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[Page 808]

The Suffering and the
Destruction of the Tarnow Jewry

 

The Annihilation of the Jews of Tarnow

by Dr. Abraham Komet

Pages 808-809 translated by Yaacov Dovid Shulman

Pages 810-870 translated by Gloria Berkenstat Freund

1.

The autumn of 1939 was warm, wonderful and sunny, as though in league with Hitler's troops, helping them advance across Polish highways and roads to despoil the Polish land. This happened on Thursday, September 8, 1939. On that day, Tarnow was all but evacuated.

Three days earlier, on Monday, September 5, a citizens' assembly was held in the hall of the city council and a committee to help the victims of the war was elected. A great campaign to help war casualties was prepared.

In truth, the news from the front was not at all encouraging. German bombers bombed Polish cities and towns constantly and without opposition. But no one foresaw that it would be so bad– particularly after a strong division of Polish artillery traveled through the city in the direction of St. Martin's Hill in order–so people convinced themselves–to defend the city. Even in the offices of the Jewish community normal routine continued, with focus on helping the waves of refugees fleeing Cracow and Shlezye[1]. A soup kitchen for the refugees and needy of Tarnow was set up in the community building. The then–city president, Dr. Bradzinski, even assigned an increased subsidy to the kitchen.

That same night, the city was intensively bombed and the building entirely burned down. Anti–aircraft volunteer groups worked with great dedication, paying no attention to the menacing danger. At the train station, special evacuation trains were in service and already congested.

The next day, September 6, the mayor and all those on the presidium of the city council were no longer in the city. In addition, many committee members of the Jewish community had left Tarnow. Whoever could, fled the city– though no longer via the main highway to Lemberg but detoured in the direction of Greater Radomyshl (Radomysl Wielki [?]) near Melitz (Mielec [?]). These were the last refugees who at the very end of the evacuation went into an unknown world. Throughout the entire route, along New Dambrover Street , past the Lisia Gora Mountain, snaked a stream of refugees, men and women, often with children in their arms. They were going into the unknown, fleeing the enemy. Everyone then believed that they had only to cross the San River and rest there, and within a few weeks would return to their liberated home city. Meanwhile, people left their families and the few possessions for which they had toiled for many years in God's hands. Women took leave of their husbands and sons, who had to report to the Polish army. According to rumors, this was grouping on the other side of the Bug River.

Tarnow emptied. Those who remained in the city locked themselves in their homes. In the street, no living soul could be seen. With hearts pounding and in great fear, people in the city awaited the arrival of the Germans.

The suspense quickly came to an end. On Thursday, September 8, 1939, at eleven in the morning, a German soldier riding a noisy motorcycle arrived in front of the house at Lwowska 14, where Menashe Wachtel's restaurant was located. Very quickly, masses of German soldiers with tanks and cannon drove through Krakow, Wałowa and Lwowska Streets.

The city was occupied by the Germans. The first decrees of the occupying force appeared. Slowly people began to get used to them. Jews and Poles who had run away returned home. Many of them remained stuck on the road, not having the strength to travel by foot day and night– particularly since German tanks pursued them.

When an order to reopen the stores was issued, life in the city began again, regulated by German injunctions. Those were the first war days. German divisions wound through the city. The demand for various goods grew stronger. At first, it appeared that those who remained in the city had been right. Nevertheless, fear and anxiety crept across the Jewish street. There was not a single family without a father or son who had not left home and gone to unfamiliar locations, which now had become cut off and unreachable. Where were they now? Trembling wives and mothers asked, “Where is my husband? Where is my child wandering?”

There were also other, deeper reasons for Jewish anxiety. For Jews, the German soldier was not only an occupier, but an enemy…

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… For Jews, the German soldier was not only an occupier, but an enemy raised on slogans about Jewish

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voraciousness, [slogans] that [the Germans] had [enacted into law] earlier in their country. Therefore, the Jewish communal workers and leaders of Jewish organizations were in the shadows, did not show themselves to the German occupier and avoided all contact with the new rulers. Although bloodthirsty Latvian or Ukrainian fascists were not yet in the city [and] the Gestapo had not yet appeared, the Jews nevertheless did not believe the Germans and by various means arrived in eastern Galicia, where the Red Army was located. There were those who longed for their families, for their homes and, suspecting a long lasting war, without prospect for work and the means with which to support themselves, searched for roads from eastern Galicia and Lithuania to return home, to Tarnow, where they could, at least during the first weeks, live and earn a living.

From the outside, normal life continued at the beginning of the occupation. The Jewish population was not yet isolated from the Polish population, although there already was no shortage of anti–Semitic edicts.

On the 26th of October 1939 a proclamation was published by the General Governor of occupied Poland, Hans Frank, in which he clearly declared that there would be no place for the “Jewish exploiters” in the lands under German rule. Therefore, the Germans began to destroy the material existence of the Jewish population. By order of the same Frank, forced labor for Jews was introduced on the 26th of October 1939 and labor colonies were created everywhere. The representative of the German sicherheitsdienst [security service] over these areas was given the authorization to carry out the decrees over [daily] life.

In November 1939, at the order of the German security police, the registration of Jews began in Krakow and then in other places. At the same time all Jewish bank accounts and deposits were blocked. Special German commissars took over the larger Jewish trade and industrial enterprises. The profits from these enterprises were brought into a German bank in the name of “sperrkonto” [account set up to buy foreign currency] and the Jewish owners at first were paid up to 1,000 zlotes a month. Then, only 250 zlotes.

All cultural activity in the Jewish neighborhood ceased; all communal institutions and political organizations suspended their work. Schools for Jews were closed. A German storeroom was organized in the building of the Safah Berurah School. The Talmud–Torah [religious primary school for poor children], the Undzere Kinder [our children] Society, and all other Jewish schools, became inactive. Only the orphan home under the direction of Dr. Liblich remained.

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The Germans set up a Judenrat [Jewish council] in place of the kehile [organized Jewish community] managing committee, whose only task was to carry out German orders. At first the Judenrat served in the kehile building at Nowa Street 11. This was the only active Jewish institution, which, as in other cities in occupied Poland, became a tool in German hands for the realization of their program of complete annihilation of Polish Jewry. Only the naïve would have seen the Judenrat as a substitute, as a parallel to the former Jewish kehile. The Judenrat [members] had to aid the Germans – and this is the only reason they were created. This was established by the highest prosecutor in Poland in the accusation against the mass murderer, Amon Goeth: “The German regime established Jewish councils, the so–called Judenrats, in order to aid the fulfillment of its purpose and measures with regard to the Jewish population.” In the statement of the 5th of September 1946, which sentenced Goeth to death, the highest tribunal was firm, in light of objective testimony and factual materials, that along with the various edicts against the Jewish population about the implementation of the plunder of Jewish possessions and to better use the talents of the Jewish workers, the so–called Judenrats were created.

