Tarnow Ghetto - Market Place
Tarnow is located approximately 56 miles east of Krakow. On the outbreak of the Second World War, about 25,000 Jews, some 45 percent of the city’s population, were residing in the city. German armed forces occupied the city on 7 September 1939, and Ernst Kundt became the first Kreishauptmann, with Walter Heinrich as his deputy. Kundt was succeeded in this post by Dr Kipke. The headquarters of the Gestapo, Order Police and Sonderdienst were all in the city as it was the centre of the District.
During 9-11 September 1939, the Germans burnt down all the synagogues and prayer houses in Tarnow. By an order issued on 20 October 1939, the Jews of Tarnow had to wear the Star of David on their clothes. In November 1939, the Jewish bank accounts were blocked; on 12 November 1939, the Germans ordered the Jews to mark their business premises and the entrances to cafes and restaurants with a painted white Star of David. The penalty for disobeying the order was 10 years imprisonment and a fine; after the creation of the ghetto, the penalty was death. Jews aged between 14 and 60 had to enlist for forced labour. Jewish schools and institutions were closed. In the first weeks of the Second World War, many Jews fled to the Soviet occupation zone.
In November 1939, the Germans appointed a Jewish Council (Judenrat) in Tarnow. Initially, it was chaired by a former head of the Jewish community, Dr Jozef Offner, who quickly resigned. The next chairman, Dawid Lenkowicz, and another Judenrat member, Ruwen Waksman, escaped to Lvov. A new Judenrat was appointed in 1940, headed by Dr. Szlomo Goldberg, and Dr. Wolf Schenkel, who were both arrested by the Germans and sent to the Auschwitz concentration camp. Eventually, Artur Volkman became chairman of the Judenrat. The Judenrat was entrusted with preparing lists of Jews for forced labour and handling social issues. It also provided assistance to inmates of the Pustkow labour camp.
From the beginning of January 1940, Jews were prohibited from moving to other towns, travelling or using the main streets. They were restricted from entering districts north of Krakowska and Walowa Streets and west of Brodzinski Street. In time, they were also prohibited from looking out of their windows onto certain streets. Jews had to clear the streets of snow and rubbish. In April 1940, Jews were forbidden to enter public parks, and on 17 April 1940, a curfew was imposed on the Jews, who could remain outside until only 9.00 p.m. In the spring of 1940, the Germans demanded a ransom of 500,000 zloty from the Jewish community, which it managed to collect in the hope of easing the restrictions.
In June 1940, the Germans publically destroyed Jewish prayer shawls and religious books. The Jews were prohibited from performing the ritual slaughter of animals. In the summer of 1940, the Jews were assembled in the town’s square, while the Germans plundered their homes. On 13 June 1940, the Germans arrested 753 men in Tarnow, among them 5 prominent Jews. The next day 728 men were sent on ordinary passenger train to the Auschwitz concentration camp. The prisoners from Tarnow were tattooed with numbers from 31 to 758 and this marked the beginning of the hell that was Auschwitz concentration camp. Almost 200 of them survived, though none of the survivors were Jews.
On 7 August 1940, the more prosperous Jews who lived on Krakowska and Walowa Streets received an order to move out of their houses within 12 hours and move to the eastern part of the city – Grabowka, which was inhabited mostly by poorer Jews. This was the first step towards the creation of a ghetto, but it was not completed until early 1942. On the order of Stadtkommissar Dr. Hein, on 16 October 1941, the wearing of beards and side locks by Jews was forbidden for ‘sanitary reasons.’ For violating this order, a fine of 100 zloty and 14-day arrest were imposed. At this time Jews were also banned from the following streets in Tarnow: Krakow, Jasna, Marktstrasse, Wallstrasse, Kathedralstrasse, including Kazimierz Square to the circle, the Kleinen and Grossen Treppe, Bastei Treppe, Fischgasse, and Festungsgasse. It was forbidden for Jews to come closer than 100 meters to those streets. The presence of Jews in the whole western part of the city now was strictly forbidden. Some Jews who lived there could only enter the eastern part of the city from the southern pathway on Narutowicz, Lipowa, or Mickiewicz Streets; the Jews who lived near the circle could access it through Brama Pilznenska. Going to work located in the forbidden streets was possible only by taking the nearest adjacent cross streets. This order forced most of the Jews to move into the Grabowka district in the east of the city.
On 16 October 1941, the Germans created a Jewish Police force consisting of approximately 300 policemen. The Jewish Police was headed initially by Miller, then Wasserman, and finally by Diestler. Diestler was a German Jew, who had once held the rank of a captain in the Austrian army. His brutality was much feared among the Jews. The Jewish Police was located in the building of the bus depot at Magdeburg Platz, which before the war was known as Plac Targowica.
