The Jewish Holdings of Central State Historical Archives in Lviv (TsDIAL)
The former Polish town of Lwow (today Lviv in Ukraine) holds a very special place on the map of Jewish archives. There, unlike in almost all other localities in the interwar Poland, tens of Jewish archival holdings survived the war and are today to be found in the local archives known by its acronym TsDIAL. Quite probably this phenomenon can be explained by the fact that prior to the German occupation of Lwow in the summer of 1941, the town was for almost two years incorporated into the Soviet Union, the Jewish organization were disbanded and their records moved to the local archives where their chances of survival were much higher than elsewhere.
Among the Jewish archives kept in TsDIAL one can find records of the Lwow Jewish Community, local branch of HIAS, various Zionist organizations including the Zionist Federation of Eastern Galicia, professional organizations, political parties, sport clubs, and more.
From the genealogical point of view the most important holding is the archives of the Palestine Office (PO), the local representation of the Immigration Department of the Jewish Agency in Jerusalem. The task of Palestine Offices, which maintained presence in many major cities of Eastern and Central Europe during the interwar period, was to organize immigration to Palestine by distribution of “certificates” (immigration visas) issued by the Mandatory authorities in Palestine and otherwise taking care of all the arrangements necessary for the successful emigration. The core of the PO archives are thousands of forms filled out by the candidates for emigration, which, in many cases also included their photos. The forms were to be filled out in Hebrew except for the names of the applicants and their places of birth and residence which, quite naturally, were to be provided in Polish.
As usual, the forms are not of equal value for genealogical research but some of them provide quite a lot of information. Take, for example, the following 1935 form submitted by Elias Leib (Leon) Waschitz, who was born on 15 February 1856 in Lwow son of Joshua and [no first name] Reiss. He was a resident of Zloczow where he served as a manager of the Registry of Jewish Residents. He and his wife, Alte Schwadron, requested to join their son, Efraim Waschitz, a well-known lawyer and public figure in Jerusalem.
In contrast to this elderly couple, clearly desiring to spend their last days with their son in Jerusalem, the following 1934 form represents a young woman who wishes to study at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem: Julia Bronislawa Wegner, born in Drohobycz on 25 July 1912, daughter of Izak and Tonia Haber. Julia’s father, an owner of mines in Boryslaw, must have been a very rich man because the young lady intends to take with her to Palestine 1,000 pounds, an enormous sum at that time.
Some of the forms are accompanied by correspondence between the applicants and the PO, and, in the case of applicants wishing to emigrate as “pioneers”, by the Health Card filled out and signed by a medical doctor which was needed to establish if the candidate is healthy enough for the hard physical work in Palestine.
If you would like to research the PO archives, I have some very good news for you as well as some not so good news. The very good news is that the entire PO archives (as well as many other TsDIAL’s Jewish holdings) were copied by the USHMM and are available on-line (just search for “Fond 332” on their “Collection Search” page). The not so good news is that the list of files is in Ukrainian only (it is not on-line but you can request to have it emailed to you) and, in fact, its usefulness is quite limited because the cards in Polish were arranged according to the Cyrillic alphabet which caused quite a lot of confusion and, in many cases, the local archivists, not familiar with Jewish names, arranged the cards by the first names of the applicants and not by their family names.
But, well, nobody’s perfect.
(Written in May 2023)