The Germans burdened the Jewish population not only with Judenrats. The tortured, condemned–to–death Jewish population received further “autonomy.” A Jewish police [force], the so–called Judishcher ordnungsdienst [Jewish ghetto police] (shortened to O.D.), was organized in the Judenrats. The Judishcher ordnungsdienst was only a name, because it actually served the Germans and blindly carried out all of their orders. The ordnungsdienst were a plague on the Jewish population, although there also were those policemen who did not forget that they were Jewish. They would warn the Jewish population of every misfortune and in many cases exhibited [their] humanity. However, those were the rare exception.

At first a certain Miller stood at the head of the ordnungsdienst, then Waserman. After him, the command over the ordnungsdienst was taken over by a strict, inhumane German Jew, the Austrian Captain Distler, who with the members of the Gestapo caused a [feeling] of terror among the Jewish population. The ordnungsdienst were located in the building of the autobus office on Freiheits Platz [Freedom Square] (Platz Wolnoszczi), later called: “Magdeburg Place.”

The first German decrees were the beginning of a deportation that had as its purpose the annihilation of the Jews in Poland. In the beginning, the Jewish population did not realize the threatening danger. They disparaged Frank's edicts of the 26th of October about

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the creation of the General Government, as well as the later edicts about organizing the administration, court system, security and, particularly the decree about forced labor for Jews. Today, we know that the chief of the German security police, [Reinhard] Heydrich, had sent out a letter dated the 21st of September 1939 and designated as the Schnellbrief to the so–called Einzatzgruppen der polizei [police deployment groups] in which they were given instructions about how to treat the Jews. In addition, the “final solution” was discussed, which, meanwhile, had to be kept secret. However, it foresaw the complete extermination of Jews, which needed to be carried out in phases.

The first phase actually was the decree about forced labor. Josef Wolf (member of the Central Historical Commission in Poland) also underlined this in his article in Dos Neye Lebn [This New Life], written in connection with the trial of Amon Goeth: “The decree about forced labor for Jews was the first, and, with its consequences, the most tragic anti–Jewish decree. Not because it spoke of work – the entire population under the General Government had to work – but because this was a means of torture and death with regard to Jews. The slave labor dulled and destroyed their human sensations; Jewish women and children perished; under its mantle they were fooled and then gassed.”

Editor Michal Borwicz, the significant expert and researcher of Jewish life during the occupation, author of many works about the Jewish martyrology during the last World War, as an expert on behalf of the Jewish Historical Commission in Poland, appeared before the national tribunal at the trial against Amon Goeth. He emphasized that on the basis of German decrees, whose purpose can now be well deciphered, it can be asserted without doubt that they strove for one thing: to demoralize everything and everyone. “And, therefore,” says M. Borwicz, “independent of physical murder, this activity strove to poison every cubic meter of air with a melancholy stench. They tried to make the victims fight among themselves, be demoralized. For example, there was the creation of Judenrats for administrative purposes and with the ordungendienst. Then they tried to create antagonism between one group of victims and another; they were divided into working and non–working, of which one part was going to perish, the other – remain alive. Then they were divided into old and young and all of this was for the purpose of demoralizing and severing connections among the victims.”

The first members of the Tarnow Judenrat quickly saw the true intentions of the Germans. Dr. Josef Apner, the pride of the judicial

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profession in Galicia, an example of an honest man, whom the Germans entrusted with the leadership of the Judenrat after their entry into Tarnow, quickly left this office. Years before, Dr. Apner had been Chairman of the Jewish kehile in the city and he sensed what the Germans would require of him. His replacement, Dovid Lenkowicz, and a member of the Judenrat, Ruwen Waksman, escaped to Lemberg from Tarnow, right after all of the synagogues and houses of prayers were burned one day.

This happened on Thursday, the 9th of November 1939, on the anniversary of a Hitlerist putsch [the Beer Hall putsch – an attempt to violently overthrow the federal German government]. The Germans set fire to the old synagogue, which was located on the same spot as the first synagogue in Tarnow (built in 1582), as well as the house of prayer near the old synagogue at the same time. Both prayer houses were located in the Jewish neighborhood at the very Jewish center of the city. The temple where a beautiful organ was located was set on fire on the same day. The synagogue named after Dvore Menkes and the synagogue on Strusine were destroyed. No trace remained of the house of study where the Tarnow orthodox community prayed, the shtiblekh [small one–room synagogues] of the Tarnow rebbes, the synagogue on Grabowka, where Jewish workers and ordinary people would pray. The “porter's synagogue” on Grabowka also disappeared with the smoke, all old synagogues in the Jewish neighborhood, along with the religious books and Torah scrolls. How many Jewish yeshiva [religious secondary school] students were drawn to the houses of prayer? They studied every day in the morning, workers and artisans, merchants and retailers sat at desks and they heard a Talmudic lesson before work. The destruction of the new synagogue was extremely painful for the Tarnow Jews; its construction began in 1863 and several generations of Jews paid their assessments to finish one of the most beautiful and largest synagogues in Poland, which reigned over the city with its cupola. Many thousands of Jews assembled in this synagogue to celebrate holidays; the most important State and Jewish national celebrations and all Jewish demonstrations and large gatherings took place there. The synagogue was built on a solid foundation during the course of dozens of years and powerful columns supported the ceiling. The German hangmen brought their sappers to explode the strong brick walls with dynamite. One of the columns remained among the ruins. It stands now at the Tarnow cemetery, on the mass grave of the Jewish martyrs, as a headstone memorial for the annihilated Tarnow Jewry. And where the old synagogue stood, near the Fisz Platz, there is now an empty spot, from which one sees the remaining reading desk of the synagogue.

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The four columns of the reading desk, on which the Torah would be read, jut out of the void; on them are wild grasses, seeded by the wind…

2.

After these barbaric acts by Hitler's forces and after the first edicts of the occupying power, a terror fell on the Jewish population. The intentions and the plans of the Germans became clear. Those who did not believe the Germans at first knew what it meant when they set fire to the synagogues. There also was a purpose to this vandalism. In order to carry out the complete annihilation of the Jewish population, it was not enough to simply cut off their economic life. First of all, they had to break the morale of the Jews, steal the possibility of them coming together and praying publicly, which meant keeping alive the spiritual suffering and greatly testing the Jews. There, in the synagogues, the Jews could draw faith and belief in a better future; it would give them strength to endure the horrible deeds of the Hitlerist murderers. There, in the synagogues, they could publicly condemn those who served the Germans. And who knows, perhaps there could be born the idea of an uprising against their own and foreign subjugators? And in order to break the spirit of the Tarnow Jews even more and show them that they were only a plaything in the hands of the German bandits, and dependent entirely on them, that they possessed no support in the Jewish neighborhood, no representation that would support them – the building of the Jewish kehile was also set on fire. Another mood had ruled in this building, another spirit. The designated members of the Judenrat, acting in this building, would not have been able to forget that in the course of centuries the kehile had been the representative of the Jewish population. A Judenrat was a necessity for the Germans that would once and for all break the tradition of honest and valuable communal work. The brown bandits[2] were afraid that the old walls of the kehile building would cool the zeal and servility on the part of the members of the Judenrat – and, therefore, this kehile house was burned. The burning by the Germans of the synagogues, the houses of prayer and the kehile building also meant that a new era was beginning for the Jews of Tarnow, that they had been handed over to the mercy of the occupiers, that the Judenrat was not a continuation of the kehile. Therefore, many Jews now began to leave Tarnow. A large wave of Tarnow Jewish refugees arrived in Lemberg at that time.