In the winter of 1941-1942, the Jews had to surrender all fur clothing, winter boots, and skis on pain of death. From 1 December 1941, Jews were prohibited from receiving food packages. A German police officer, Grunow came to Tarnow and staged an ‘Aktion’ against the Jews on 8 December 1941: over 100 Jews were arrested, 17 of those were shot, and the rest were released after a few days.
The process to complete the ghetto in Tarnow took place by February 1942. The Germans established an open ghetto in Tarnow that encompassed the following area : left side of Lvov Street, Pod Debem Square; and Nowa, Folwarczna, Szpitalna, Polna, and Jasna Streets. There were four entrances to the ghetto: two at Magdeburg Platz, the third at Pod Debem Square and the fourth at Folwarczna Street, near the Judenrat building.
Until 1942, the Jews had managed to live as normally as they could in such circumstances. They were still able to bury the dead at the Jewish cemetery. At the beginning of 1942, all Jews had to register with the German authorities. Up to 20 March 1942, there were 251 reported deaths in the ghetto. Death resulted from hunger, exhaustion, an epidemic of typhus and random shootings. The Jewish population feared for their lives, the streets were empty by 6.00 p.m. Approximately 9,500 Jews were receiving social help, the four community kitchens distributed around 7,000 meals per day; there were 78 children in the orphanage, and 51 people resided in the home for the elderly.
On 1 April 1942, on the eve of Passover, the German officers Grunow and Wilhelm Rommelmann, on noticing a Jewish woman selling poultry, demanded to know who had performed the slaughter. The Germans stormed into the house of Lipa, a ritual slaughterer and killed him and his family. The Jewish community was deeply affected by the incident, and many stopped eating meat. On 24 April 1942, 56 Jews were murdered following their return to Tarnow from Lvov. In May 1942, the Germans demanded from the Judenrat 500,000 zloty and furniture sufficient for 500 German apartments. At the end of May 1942, the head of the Jewish Police received an order from the Germans to increase the size of the Jewish police force.
Julian Scherner, announced that anyone providing aid to the Jews of Tarnow upon their resettlement would be punished by death. The notice also specified that on 11 June 1942, no Jews were to leave their houses, but the houses should remain open. During the first ‘Aktion’ of 11-18 June 1942, which was directed by Wilhelm Rommelmann, German and Ukrainian auxiliary units shot around 6,000 Jews, mainly the sick, the elderly and children, in the Buczyna Forest at Zbylitowska Gora; they also sent approximately 11,500 to the Belzec death camp and shot 3,000 Jews at the Jewish cemetery in Tarnow. Following this ‘Aktion,’ the ghetto was considerably reduced in size.
On 19 June 1942, Stadthauptmann Gustav Hackbarth announced the creation of an enclosed ghetto for the remaining Jews in Tarnow. According to the decree 20,000 Jews, as well as Jewish converts, had to move into the ghetto within 48 hours. From the house on 16 Lwowska Street, the borders of the ghetto ran through the following streets: Zamknieta, Szpitalna, Jasna, through Polna Street; right side of Goldhammera, Drukarska, Nowa to Folwarczna Streets. The area was sealed off with barbed wire. There were four guarded gates leading to the ghetto: two of them at Magdeburg Platz, the third at Folwarczna Street, and the fourth at the Pod Debem Square. Polish (Blue) Police guarded the ghetto externally, and Jewish Police guarded it on the inside. The ghetto was administered by Hermann Blache, who lived at 24 Lwowska Street.
The Jews were prohibited from leaving the ghetto on pain of death. There was a Jewish post office inside the ghetto directed by Bronislaw Perlberg. The death penalty also applied for making contact with the Polish population. Some Jews like Mania Korn, Dr Lustig, and Ms Organd, were killed by the Germans for contacting Poles. Jews had to perform forced labour both inside and outside the ghetto. Food was scarce, but some people managed to smuggle food in on their return from work details outside of the ghetto. There was an orphanage run by Dr Lieblich, four community kitchens, and a branch of the Jewish Social Self –Help (JSS) organisation. There was also a Jewish hospital section which treated patients with tuberculosis, which was run by Dr. Eugeniusz Schipper.
