A Lviv Idyll, 1936

Some flavour of life in multi-ethnic, prewar Lvov, now Lviv in Western Ukraine, is gleaned from an advertisement in Lwowskie wiadomości parafialne, a Catholic journal of the period. Marjan Kafka placed it on March 29, 1936.

Via the archival site Libraria:



Kafka operated a delicatessen at 3 Kopernika in Lvov. At the time, the city was half ethnic Polish, one-third Jewish, the remainder mostly Ukrainian.

Today the city is almost all Ukrainian, the result of a cataclysmic world war, the Nazi madness that eliminated most of the Jewish population (some 200,000), and the postwar Communist regime.

The Soviets arrived in September 1939, enforcing great changes of their own that including deporting many of the Jewish and Polish business class. But, for the Jews nothing could match the Nazi ferocity. It was preceded by pogroms instigated by the new overlords. Thousands of Jews died in this alone.

Before the war Jewish Lviv exhibited religious and cultural vibrancy, and professional, scientific, and business sophistication. It was wiped out by this brutalism.

We can say a civilization was destroyed along with the human toll, a sub-set of one, certainly. But in 1936, this could not be foreseen, at least, not its full extent, or the cruelty of its implementation.

For those who wish to know more, Dr. Philip Friedman’s report of 1945, included in the Yizkor (memorial) volume for Lvov published in 1956, tells the tale in horrifying detail. An excerpt from his report:

The death of the Lvov Jews is not just a horrendous act of physical extermination of 130,000 to 150,000 people, but is also, at the same time, one of many blows directed by Hitler barbarians at the heart of the human civilization. Their pursuit in the goal of exterminating people caused, in addition to material and moral damage, also an injury to the entire human civilization.

He elaborated on this by including the names of citizens of Lvov eminent in their field, from medicine to journalism, who were victims of the Holocaust.

Poles also experienced Nazi terror, the killing of 25 academics in Lvov is a well documented example.

Returning to the 1936 ad, Google translation renders it this way, with an unintended charming effect of mechanical translation:

MARJAN KAFKA and before A. SZKOWRON LVIV, Copernicus 3. Phone number 226-72. recommends; roasted coffee, tea, cocoa, chocolate, sugars, cakes, biscuits, biscuits, gingerbread, healing mountain honey, almonds, raisins and all kinds of roots, Głogov, Dembowiec, Jewish, Lithuanian meats, fish and meat servings, pates and all kinds of herring. Quality and liquor vodkas, French and domestic cognacs, liqueurs, grape and fruit wines, shampans and orig. English porter. Every day fresh Spas butter manor house. We buy and sell fattened poultry. -, Price lists on request. Very moderate prices!

It’s a kaleidoscope of Mitteleuropa liquid and solid delights. Porter in East Europe was well-appreciated into the 1930s despite having fallen into near disuse in London, place of its origin.

Ads for porter regularly appeared in the 1920s and ’30s media in Poland and what is now Western Ukraine. A 1924 ad in Chwila (the Moment) will illustrate, from Lviv Brewery in the city. Chwila was a Polish-language paper that issued from the Jewish community, see background in Yivo Encyclopedia.

One curious effect is that many ads suggest healthful implications, one set even named physicians with their endorsements. It was an echo of a practice last seen, in the Anglosphere, in Victorian times.

The 1924 ad touted Lviv Brewery’s Export, March, and Imperial Porter brands. Lviv Brewery was the local favourite, but many ads, in this journal and others, are suggestive of a busy market. Okocim (Jan Gotz) and Zywiec, as far afield as they were, touted their brands in Lvov.

The dominance of the local brewery endured in relatively small towns, but not a cosmopolitan centre like Lvov.

Below appears the city in interwar form ca. 1924, via Wikipedia.



The address where Marjan Kafka tended shop still exists, 3 Kopernyka, and the same building still stands. See in Google maps. It’s a handsome, 1920s structure with an undulating frontage. There is a food store of some kind at the base, still.

A detail from the Google maps view:



Further modern views of 3 Kopernyka are set out in this Wikipedia Commons collection. The street, or that stretch, seems rather unchanged in fact, but that is not to be taken as symbolic of the city.

I’d like to think Kafka (how eerie the name!) greeted his diverse customers expansively, in many languages, that they joked in amity when musing over delicacies in his display cases.*

One customer to another: “That herring in oil looks wspaniały, Franz!”. Kafka nods, well, proprietorially.

Hopefully his healing mountain honey assuaged the mental and physical pains of aged, or particularly sensitive, customers. His fine liquors did, I’m sure.

It was the old Europe, quite imperfect, with a contorted ethnic and cultural history that led finally to WW II and Holocaust – but it did not have to.

Things could have been different but for an accident of birth here or there, a political decision this way or that, especially a foreign policy one in that very 1936, in Britain or France. We will never know.

Note re images: source of each image is linked in text. Used for educational and research purposes. All intellectual property therein belongs solely to the lawful owner, as applicable. All feedback welcomed.


*Marjan can be a male or female given name. Here it was probably male, as Poles and other Slavs typically use the term for males.



4 thoughts on “A Lviv Idyll, 1936”

  1. My wife and I spent about a week in Lviv in the summer of 2012 around Independence Day. Your article brings back memories. We had a lunch along with a bottle of Lvivsky Porter in the old cellar restaurant at Carlsberg’s Lvivsky brewery. You note that the building at 3 Kopernika dates from the ’20s, but might not be representative of the city. In fact the city center took almost no damage from the WWII fighting itself, and is almost unchanged. The Old Town is a UNESCO World Heritage site. Not all of the structures have been maintained as nicely as 3 Kopernika. I think a shorthand description of Lviv might be a down-at-the-heels Vienna. We stayed at the Wien Hotel. Some of the city’s trams are hand-me-downs from Vienna itself (1 meter gauge). Independence Day included a dance and music celebration of Lviv’s history of ethnic diversity, which has been mostly lost over the last 100 years. At that event in the town square, we caught Polish, Austrian and several Ukrainian ethnic groups.

    • Very interesting Arnold, thanks. I am glad you tasted the Livskie Porter, in fact that brand as made interwar is subject of my next post, so look for that. Point taken about the city centre surviving, I probably didn’t express it well, but I meant the prewar look of the street does not denote that the city retains its prewar character (in general). It is a rather different city today, due to the absence of the large Polish group (forcibly relocated after the war, by my reading) and the murder of almost all the Jews. I think increasingly the past is being remembered though, as we discussed earlier, and the kind of events you mentioned reflect this. Some of the museums are doing good work too.

      How was the beer, like some craft porter or stout?

      • The 8% Lvivsky Porter was good, but by no means craft, probably similar to the apparently extinct Polish Carlsberg Okocim Porter. As for the history of ethnic diversity, we visited the Lychakiv cemetery. The oldest graves are those of the early prominent Austrians. In the rear is a huge, well-kept field of Polish military graves for those who died fighting the Ukrainian rebels just after WWI (my wife’s father was about 20 at the time and might have been one of the Ukrainian rebels). Of course, almost all of the Jewish historical record in the city was wiped out in the Nazi occupation. A couple of streets in the old Jewish neighborhood are now named for named for notables Shalom Aleichem and Yakov Rappaport.


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