After the completion of the Judenrat with new members came a time of relative calm. A “labor–office” was created at the Judenrat

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whose task was to provide Jews to work for the Germans. A German was at the head of the labor office, whose decrees and instructions had to be carried out by the Judenrat. There actually were Jews who worked; there were also those rich ones who, after bringing a certain sum of “ransom money” to the Judenrat, only had work notes.

The frequent kidnapping [of people] for work evoked a feeling of insecurity and fear among the Tarnow Jews. The work card became a dream and a goal for every Jewish family. They talked themselves into and believed that quieting the demands and the appetite of the Germans, which grew each day, would protect the Jewish population from greater repressions. Therefore, the Judenrat provided people for work, expensive furniture and goods, jewelry, drinks and other good things for the Germans. Heavier taxes were levied on the well–to–do Jews for this purpose. Jews paid and brought the most beautiful and best to the Judenrat, believing that they would save their lives and [the lives of] others. Although agitation and physical unease grew, there still was a certain faith that despite the repressions and harassments, the contributions would be successful in calming the German beast and [they would] survive the occupation.

A picture of Jewish life in Tarnow at that time is provided to us by the testimony of Leon Lezer, who survived the occupation in Tarnow. His statements were given at the Provincial Jewish Historical Commission in Krakow. Lezer stated:

“The Jews lived in relative calm at the beginning; there were only sporadic cases of bothering or beating Jews in the street, as well as the shooting of Poles. They then took Poles outside the city and snatched groups of Jews who were told to dig pits. The Poles were stood in a row and they were shot. The Jews had to bury the dead bodies. In such cases the Jews first had to lie in the pits. The Germans stood over us with loaded rifles and threatened that they would kill us and then they permitted us to go, beating us without mercy. I myself once was terribly beaten. I was grabbed for such an execution and, before being allowed to return home, was threatened with the death penalty if I dared to utter a peep about what had happened there.”

3.

There also were enough reasons for insecurity and anxiety among the Tarnow Jews. The decree to put on armbands made a particularly heavy impression. Tarnow was singled out in this case because this was

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the first city in Poland in which this edict was enacted as an additional way to break the spirit of the Jewish population and as the first step dividing them from the Polish population. The decree about armbands was published on the 20th of October 1939, signed by the then civilian city commandant (city captain) Ernst Kundt. The armband had to be white, 12 centimeters wide with a blue Mogen–Dovid [shield of David – the Jewish star] on it. In addition, after 12 November 1939, it was decreed that the doors and windows of Jewish shops had to be marked with a white Mogen–Dovid. There was the threat of a penalty of at least 10 years in jail and a fine for not carrying out the decree. In the later period, after the ghetto was created, there was the threat of the death penalty for not wearing the armband.

The decrees about armbands for Jews meant a sharper regimen for them. After this, the Jews began to look to the future with a shiver and increased insecurity. At that time the Tarnow Jews maintained contact [with those] abroad and mainly with their relatives in the Soviet Union, and many people received food packages from relatives abroad. Although there already were visible signs of economic collapse for entire Jewish families, the majority had significant supplies that were enough to sustain themselves and also to bribe

 

tar1_816.jpg
A group of Jews in the Tarnow ghetto in front a house on the “Old Dambrowa” Street in 1942

 

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the Germans. The organs of the German regime acted with restraint toward the Judenrat; they had not yet demanded that people be provided for the ovens. A division was even arranged at the Judenrat for social assistance and they were still able to intervene with the Germans in certain cases.

At that time a group of older community activists worked at the Judenrat, such as: Dr. Sh Goldberg, Dr. W. Szenkel [Shenkel], Dr. Szpajzer [Shpeyzer] and others who had the best intentions and believed that they would be successful in supporting the standard of social endeavors at a given level, that with personal influence with particular German officials, they would be able to moderate some anti–Jewish laws, or save some Jews from the clutches of the Gestapo. Therefore, they immediately organized a social help and medical service.

Liblich [Liblikh], the director of the orphan's home, did not spare any effort and exertions to support Jewish orphans. The woman doctor Mandel worked as a doctor in the orphan's home and Miss M. Mahler worked as an educator with particular devotion at that time. In September 1942, all of the Jewish orphans were taken by the Germans to the gas ovens along with their teachers and the entire Liblich family. The Jewish hospital was restricted only to the pavilion for tuberculosis patients (built by the kehile right before the outbreak of the Second World War); the Jewish doctors, under the direction of Dr. E. Szifer [Shifer], devotedly fulfilled their duties.

4.

The systematic persecutions against the Jews had already begun in November 1939. [They were] exhausted from the frequent abductions (lapankes) and economic repressions. First, the persecutions began against those returning from the east. Not a day passed without the occurrence of shootings of Jews accidently encountered on the street. In addition, Jews frequently were sent to concentration camps for the least offense. Thus, the widely esteemed citizens Dr. Emil Winer [Viner] and the lawyer, Magister [holder of advanced degree from a university] Simchah [Simkhah] and his brother, Professor Simchah (who left the Jewish kehile years ago), Magister Appelbaum [Appelboym] and other Tarnow Jews were sent to Auschwitz at the beginning of 1940. They all perished at the Auschwitz death camp.

Dr. Szpajzer, courageous until the last minute, perished through terrible torture. The Gestapo murderers dismembered his body; they brought [the pieces] in a coal basket to the Judenrat with the order to bury it in the Jewish cemetery.

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Two Hitleristic murderers, Van Moltke and Nowak, cast fear over the Jewish population. They would hide at the gates, attack a passing Jew, drag him into the gate, rob him, beat him mercilessly and rampage over him until he fell half – dead. Frequent searches of Jewish houses took place; Germans searched for things of value.