After the ghetto was established, there were about 40,000 Jews including Jews from Tarnow itself and its immediate vicinity. There were also about 3,000 refugees from Krakow, as well as Jews from Austria, Czechoslovakia, and Germany. The Jews organised their own associations of craftsmen that produced items for the Germans. Work details outside the ghetto were escorted by either the Germans or Polish (Blue) Police. The workers received little payment, and those who did not work received no official help. There were a number of German companies and concerns that used Jewish forced labour included: Papapol, Bon Boveru, Julius Madritsch and the Ostbahn (Eastern Railroads) among others.
On 11 September 1942, another registration of the Jewish population took place. Some of those who did not get their identification cards stamped with a stamp sought help from the artisan Raba, who produced forged stamps for a nominal fee. During the second ‘Aktion’ on 12 September 1942, which was orchestrated by Rommelmann, the ghetto was surrounded by German and Polish (Blue) units. Jews were ordered to assemble at the Magdeburg Platz After the initial selection, another selection was made in which every tenth Jew was picked out for deportation. Nineteen –year-old Mosze Alban resisted a German by spitting and biting him, after which the German shot him. On 13 September 1942, approximately 3,500 Jews were deported to the Belzec death camp. Overall, close to 8,000 Jews from ghettos in Tarnow, Brzesko, Dabrowa, Tarnowska, Tuchow, Zabno and Zakliczyn were deported to the Belzec death camp in this ‘Aktion.’
The third ‘Aktion’ took place on 15 November 1942, a few days earlier, a notice appeared announcing that Jews who were hiding in nearby towns and villages could safely enter the Tarnow ghetto. On the day of the ‘Aktion’ itself the Polish (Blue) Police surrounded the ghetto, while the Germans rounded up 2,500 Jews, whom they sent to the Belzec death camp. The following day on 16 November 1942, SS- OberscharBy November 1942, all the smaller ghettos in Kreis Tarnow had been liquidated. The Jews who had to clear the area of the former ghettos were transferred to the remaining larger ghettos, including Tarnow, in which approximately 12,000 Jews were now concentrated. Further movement restrictions were imposed on the Jews remaining in the Tarnow ghetto. New armbands were issued, specifying the types of companies where the Jews were working.
There were some escapes from the ghetto. In the ghetto there was a group of young Jews from Ha-Shomer Ha-Za’ir, of which the most active were Josek Bruder, Szmulik Springer, and Melech Bienenstok. They managed to obtain weapons and make contact with the Polish Underground. They also helped those Jews living outside the ghetto. Josef Birken, one of the leaders, and his sister Franka forged Aryan papers. Another form of resisting the enemy was the observance of religious practices, which the Germans had forbidden. For example Sam Goetz’s parents prepared a celebration of his Bar Mitzvah on 21 June 1941.
Amon Leopold Göth arrived in Tarnow to liquidate the ghetto. On 2 September 1943, in the early morning, German and Ukrainian –SS units surrounded the ghetto and removed the internal fence which divided the two ghettos. The Jews were ordered to assemble on Magdeburg Platz. They were notified that they were being sent to the Plaszow camp, in Krakow. Children could not be taken, but mothers secretly smuggled their children with them on the transport. The final round-up and deportation ‘Aktion’ was conducted on 2-3 September 1943, during which Amon Göth displayed inhuman cruelty towards the Jews. The majority of the Jews about 8,000 were in fact sent to the Auschwitz concentration camp, whilst 3,000 were sent to the Plaszow forced labour camp.
A group of some 300 young and strong Jews were selected to clean out the ghetto. This group of Jews were located in two buildings at 13 and 14 Szpitalna Street, which constituted the last closed area of the Tarnow ghetto . The Ukrainian guards locked the Jews in the houses after they returned from work. The population of the ghetto increased to about 500 when some Jews came out of the bunkers where they had been hiding, a few days after the ‘Aktion’ had ended. These ‘illegal inhabitants’ of the ghetto were shot on their way to Szebnie at the end of September 1943. Also, 150 Jews who were no longer needed were taken to Szebnie and the last transport, of the remaining 150 Jews from Tarnow, were sent to Plaszow, which was now designated as a concentration camp on 9 February 1944. Some Jews were able to hide in the Tarnow area, but around 450 Jews were arrested in different hiding places and were assembled on Widok Street. The Germans shot them and burned their bodies. Others managed to find shelter in nearby villages and towns, whilst some lived using forged Aryan documents.
The Encyclopaedia of Camps and Ghettos 1933-1945, USHMM, Indianna University Press Bloomington and Indianapolis 2012
Y. Arad, Belzec, Sobibor, Treblinka – The Aktion Reinhard Death Camps, Indiana University Press, Bloomington and Indianapolis 1987
Thanks to Adam Bartosz – Director Muzeum Tarnow
Photograph – Chris Webb Archive
© Holocaust Historical Society 2014