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[Page 15, Volume 2]

There Once was a Jewish Town, Tarnow

by Ahron Szporn (Montreal, Canada)

Translated by Miriam Leberstein

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Ahron Szporn

 

During the horrors of the Second World War, when the Nazi genocides and war criminals wreaked total destruction on the Jewish people, the Jewish community of Tarnow, like all of Polish Jewry, was also destroyed.

Our hearts are broken, and in the memories of the survivors of Tarnow there is etched the nightmare of the era of extermination, and we see before us the horrifying images of those who gave up their dear souls in the mass graves and gas chambers.

A quarter of a century has passed since those horrific events. A new generation has grown up, one that did not witness the Holocaust and that is unable to comprehend that in the twentieth century Jews were burnt alive and gassed in crematoria. It is therefore our task, the obligation of the handful of survivors from Tarnow, not to allow the pain and suffering, the horror of the Holocaust to be forgotten, to fall in the abyss of oblivion.

In our memories we always return to our former Tarnow home, that no longer exists, to our tormented parents and siblings who perished in such a terrible way. And who can forget our dear little children, whose heads

[Page 16, Volume 2]

the German murderers bashed against stone walls, the merciless German beasts who in their murderous fury would hurl the poor children out the windows?

We, the remnants of Tarnow Jewry who were fortunate to miraculously survive the conflagration must remember and remind others not to forget and not to forgive.

Let every gravestone, every monument that we erect in the memory of our annihilated community serve as an eternal light whose flickering flames will penetrate the hearts of the Tarnow survivors, scattered over the entire world, and remind us of our obligation to sustain the eternal memory of Tarnow, which

 

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A section of the old “Jewish Street” in Tarnow

[Page 17, Volume 2]

took such pride in its impressive personalities who distinguished themselves in the realms of science, art and literature.

Our Jewish Tarnow had an abundance of outstanding Jews who created an entire array of exemplary organizations and institutions in all areas of political, socio-economic and cultural life. Driven by friendly competition, every political group made the greatest efforts to increase its activity to create ever more useful institutions in the Jewish community. Pure idealism and self- sacrifice were in the nature of the Jews of Tarnow, shared by every community activist, no matter their party affiliation.

Everything has disappeared, has been erased. The Nazi torturers and executioners barbarically destroyed it all, without leaving a trace.

So it is the obligation of the survivors to observe

yizkor [memorial prayer for the dead] for our Tarnow Jews who died as holy martyrs

yizkor for our martyrs who fell in battle against the greatest enemy of mankind

yizkor for the heroic ghetto and partisan fighters who exalted the honor and dignity of the Jewish people.

Our Tarnow martyrs were not spared the tragic fate of the Jews annihilated upon the sacrificial altar and ruins of Europe.


[Page 18, Volume 2]

Tarnow “In The Old Days”

by Dr Z. Kasif (Tel Aviv)

Translated by Daniel Kochavi

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Introduction

Fragments of memories, that I am putting down on paper, belong to a distant past that is completely different from present days. They belong to “days of yore” when I lived in Tarnow: until 1920 (the end of WWI and the beginning of independent Poland) as well as the years 1927-1932, when I was the principal of the gymnasium (Jewish high school) for boys and girls run by the society “Safa Berura” (clear language) in Tarnow.

My intention is not to describe fragments of original sources of the Tarnow history, but to bring out memories from the forgotten depths that, in the opinion of the author, are important in a book dedicated to the people of Tarnow who are still alive. One cannot avoid being subjective when telling these stories. Since members of my family took part in various public activities in the last ten years of the existence of the community, my personal memories are connected sometimes with several community events in Tarnow.

 

Childhood

My earliest memories are connected to the religious atmosphere around me, I remember clearly the “shtiebel” of the “Lomde Torah” (Torah scholar) society (located at 12 Lwowska Street) where our family members prayed: my grandfather, my uncle and I. In this “Shtiebel” I was the only child dressed

[Page 19, Volume 2]

in European clothes, without side locks, which were traditional among the “Hassidim”. “Lomde Torah” members hid their resentments in our case- since my grandmother's father' R. Zecharia Mendel Aberdam was one of founders and eminent scholars of the “Shtiebel”.

My mother tongue was Yiddish with a southern-Russian accent (my mother was from Berdichev). However most of the children in the city garden (called the Garden of the Marksman) “Ogrod Sterzelecki” spoke Polish among themselves. I still remember today how isolated I felt due to the lack of a “common language” with neighboring children.

