| 2012 |
Kazimierz Brodziński High School No 1
Tarnów used to be a multicultural town, home to Poles, Roma, Ukrainians and Jews. In fact, after Stanisławów, Lviv and Krakow, Tarnow was the largest center of Jewish life in Galicia [southern region of Poland annexed by Austria from 1795 to 1918]. Initially, Jews would settle mostly on the city’s outskirts, to the east of the center. Later on, they were allowed to settle closer to town, at Żydowska Street [Jewish street]. They were allowed to engage in trade, work, they had their own synagogue and cemetery. This was all specified in the royal privileges that would be bestowed on the Jewish community, taken back and bestowed again. The situation became more stable in the 18th century, when the city became impoverished and fell into misery. It was then that Jews were again allowed to settle in Tarnów. By 1772, they accounted for 34% of the local population. They had their own school headed by a rector, then another one. They ran their own hospital, trade and industry. Their numbers grew over time, with the community gaining new members who moved into new areas of the town. Jews inhabited the eastern part of Tarnów, known as Grabówka, but also the area around the main square and adjacent streets. As time went on, more and more Zionist associations sprouted up in Tarnów, making it the hub of Polish Zionist movement. The Love of Zion and Rebirth Galician Association for Colonization Works in Palestine, whose members donated money and bought 900 hectares of land in Upper Galilee. They called the land Machnaim.
The first eleven colonists from Tarnów left for Palestine in the fall of 1898. A few months later, they were joined by five more. At the beginning of 20th century, construction of the Great Synagogue was complete. Another school was built and the first Jewish library opened; “The Jewish Weekly” began to be published on a regular basis. Jews would arrive in Tarnów and at the same time others would leave, moving on to Palestine. Before World War II, there were still 25,000 Jews living in Tarnów, among them both intellectuals and paupers, bakers and merchants, doctors and hairdressers, musicians and shoemakers, industrialists and shop owners. Then the war came and with it – the Germans, who entered the city on September 7. They devastated and burned down all the town’s synagogues: the Deborah Menkes Synagogue, the Hassidic Synagogue, the Tempel and the Jubilee Synagogue, apple of the eye of the local Jewish community. All forty prayer houses were burned down as well; not a single one survives today. First transports to Auschwitz deported Tarnów’s Jewish intellectuals and party leaders. Around 40 thousand people were locked inside the ghetto, which was created in March 1941. First mass murders were organized between 11 and 19 of June 1942, when a few thousand Jews were herded into the main square and killed. It is said that their blood turned all streets adjacent to the square red. Jews were being murdered on the streets; three thousand people were shot dead at the Jewish cemetery.
In Zbylitowska Góra, a stone’s throw away from Tarnów, another seven thousand people were killed: the old, the sick and the children. Around eight hundred children. Twelve thousand Jews were deported to Bełżec death camp, then another five thousand to Auschwitz-Birkenau and yet another three thousand to Płaszów. In 1943, during the liquidation of Tarnów’s ghetto, another 10 thousand were murdered, with everyone else deported to Płaszów camp and Szebinie labor camp. Of the few hundred that came back to Tarnów after World War II, most had survived by escaping to Soviet Union.
As part of School of Dialogue project implemented in Tarnów’s Kazimierz Brodziński High School, local youth took the younger students on a walking tour, showing them places where Jews had once lived and sites where traces of this presence can still be found. For example, if someone takes a closer look at the houses on the main square and touches their door frames, traces of mezuzot can still be spotted. It was there that program participants told their younger peers about the persecutions, murders and executions. About the victims and how many there were, something that most of the tour’s participants had no idea about. Then, at Żydowska Street [Jewish Street], they pointed out old houses, explaining which are which and when they were built; that their antechambers are usually narrow and have small backyards; some of them still have cast-iron window shutters, remnants from what once were Jewish-owned shops. A plaque on one of the corner buildings commemorates a massacre from June 1942. There is also a bimah at Żydowska Street, with a gate leading to it; a notice informing that this used to be the site of a synagogue, the oldest one in Tarnów, hangs on the gate.
Initially built in 1581 and – according to the documents – made of wood, later – in early 17th century – replaced by a different building. The cast-iron fence is a fragment of this latter synagogue, which was burnt and then torn down in 1939. On Wałowa Street stands a monument of Roman Brandstaetter: writer, translator, playwright and Bible scholar, who was born in Tarnów in 1906. With a beret on his hand, pipe in his mouth, he peers at passersby through his glasses. Goldhammera Street commemorates Tarnów’s deputy mayor dr Eliasz Goldhammer. In early 20th century it was rare to have a street bear a Jewish name in honor of someone’s life work. A prayer house stood at 1 Wałowa Street up until 1993; next door at 3 Wałowa Street was Herman Soldinger’s hotel, allegedly the most prestigious one in Tarnów. The mikveh at Oświęcimia Square, which the tour group also visited, was designed by F. Hakcbeil and M. Mikoś and built in 1904 in Moorish style. Since 1996, it has been home to a shopping center, covered in billboards and advertisements. Students talked about the current state of the building with compassion, suggesting what could be done to change this.
Tarnów’s Jewish cemetery is located a little past the junction with SŁoneczna Street and is among the best-preserved sites of its kind in southern Poland. A few thousand headstones, the oldest dating back to the 17th century, still stand. The area used to be part of the village of Pogwizdów. A monument now stands at the cemetery, placed there in 1946. It’s a fragment of a broken column that used to hold the roof of Tarnów’s New Synagogue. Inscription on the monument is a quote from a poem by Nahman Bialik about the Kishinev pogrom in 1904: “and it was sunny weather.”
Kazimierz Brodziński High School No 1
2nd year students
Yulia Gordeeva, Anna Maculewicz
School of Dialogue program in Tarnów was made possible by the support from JEROME OSTROV.
In appreciation to Friends of the Forum for supporting the School of Dialogue educational program.