Once during the summer of 1940 a search was ordered of all Jewish residences that lasted the entire day. The men were taken out of the houses and they were gathered on the Ringplatz near Tertil's Passage, stood with their faces to the wall, with hands raised. They had to stand in this way for a long time. At the order of the Hitleristic murderers, the pious Jews had to put on their talisim [prayer shawls] and dance around a Torah scroll that was then burned. The German soldiers who were stationed in the city were brought to the market in order to witness this sad spectacle; the beards and peyos [side curls] of older Jews were cut off and after the pillaging and robbery was carried out in their houses, they were driven back home – humiliated and insulted.

From then on, systematic abductions for work took place. The year 1940 was a difficult year for Tarnow Jews. There was no rest, no opportunities to earn and to lead a normal life. The frequent abductions had a terrible effect on the Jewish population and were a portent of further persecutions. The German subjugators needed well–arranged apartments. On Krakow as well as Wałowa Street, all Jews had been thrown out of their apartments, and were ordered to move to the poorer quarters of town in the course of 12 hours. This was how the living area of the Jews, which already actually was in the ghetto, but not yet fenced in with barbed wire and [still] unguarded, was reduced. One can imagine the crowded living conditions, although it was an open living quarter. It should not be forgotten that in Tarnow were many Jews from the surrounding area and distant cities and shtetlekh. If before the war there were 26,000 Jews in Tarnow, in 1940 there were almost 40,000 Jews in the city.

Beginning on the 20th of January 1940, Jews could not travel by train. Those caught for work would now be sent to a labor camp in Pustków (near Dembitz). From the 1st of January 1940, Jews were not allowed to change their place of residence without permission from the German regime. During the first months of the occupation they had to bring in all kinds of [mandatory] contributions under various pretexts and in a very short period – under the threat that the members of the Judenrat or

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the hostages held especially for this purpose would be shot. At the beginning of 1940 a shameful obligation was placed on the Jews to clean the streets of snow and dirt. First, the Jewish intelligentsia was forced to do this work. Thus, little by little the chord was tightened across the chest of the Jewish population.

5.

Those who led the Judenrat at the time – Dr. Wolf Szenkel [Shenkel] and Dr. Shlomo Goldberg – were not under the illusion that with the harassments and repressions, the frequent victims of German bestiality, the Tarnow Jews would be able to endure the time of occupation. With their authority they still were able to rein in such people as Antek Zoldinger, Idek Lerhaupt and other people who were not on good terms with the leadership in the Judenrat [and] did not refrain from [making] denunciations to the Gestapo. The German hangmen who prepared the destruction of the Jews were not as [personally involved] as such workers as Dr. Szhenkel and Dr. Goldberg who tried to protect the Jews against persecutions during the most difficult situations. Both doctors were actually arrested at Passover time, along with Zalek Welcz [Veltsh] and the young Engelberg, the most commendable workers in the area of social aid.

Dr. Szenkel and Dr. Goldberg were hurled into prison where they experienced much torture, and a while later were sent to Auschwitz, where they died. The Germans ordered Dr. Szenkel to march through the Tarnow streets with his hands raised and shouting: “The Jews are guilty in the war.” Dr. M. Rozenbusz [Rozenbush], director of the Hebrew gymnazie [secondary school] Safa Berura [pure language], was arrested at the same time as Dr. Goldberg and sent to Auschwitz. Neither returned from Auschwitz.

The Tarnow prison was overflowing. Transports would be sent from this prison to Auschwitz. In time, the families of those murdered received news about the death of their [family member]. Whoever sent 20 zlotys to Auschwitz then received a box with the ashes of the victim.

Mordekhai Dovid Unger met such a fate, ostensibly arrested for illegal trade. He spent several months in prison. There he endured such torture and suffering that he told of the hiding place for jewelry at his home. He was taken home where he showed them the hiding place. The members of the Gestapo took everything and let Unger go free. However, a short time later

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he was taken to the Gestapo from which he was sent to Auschwitz. Sometime later, news arrived from there that Unger had died.

Welcz and Engelberg never returned from the prison. The Judenrat now stood open for the outcasts of Jewish society in Tarnow. Sinister people, brought forward by the Gestapo, immediately surfaced. The Germans now needed such people who without sentiment, blind and unwavering, would carry out the German orders concerning the Jews.

6.

At the beginning of 1941, special identity cards were introduced for Jews – in the color yellow. At that time one had to have much dexterity, effort and money in order to protect oneself from arrest and to be able to hide one's last few possession from the Germans and their Jewish helpers. The usual concern for a work card, which in the meantime gave the right to live, kept one in continuous agitation and tension. Everyone wanted to live, even in the worst conditions. This drive to live was so strong that the feeling of compassion and shame was dulled in many human hearts. It is fortunate that despite the strongly developed instinct of self–reliance that enveloped the Jews in the ghetto at that time, there were few people in Tarnow who dispensed with all moral and ethical scruples. Therefore, there were very many demonstrations of reciprocal aid. This took place in an unorganized manner, without the intervention of the Judenrat, because everyone believed that the war would finally end and the German defeat would arrive.

Such a situation lasted in Tarnow until the outbreak of the German–Soviet War. The day of the 22nd of June 1941, when Germany attacked the Soviet Union, was a day of crisis for Tarnow Jews. The Hilterist murderers attacked the Jews like dogs who had torn away from their chains. From that day the Germans converted to systematic actions of physically annihilating Tarnow Jewry, which already had been physically broken. The chapter of sporadic anti–Jewish persecution was closed. The fulfillment of the long–planned actions of extermination began.

It became cold for the Germans in Russia. Therefore, the Jews had to give them their furs. In the winter of 1941, the Germans ordered the Jews, under the threat of the death penalty, to provide their furs, boots and skis. [Starting on]

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the 15th of October 1941, the Jews were forbidden to leave the living quarter that was designated for them and from the 1st of December 1941, the post office could not take any food packages from Jews. The relative calm in Tarnow ended. And [Gerhard] Grunow, the famed Hitlerist hangman, arrived in the city. His first “appearance” took place on the 9th of December 1941, on the day of the outbreak of the Japanese–American War. At that time, Grunow ordered the arrest of more than 100 people. Of them, 17 were shot and those remaining were freed several days later.

After the murder of 17 Jews a certain calm took place. The German hangmen wanted to lull vigilance to sleep in this way. Jewish life in the city went on “normal” tracks. The Judenrat sent people to labor and received money from rich Jews with which to pay the Germans [to avoid working].

German commissioners, designated by the occupying regime, ran the Jewish businesses and enterprises. For the most part, the commissioners were the so–called Volks–Deutsch [ethnic Germans]. At the beginning, they tolerated the Jewish owners, making use of their help and experience and then, disdainfully threw them crumbs. But in time, they removed the Jews entirely from their businesses.

In 1941, the Tarnow Jews still believed that despite the terror, persecutions and victims, they would be successful in surmounting the war through ransom money and bribes for the Germans. Folkman and Idek Lerhaupt, who now stood at the head of the Judenrat and had continuing contact with Kundt, the governor in Krakow, calmed the Jews, advising them only to work, to pay and to adjust to the edicts of the Germans and of the Judenrat.

