The first time I visited Lviv’s Citadel was by accident. This would never have happened if I had not become lost on a morning run. I had never been in Lviv before and had done no prior planning as to a running route. My accommodation, the Old City Hostel, was adjacent to Prospekt Svobody, the heavily trafficked boulevard in the city center. Leaving the hostel around 8:00 a.m. I headed out across the Prospekt, a mistake I would never make again. Both foot and auto traffic was heavy. The entire city seemed to be going to work or school. At several points I was reduced to running in place while crowds of annoyed and surprised pedestrians stared at me like I was crazy. They had a point. The sidewalks were packed, but crossing streets was even more dangerous. I dodged in and out of traffic, trying to look both ways before darting out into the road. After running for my life across several city blocks, the heavy foot traffic subsided, but the sidewalk narrowed. Close by I noticed some woods, perhaps this was a park. Unfortunately these woods covered a very steep hillside. I managed to make out a very rough path into the woods. It was steep and narrow. Normally I would avoid a trail that was in such poor condition, but I was desperate. The path headed up an incline of at least 30%. Soon my legs were burning and I was gasping for air. At one point I nearly slid down the hillside, as the soft, sandy earth gave way. This was not going well.
Running Up Against The Past – The Citadel: Towers of Death
Through the thick foliage I spied a very large structure at the top of this hill. Surely, the path had to go there. I broke through the undergrowth and found the trail went around the building, which was large and red. Making a complete circuit of the structure only took about a minute. The only other foot traffic was a man walking his dog. After a couple of laps I started to study the structure. Its shape and red brick exterior made me guess that it had been a part of some type of antiquated military structure. The area around was overgrown and unkempt. Whatever it was, the structure looked as though it had seen better days. Little did I know at the time that this building had once been a major part of a complex in Lviv known as the Citadel.
Later I would discover that the building had been the setting for some of World War II’s most murderous activity. 280,000 Prisoners of War, mostly Soviet, had been held in the four “towers” that made up the Citadel. Over 100,000 of these perished in the complex, mainly of starvation. During the war, the Citadel was officially known as Stalag 328. Of course, during my run I knew nothing of this history. The obscure, abandoned building was just an object to run laps around. When I learned of its wartime history I was stunned. Later I learned something even more disconcerting. Nearby was the “Second Maximillian Tower” also known as the “Tower of Death.” This was where prisoners were interrogated and held before execution. It was in much better condition, not restored, but refurbished as the Citadel Inn, a luxury Five Star Hotel.
The Past Reduced To A Price – Five Star Stalag
This past autumn I revisited the grounds of the Citadel, this time I was walking not running. I made my way through the woods, this time taking a much better kept path. The building I had done laps around was still there, looking much the same. It was still in rather poor condition. As I studied the structure, I could not shake the ominous feeling that came from the knowledge that so many people had died inside of it. The 100,000+ death toll still boggles my mind. It is equivalent to over half the United States servicemen killed in the entire European theater of operations during the war. The total number of those who were either starved to death or executed at Stalag 328 cannot be compared to the Western Front POW experience. What shook me further was the fact that with the majority dying of starvation, there is little doubt that cannibalism likely took place on the grounds.
Trying to come to terms with such brutality is one thing, but when set against the present reality of the Citadel Inn, it is unfathomable. The manicured grounds, the pristine parking facility filled with high dollar SUV’s and the picture perfect glass door entrance, were chilling. This was not history, but reality, with the past reduced to a price. The people who died and suffered within the Citadel’s Walls deserve better, Lviv’s citizens deserve better. I have been to many dreadful places in Central and Eastern Europe, the Sachsenhausen Concentration Camp, the KGB Prison in Vilnius, the ghost town of Pripyat close to Chernobyl and the House of Terror in Budapest to name but a few, but the Citadel Inn is by far the most unsettling. It does not try to make history right, it does not tell what happened inside those walls, it ignores an ungodly amount of human suffering all in the service of making money. Could there be anything further from the wartime history of this place? The answer to that question is unfortunately yes. The Citadel Inn’s website has the last word…for now:
“If you’re planning a vacation or business trip, the question of where to stay in Lviv has at last disappeared. In the heart of the city, at the luxury “Citadel Inn” Hotel & Resort, you will feel the homeliness and appreciate the superior quality of rest and relaxation at our fabulous 5-star hotel, which offers an unforgettable experience of comfort and service. Restaurants in Lviv reflect the hospitality of the locals – it’s not just simply a place to eat! Our panoramic restaurant “Garmata” will open the pages of high European and Ukrainian cuisine for you, with an amazing panorama of this Lemberg city.”