. Its former place is also remembered by an empty lot.

The common cemetery of the two Jewish quarters was in the southern part of the Krakow neighborhood, along Spitalna Street The large cemetery – or kirkut in its local Yiddish and later Ukrainian name, related to German Kirchhof – was in use since the 1400s; its first known graveposts are from the 1500s. They also include the magnificently carved Renaissance tombstone of Yitzhak ben Nachman, the founder of the Golden Rose Synagogue. This cemetery was also destroyed by the Germans and the local Ukrainian militia collaborating with them between 1941 and 1943. Unlike the other Jewish monuments, its former existence is not even indicated by an empty place. After 1941 the Soviet authorities, just like in many other Jewish shtetls, leveled the place of the cemetery. Above the old tombstones now an urban market is working.

Yitzhak ben Nachman’s tombstone in the Jewish cemetery of Lemberg. Photo before 1941

The entrance of the (much larger) urban market established above the Jewish cemetery, with the former Art Nouveau Jewish hospital in the background

The places mentioned in the post, on the map of Lwów from 1930, when they were marked for the last time

Wild East

“I was just waiting anxious for the administrative procedural law resit exam, when I caught sight of these, and they immediately reminded me of the century old graffiti on the wall of the Faculty of Literature, reported here on Río Wang. Now it is time for the Pázmány University to join it, too. These are much younger and less can be read out of them, but what do you think, is it worth to share them with the Wang readers?” – asks Petya. And of course it is worth!

The building of the Faculty of Law under Szentkirályi Street 28 was originally built for the St. Stephen Society book publisher and its printing house, the Stephaneum in 1898. At the nationalization of 1948 it was given to the Franklin printing house, and in 1990 it went over to the ownership of the university. Its unplastered red brick cover almost invites to noting down a hic fuit, and as the pictures show, after the nationalization there were a good number of people who could not resist the temptation.

29 June 1955 / 2 July 1999

L. Gy. 5 Aug 1964

TA FE Tihanyi (?) 1957. q E

R L 5 June 1964

Lóci, 29 July 1967

Head of an American Native chieftain. Below: “WINETTU” (Winnetou), to the right: “UFF” (Ough!) I cannot make out the inscription to the left. No date is visible.

“Very rare video”

I recently found some twenty hours of Finnish war newsreels on the web, and I’m going to write under their pretext some posts on the Finnish life around the Winter War. I expect the help of those readers of Río Wang who understand Finnish/Estonian. While doing background research on the newsreels, I have found the following short film which sheds a striking light on how the great powers considered the geopolitical situation of our region.

Fashion show of Finnish ladies, December 1940

When speaking about Finland, the Winter War is an unavoidable topic. I have been collecting material on this, especially from the point of view that the Western world let down the Finns in November 1939 exactly in the same way as they did to the Poles two months earlier. This is how I have found the following short film which thoroughly startled me.


This U.S. film can be viewed on Youtube. In summary, it describes the attack against the Finnish people, some well-known Finnish personalities speak to the Americans, then briefly presents the geographical and other conditions, and finally the former President of U.S. Hoover speaks.

During the presentation of the geographical conditions you can see the following map.

Yes, you see it well. According to this map, which – presumably – presents the situation of December 1939, still exists Austria, occupied in 1938, Czechoslovakia, broken up into a Protectorate of Bohemia and Moravia and a pro-Nazi Slovakia, as well as Poland, crushed into the status of a General Government.

And on this same map there exists no Hungary: its place is occupied by a gigantic Yugoslavia. True, there is no Portugal and Albania either. How fortunate that at least in the case of Finland it accurately indicates the boundaries before the Winter War.


Among many other reasons, similarly “accurate” maps also played their role in the post-WWI peace treaties whose anniversary has just been in June. And it seems that the job was and has remained relevant: plotting ourselves on the map.