7.

There were indications of a storm in 1942.

Jewish apartments were frighteningly densely occupied due to the reduced area of the Jewish residential district. There were no electric lights; this luxury was designated only for the residences in which Germans were located. During the first month of 1942, a typhus epidemic broke out in Tarnow and was spread throughout the city by German soldiers who had returned from the eastern front. As the typhus spread among the Aryan population, the offices closed for two months.

The mood of the Jewish population in Tarnow was not

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improved when they watched the transports of the marching Russian prisoners of war, who were being forced to the west in the tens of thousands. Approximately half a million Russians from Charkov and Rostov went through Tarnow during the months of March and April 1942. They were driven to Germany to work. A bit of news could be read in the Krakower Zeitung [Krakow Newspaper] that a half million Russians voluntarily reported for work in Germany.

During the first weeks of 1942, all of the residents were dragged out of house number 9 on Synagogue Street. They ostensibly were sent to Auschwitz for shooting the well–known Gestapo agent Novak. It quickly appeared that this was a simple German provocation because Novak wounded himself by handling his weapon badly.

The Passover holiday in 1942 passed with signs of terrible crimes on the part of the German murderers. Eliezer Unger, who was then in Tarnow, described the atmosphere in the Tarnow ghetto at that time. He successfully arrived in Eretz–Yisroel in 1944 where he published his book of memoirs. He wrote in it, among other things:

“On the 1st of April 1942, on the day of erev Pesakh [eve of Passover] the sun sent its rays into the small alleys where the Tarnow Jews were located. A light spring wind calmed their grieving hearts. Women with melancholy faces stood near the low, poor houses. They cleaned, washed and put everything in order in honor of the holiday. Their husbands and sons, who once helped with this erev Pesakh work, had left. This year they were engaged in forced labor in the factories that worked for the Germans. And those who were not employed trembled that they not be caught on the street for work. This erev Pesakh, several of those closest to us had gathered in my father's house to bake matzo shmura [matzo baked under special religious supervision], which had been specially prepared, in the oven. The Judenrat baked matzo using flour that was provided by the city managing committee. A kilo of matzo was being sold for 25 zlotes. Rich Jews had prepared everything for Passover – matzos, wine; there was nothing lacking in their homes. Poor people had received matzo from the Judenrat and, in the public kitchen, public Seder nights had been arranged for hundreds of Jews who, because of a lack of housing and means, could not celebrate a Seder in their own homes.

“However, at night this holiday mood was disturbed. News quickly spread that the hangmen Rommelmann and Grinov had broken into the apartment of Lipa the shoykhet [ritual slaughterer] and shot him and his two sons (again news from the “Jewish front” spread lightning fast in the city

[Page 823]

and reached every Jewish house). Lipa the shoykhet was a modest man, full of virtues, loved by everyone, a learned man devoted to taking care of community matters. It happened this way, that a girl who sold poultry was carrying a slaughtered chicken in a basket. Both murderers just happened to be in the alley that led to Lipa the shoykhet. The poultry seller saw the two Gestapo men in the distance and wanted to hide in the gate of the house but the Gestapo men chased her; threatening her with their revolver, they demanded that she tell who had slaughtered the chicken. Out of fear of their threats, the girl showed them the house in which the shoykhet lived. The Gestapo men immediately broke into the shoykhet's residence and shot him and his two sons there. After the murder they entered the residence of a neighbor with bloody hands. The members of the household began to call out, Shema Yisroel [the central prayer of Judaism], but the murderers asked them for a dish of warm water and a clean towel. They washed their hands and their clothes of the blood and left. News of the murder struck terror in all Tarnow Jews. They were not yet accustomed to such acts of murder. After this calamity, not wanting to put the shoykhet and the meat sellers in danger, the majority of Jews in the city stopped eating meat. The sale of meat ceased. The days of the holiday passed under the impact of frightening events.”

However, Tarnow Jews did not entirely surrender to their situation until a notice was published in the official Krakower Zeitung during khol hamoed [intervening days] Passover about the deportation of all of the Lublin Jews from Lublin to Majdanek, where two concentration camps for Jews were opened, and terrible news arrived about the massacre of thousands of Jews. Then the Tarnow Jews, like all Jews under the General Government, began to think about their fate. Suspicion and doubts began to sneak into Jewish hearts as to whether the German assassins were preparing the same thing that had been done to the Jews of Lublin.

This suspicion was strengthened by a new act of murder by the Hitlerist vandals. On the 24th of April 1942, 56 Jews, who had arrived in Tarnow from Lemberg by various ways, were killed.

From a list of the Jews who had received permission to return to Tarnow from the eastern area, the Gestapo created a special list. Among the 56 who were shot was the Biala Rabbi, Dr. Hirshfeld, the leader of Mizrakhi [religious Zionists] in eastern Galicia and Silesia, who returned from Geneva, from the Zionist Congress. He escaped from Biala to Przemysl and after the Germans captured eastern Galicia he returned to Tarnow to

[Page 824]

endure [the difficulties] of the war. This noble man, distinguished speaker and dedicated Mizrakhi worker was well known by Tarnow Jewry because of his frequent appearances in the large synagogue during state and national holidays. He also was a serious candidate for the Chief Rabbi of Tarnow. Dr. Hirshfeld was dragged out of his residence by the Hitlerist murderers; he died of a heart attack on the threshold. Meir Wajz [Veyz], the owner of the Sisi hotel, who was shot with his wife while they were in bed, also perished on this day. Leibish Szlezinger [Shlezinger] and his son and Yizroel Osterweil [Osterveyl] also perished by German bullets on this morning. Their crime consisted of having returned from eastern Galicia. Szmulowicz [Shmulovitsh], an official with the Judenrat, was also among the victims. He was shot because he did not stand up when a Gestapo murderer entered. As a punishment he was placed on the list of those returning from the east and shot in a house near the Judenrat.

On Lag B'Omer[3] (April) 1942, a group of German soldiers entered the courtyard of Yosef Hudes at the marketplace – asking for the owner. Yosef Hudes (known by everyone, an esteemed resident of Tarnow, a refined Orthodox Jew) was present in the house and heard the Germans asking for him. He put on his talis [prayer shawl] and tefilin [phylacteries], recited his confession and went outside. He was immediately shot by the Gestapo murderers as soon as he appeared in the courtyard. Reb Yosef Elimelekh Hudes, of blessed memory, was buried that same day, near the grave of his godly father Pethahiah Hudes.

The German preparations for the extermination aktsia [action, usually a deportation] already were apparent during the month of May, 1942. A payment of a sum of half a million zlotes was imposed on the Judenrat to be paid during a period of 10 days and [they had] to provide furniture for 500 German residences. The Judenrat calmed the anxious Jews; the payment had to be paid and the Judenrat did not know of any planned aktsia.

At the end of May 1942, when there began to be talk that the poor who received help from the wohlfahrt (social help) were to be deported, hundreds of Tarnow Jews declined support from the Judenrat, asking mercy, that their names be erased from the lists. When a rumor again spread that the Jews who were not employed at heavy labor had to be deported, Tarnow Jews sold their last possessions to enter various Catholic enterprises that worked for the German military, anywhere that they could be taken into work. They strove for work not only in the enterprises that worked for the military, but also at the khevre kadishe [burial society] of the Judenrat, and many Tarnow Jews wanted to enter the ordnungdienst (Jewish police).

At the end of May 1942, the chief

[Page 825]

 

tar1_825.jpg
A work card – provided for the Tarnow Jew, Yisroel Izak (today in Haifa)

 

[Page 826]

of the Jewish police in Tarnow, a certain Miller, received a decree to enlarge the ordnungdienst. Serving in the Jewish police was protection against deportation not only for the policeman, but also for his wife and children. Miller chose strong, tall men from among the hundreds of candidates who had served in the military.

They did not then even understand the plans of the Hitlerists, when, based on a German decree at the beginning of 1942, all of the Jewish residents had to register to receive a seal. Tarnow Jews did not sense any evil and reported en masse to the labor office. After the 10th of June 1942 the Gestapo men stamped two sorts of seals on the work cards. One seal was with a swastika and was called hoheits [territory] seal; the second – with a Latin letter “K.” The unemployed and children received a white card. No one knew the actual significance of this mysterious letter “K.” The different seals increased the agitation and anxiety. Hypotheses increased. They began to speak seriously, quietly, about a deportation. However, they did not know whose fate was more secure: those whose seal contained the swastika , or the letter “K.” The mystery was clarified at the conclusion of the registration; the letter “K” meant deportation, as well as – death. Although those from Tarnow felt that something terrible hung in the air, no one could imagine that the Hitlerist hangmen had already decided the fate of Tarnow Jewry. It also did not occur to anyone that the entire manipulation and registration with the stamping of the seals was only a way to help the Germans annihilate Tarnow Jews.

The Germans succeeded with this enticement that was placed before the Jewish population. Everyone wanted to have a seal on his work card; which one was not important. They were afraid that the work card, for which they had to pay so much, would not be valid without the seal, which had until now provided protection from greater persecutions. Therefore, Jews reported en masse, particularly when several days before the beginning of registration the officials of the Judenrat were called to the Gestapo to extend their work cards. Incidentally, they had a sacred belief that the work card meant security. Therefore, a dread fell on everyone who, as unemployed, could not receive the seal. Children, too, could not receive a seal.

They began to think about how to create new workshops in Tarnow, to employ masses of Jews who had reported for work. Among Tarnow

[Page 827]

Jews were those who began to create the so–called work communities – joint enterprises – where Jews were concentrated who could work in any trade. Thus various workshops were opened for carpentry, tailoring, shoemaking, hats and others. They worked for the German military. A separate confectionary industry developed that had had a dominant influence in pre–war Tarnow. Jews sought this work believing that work would protect them from death. Incidentally, as long as these tradesmen were needed by the Germans, they were well taken care of and they were not taken for forced labor. Two Tarnow Jews – Yitzhak Szweber [Shveber] and Chaim Frey – (the latter from Bilice) – opened a juice and marmalade factory at the estate of Prince Sangouszko (he escaped to London) using the fruit that was gathered from the orchards of the estate. The products also went to the German military. And this factory that was located in Gumniska employed hundreds of Jews and the income from the factory supported the orphans home and the old people's home and it partly covered the budget of the Jewish hospital (until the outbreak of illness there). The Gestapo men became rich with various enterprises, because in addition to the work being done for the German military, the Jews had to bribe the Gestapo with money and goods.

9.[4]

Meanwhile, the Tarnow Gestapo prepared for the mass slaughter of the Jewish population. When the registration ended on the 19th of June 1942, two notices appeared on the walls: one, signed by the Untersturmführer [paramilitary rank – second lieutenant] Falt, pointed out that the deportation of the Jewish population would occur [very soon], but the hospitals and all those with seals would be excluded. The second order, signed by Obergruppenführer [highest paramilitary rank – senior group leader] Scherner, Commander of the German police in Krakow, informed the Polish population the deportation of the Jewish residents of Tarnow would take place [very soon] and threatened the punishment of death for hiding Jews.

The German announcements also explained that the Jews were forbidden to leave their residences on the 11th of July, but that every Jewish residence must be open on that day. Leaving the residence brought the death penalty. With the appearance of these notices, a terror fell on the Jews, particularly after a rumor spread in the city on the 9th of July that Tarnow was surrounded

[Page 828]

by the German military. In the general turmoil, they tried to hide the children in a safe place. Poles, who were threatened with death for hiding a Jew, did not want to take in any Jew for any amount of money. However there were cases where Polish servants who had once served in Jewish homes appeared to Jews at the critical moment and took the children to hide. (Unger, Zekhor [Remember]). The earlier mentioned Eliezer Unger describes the mood of panic that enveloped Jewish Tarnow each night:

“The mood in the Jewish neighborhood was like erev [eve of] Yom Kippur at Kol–Nidre [opening prayer]. Jews were depressed and frightened. The parents ran to say goodbye to their children, hiding in other streets. They said goodbye with tears and kisses. Friends and acquaintances, meeting in the street, said goodbye with wishes: “To seeing each other healthy and whole again after the deportation.” Women lamented with bitter tears. Even more sturdy men, with their wives and children, broke out in spasmodic crying. Every Jewish heart overflowed with fear because a terrifying thing was going to happen in the morning. There were those who did not want to meet anyone face to face during those anxious hours. They sat shut away in their homes and awaited the fateful sentence – dumbstruck and petrified. There are no words to express the panic of that evening, a panic particularly among the women, the fear of the children” (p. 148).

Falkman, the chairman of the Judenrat, ordered his officials to remain in the office and not go home on the night between the 10th and 11th July 1942. The decree [evoked] various comments. Some believed that the Judenrat officials would be treated with respect; others again were sure that the officials would help the Germans with the aktsia.

That night not one Jew slept. They deliberated what the word “deportation” (wysiedlenie [displacement in Polish]) meant. They knew that until now no one had returned from the labor camps. However, this was exile, just for individuals, people arrested, or special groups caught for work. If so, what exactly did the registration of those who worked mean? And why were seals placed on the work cards of some, while they refused to do this for others? Those not working instead received white cards. However, why did the children not receive stamps? No! No one knew for sure that Jewish children were condemned to a terrible death – by banging their bodies on stone floors or on the walls of the houses. And why two kinds of seals? Would this be a usual [deportation] to work? Hopeless, [but] anything to live.

[Page 829]

This was a frightening night. They were afraid of the arrival of morning. They calmed and consoled themselves with words that originated in the Judenrat many times. They consoled each other and gave courage to each other. They willingly listened to optimists who said that in the end they were dealing with the Germans; that the savagery of the Gestapo was something else, that the organs of the German regime would not permit such things that would endanger the life of the entire Jewish population. In the gloomiest fantasies of extreme pessimists, thoughts could not be born that deportation meant slaughter, rampages against old people and small children, burning on pyres, in gas chambers, that this meant mass murder. No! Tarnow Jews, like Jews in other cities, did not have a premonition of what was involved in a deportation. And therefore, on this night they waited for it, although with fear and trembling, but waited, and no one thought that they must hide or escape to save themselves from this deportation.

The night between the 10th and the 11th finally passed. The Jewish police were mobilized in the early dawn. Each of them had a list of Jews chosen to be deported. When a Jewish policeman appeared there immediately followed an order, to prepare a package of 10 kilos and to stand at the gate of their house. The Jews obediently carried out the orders of the Jewish policemen. A lethal power drove the Jews with their packages in their hands to the gates… They stood and waited. They still believed during the last minutes that the Judenrat would not have prepared lists for deportations if it was connected with danger. Meanwhile, the Jewish policemen did not waste any time and urged the group on. Although there were among them those who devoted themselves to an accounting of their sad role, and where they could, warned their brothers of their tragic fate. The Jews stood with packages in their hands at the gates and patiently waited until the policeman returned to lead everyone to the marketplace and turn them over to the wild members of the Gestapo and Ukrainian Fascists in black uniforms. The Jews, brought to the market under a hail of blows from rifle butts and whips, had to kneel with their heads bowed to the ground and wait until the place was filled with all those who were designated for slaughter. Words cannot describe what took place that day on the Tarnow marketplace. The German and Ukrainian murderers tortured the Jews brought to the marketplace in the most refined[5] manner.

The Jews were strictly forbidden to voluntarily leave

[Page 830]

 

tar1_830.jpg
Jews sentenced to death at the cemetery in Tarnow in 1942 during the deportation aktsia

 

their residences. Twenty Jews dug out two long, wide pits in the cemetery for the victims shot by the German murderers. When the pits were completed, the 20 Jews who had done the work were shot. They were the first to fill the pits they had prepared.

Meanwhile, hell played out at the marketplace. The kneeling Jews were tortured and beaten. The youngest children were murdered without a shot. A member of the Gestapo or a Ukrainian scoundrel grabbed an innocent, crying child by the feet and banged the small head on the stone pavement or on a wall. Jewish blood flowed in the gutters that extended from the market to various roads in the city. One of the most refined Tarnow Jews with a pure heart, Wolf Getsler, the Mizrakhi [religious Zionist] leader and vice chairman of the kehile [organized Jewish community], pride and glory of Tarnow Jewry, could not watch this pain. Fate spared him from excessive suffering because he died immediately after he was taken to the market. Wolf Getsler could not watch the torture and suffering of the Jews he so devotedly served his entire life and his genteel heart burst. Honor his memory!

The market quickly was filled with old and young Jews, women,

[Page 831]

children. Before [sunrise] the Germans and Ukrainian murderers led several thousand tortured Jews to the Jewish cemetery to finish them off and threw them into the earlier prepared large mass grave so that there would be room for fresh victims. A second group of Jews numbering 3,500 were driven from the market to the freight train station to take them from there to Belczec. Their fate was much worse. The empty road to Belzec was hell. This column of dejected, wounded Jews, men, women and children, who moved along Krakow Street under the supervision of the bloodthirsty Ukrainian Fascists, uniformed in black, made a frightening picture.

Leon Lezer, who watched the Jews marching by from the darkness of his residence on Krakow Street, wrote of his impressions for the Historical Commission:

“…the German soldiers and the Ukrainians drove the women carrying children, old people, small children in dreadful heat… drove them like a herd of cattle between two cordons of German police on both sides of the road, and whoever could not walk was shot. It was difficult to watch the [people] being propelled forward and chased. Among others, I noticed the owner of our house, Dovid Frim the butcher, and how he went with his son and daughter. The 72–year–old man walked slowly, not able to catch up, and suddenly received a stick over his head. It seemed that he would fall over. However, he controlled himself and caught up. His son, with a prosthesis in place of his missing foot, also could not keep up with the pace and was beaten and then shot on the way when this did not help. He lay some 50 meters from our window on the other side of the road. The father and daughter had to continue. When the train arrived at the station, he was loaded into a cattle wagon. No one was permitted to give him a drop of water. It was later learned that everyone was taken away to Belzec. However, no one had any idea what Belzec meant. We thought they were being taken to work in the east, and everyone asked before separating that they write immediately they arrived on the spot.”

Meanwhile, the Ukrainian murderers rampaged over the victims newly brought to the market. The stones at the market were red from Jewish blood. Those who did not perish at the market were forced to the cemetery to fill the mass grave there. This first slaughter lasted until one in the afternoon. In between, [Wilhelm Heinrich] Rommelmann , a broad hangman and murderer, and [Gerhard] Grunow went through the residences of the deported

[Page 832]

Jews, rummaged through the cabinets, suitcases and hiding places and took for themselves everything that had a great value. The scoundrel Rommelmann interwove this work with shooting Jews who passed by that could not identify themselves as having a seal. He shot everywhere – in the residences, in the street, in the courtyard. The [wagons] of the khevre kadishe took the victims to the cemetery.

In 1942, Rommelmann was moved from Krakow to Tarnow, where he was assigned to the criminal police; simultaneously he was entrusted with the supervision of the possessions of the Jews deported from Tarnow and its surroundings. This sadist and murderer directed a report on Jewish matters to the Gestapo and later, was engaged in the liquidation of the Tarnow ghetto. On the 25th of March 1948, the Tarnow County Court sentenced this mass murderer to death. And it was said that the motivation for this verdict was that he was one of the bloodiest Gestapo executioners in the city.

The market was empty after one o'clock in the afternoon. However, the wild German beast was after more Jewish blood.

The above–mentioned Eliezer Unger relates in his book, Zekhor:

“In the afternoon one of the big Gestapo bandits telephoned the Judenrat (that had to be open that day without interruption) that several hundred Jews were needed to fill the list of victims. The member of the Gestapo demanded from the Judenrat a list of Jews who had not yet been taken away. On the telephone was one of the principal members of the Judenrat, Paul Reiss, a refugee from Germany, an honest, direct man. Reiss answered the Gestapo men that he would not designate one Jew for deportation and he would not provide any lists. The member of the Gestapo ordered that he wait for him in the office and hung up the receiver. Reiss did not leave the Judenrat office, and waited for the murderer. A vehicle pulled up in front of the house of the Judenrat half an hour later. Two murderers got out of the vehicle, entered the office of the Judenrat, chased out all of the officials there, as well as Reiss. Going down the stairs, Reiss called out: “If you want to be murderers, do not demand of us that we should also be murderers.” The members of the Gestapo then shot about 10 officials in the courtyard of the Judenrat, among them Paul Reiss, Pinkhas Trinczner [Trinshtner], Chaim Tram, Hirsh Eder and Meir Rozenbaum – loyal sons of the Jewish people who under the most difficult conditions wanted to help their brothers. Honor their memory!

What took place in the premises of the Judenrat was just the beginning. The slaughter was simultaneously brought to all of the houses where Jews still lived. The Gestapo murderers dragged the Jews

[Page 833]

to the courtyard where they carried out quick executions. In this way, they broke into the apartment of Josef Zilbersztajn [Zilbershtein], the owner of a hat factory, and shot the entire family. A bunker was discovered in their home where 50 people were hiding. All were dragged out of the hiding place to the courtyard. A machine gun ended their lives. Jewish blood again ran like rivers. A hundred Jews were then shot in one block of the city houses, past the tramway depot. A large number of Jewish children were brought together in the Czacki School under the pretext of carrying out disinfection. When the schoolrooms were full of children they were locked in, and hot steam was allowed in from the central heating system. The suffocating children screamed desperately. On one day, several hundred Jewish children perished in this way.

A quiet reigned over the Jewish houses, a nightmare, because some of the residents were located in the mass graves, some on the road to Belszec. A quiet also reigned in those apartments where living Jews still remained. There was a stab of pain, tears in the eyes; it was even difficult to cry out or to speak of the great misfortune.

On Monday, the 15th of June, the aktsia continued. This time, only the Black Ukrainian Militia and the members of the Gestapo were involved in dragging the Jews from their residences. It turns out that they no longer wanted to leave it to the ordenung–dienst. The murderers themselves ran around through the Jewish residences and searched those who did not have a card with a seal. Now, not only those who were on the prepared lists went to their death, but also those who had not appeared to obtain a seal. Again, thousands of Jews were forced to go the market; again shootings and death. This time there was a new way of leading the Jewish population to make an error. A selection was made at the market. Those capable of work immediately were left and those who were incapable of working – all of the old people and children – were taken by vehicles outside the city to the Skrzyszow

[Page 834]

 

tar1_834.jpg
The unveiling of the headstone on the Zbylitow Mountain on the grave of 800 Jewish children murdered by the Hitlerist murderers

 

forest and the Zbylitow Mountain, where all were shot. The crying and the pleading did not help; oaths that one was healthy and capable of work did not help. Life or death was decided by chance, a move of the finger. There were cases of mothers rejecting their small children so as not to betray themselves, that they were mothers. The children did not understand why their mothers pushed them away. Therefore, they clung even more to their mothers, clasping their clothing. There were mothers who by no means wanted to separate from their children and they went to their deaths together. There were men and women who did not want to separate from each other; they went to their deportations together, to share the same cruel fate, to perish together.

Several thousand Jews again perished on the second day of the aktsia. It was quiet on Tuesday and Wednesday. A number of Jews remained alive: some thanks to chance, some thanks to their work cards with the seal. However, there were many Jews who avoided death thanks to well–built and disguised bunkers (hiding places). The Jews were more careful and cautious now. They began to build various hiding places in cellars, attics and in residences that were bricked in with masked walls. There were bunkers where 200 people at once hid in the most narrow and suffocating [conditions].

[Page 835]

No one spoke a word in such a hiding place over the course of several days so as not to betray themselves to the German murderers or to the Polish neighbors. Jewish informers also would bring [information] to the Germans about hiding places they had uncovered.

It turned out that the Hitlerist murderers had not yet filled their quota that was designated for the first aktsia. On Thursday, the 18th of June, a slaughter again began. The cruelty of the German murderers had no boundaries. They mostly raged against the children and the old people. They gave no consideration even to those who possessed work cards with seals. Young and old, capable and incapable of work, were dragged out of the residences. That day, the cruel Rommelmann fell into madness. Several hundred Jews perished at his hands alone. The wagons of the khevre kadishe were moving the entire day. As soon as the mass graves at the Jewish cemetery were filled, they forced the old and the children to the Zbylitow Mountain outside Tarnow, where divisions of the Polish bau–dienst [construction service] under the supervision of the S.S. had to dig pits for Jewish corpses. They did not think for long. One shot had to be enough. The Hitlerist hangmen were not concerned if their victims were still alive or if they died from the first shot. A bullet for each one – and straight into the mass grave. The Hilterist beasts were stingy with bullets for a child in most cases and threw them alive into the pit. The peasants in the area later said they heard human groans from under the ground. Trains loaded with Jews again left for the Belzec crematoria and for other death factories.

The dead bodies of the murdered Jews were taken to the Jewish cemetery over additional days. Approximately 10,000 corpses were buried in the mass graves at the cemeteries, Zbylitow Mountain and the Skrzyszow forests during the first days of the aktsia. Ten thousand more were taken to Belzec to extermination camps. Twenty thousand Tarnow Jews were murdered in a very savage manner on the 11th, 15th and 18th of June 1942. This figure was certified in the verdict against the murderer, Amon Goeth, by the highest national tribunal in Krakow on the 5th of September 1946. The tribunal established, during the course of obtaining witness statements and research, that, “At the time of the creation of a ghetto in Tarnow in 1942, there were around 40,000 people there. During the days of the 11th to the 18th of June 1942, 3,000 people were annihilated in Tarnow itself and they were buried in the Jewish cemetery; approximately 7,000 people were

[Page 836]

shot in the forest on Zbylitow Mountain or in the forest in Skrzyszow. The further 10,000 were deported mainly to Belczec, from where no one returned. Thus, after the aktsia, approximately 20,000 of the 40,000 Jews remained.”

Twenty thousand mothers and fathers, sisters and brothers, perished with a martyr's death, Al Kiddish Hashem [in sanctification of God's name]. Twenty thousand victims – almost as many as were found in the entire Jewish population of pre–war Tarnow. This was the terrible total of the three–day annihilation aktsia that the Hitler bandits organized for the Jewish population in Tarnow.

Translator's notes

  1. Phonetic transliteration. Return
  2. A reference to the “Brown Shirts” – originally a paramilitary organization of the Nazi Party. Return
  3. Lag B'Omer – the 33rd day of counting of the omer. The omer – a unit of measurement used in the Temple in Jerusalem – are counted from the second day of Passover to the eve of Shavous – the holiday commemorating the giving of the Torah to the Jewish people. Return
  4. There is no section 8. Return
  5. The word “refined” is used here ironically. Return

 

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