 

An orphan

I became an orphan when my father passed away (see below). The very strict members of the “Lomde Torah” considered my maternal grandfather (R' Zalman Chodorov from Berditshev, who lived at that time in Tarnow) as responsible for the education of the young Orphan. My mother, however, decided not to send me to the religious school (cheder) before the official compulsory age of six. When I reached the age of six I began learning “Hebrew in Hebrew”. I started studying the Pentateuch (Chumash) with the book of Genesis (rather than Leviticus) and “Gemara for beginners”, a modern book by the standards of those days – all explained in Hebrew (and not in Yiddish).

The Hebrew high-school “Safa Berura” was expanding at that time. I took private lessons with one of its young teachers -the most religious among them- R' Yosef Omanski, z” l, every Tuesday -all in Hebrew. The Hasidim in the “shtiebel” complained severely to my grandfather for allowing my mother to submit me to what they felt was a “forced conversion”, God forbid, by a Zionist, Hebrew teacher. But my mother, of blessed memory, Mrs. Reizel Zilberfenig, who was a 25-year-old widow, stood her ground as far as my education was concerned and I remained R' Omanski's pupil until the age of 15-16. People of Tarnow remember that R' Yosef Omanski, who was an outstanding scholar, remained until the end of his life devoted to Judaism and to Hebrew. He passed away at the ripe old age of 91 two years ago in Israel. May his memory be a blessing.

 

Youth

After I learned modern Hebrew my mother insisted that I study the traditional six books of the Gemara and the traditional Rabbis' commentaries with R' Abaeli Hirsh, a scholar well known among “Torah scholars”, but with ideas more accepting of the new generation.

As I mentioned before, I first spoke in Yiddish, read and wrote in Hebrew and only afterwards did I study Polish privately. My teachers were Miss Pinna and, later, Maria Gleicher, who were members of “Miriam”, a Zionist organization. So even the Polish I studied had a Zionist flavor.

My mother had both a strong and quiet personality and made sure that the educational goals she had set

[Page 20, Volume 2]

for me – in Judaic or secular studies - were adhered to. She wanted me to get a complete secondary and academic education- but, as far as possible, within the framework of a Judaic home and a traditional family- without mixing with “gentiles (goyim)”. Therefore, I attended public school only after seventh grade (in Polish high school) and afterwards eighth grade (in an Austrian High school in Vienna). While attending these schools I never attended classes on Shabbat to ensure that I would not get used to violate Shabbat prohibitions (writing, traveling etc.). In Austria I was officially excused from attending classes on Saturday. At the Polish Royal High School there was no legal way to exempt me from attending school on Shabbat. Therefore, my Uncle had to bribe the class educator (Klitovski) with several kilos of flour (this was during the period right after WWI). And so, the absence periods “disappeared” from the class log or were “excused”.

 

Teaching and Education

To follow up on this: several years after I evaded attendance at the Polish school on Shabbat I became the first principal of the Jewish High school “Safa Berura” in Tarnow that was of course closed on Shabbat. Its main goal was education and the study of Hebrew by the youth of Tarnow.

The formation the “Safa Berura” high school was a decisive turning point in my life but was also the beginning of small revolution in the education of Jewish youth in Tarnow. Once Jews in Galicia gained equal rights before the law, Jewish parents who wanted their children to get a general education, started sending them to public high schools (Austrian and Polish), which were free. From the Jewish point of view these schools had a negative influence on the Jewish youth. Jewish students became assimilated among Polish students, absorbed foreign culture but also suffered open and hidden anti-Semitism.

For various reasons Polish and Galician Jews never contemplated the founding of schools with Hebrew teaching (of the “cultural “type) [author's note – more secular]. However, in large and medium-size towns in central and southern Poland, Jewish high schools were created where a third of the curriculum (2 hours per day) was dedicated to Jewish studies and two-third (4-5 hours a day) to general studies in Polish. This also happened in our town. The “Safa Berura” society existed before WWI and taught only “classes”, “courses”, and basic Hebrew classes in the afternoon. After WWI, however, “courses” and Hebrew lessons were moved to the culture (Tarbut) union building that was founded in Tarnow, while the “Safa Berura” society opened a kindergarten in the 1920's as well as a bilingual elementary school with 4 classes. Later, in 1927, the first grade of the high school “Safa Berura” was opened.

In those days every high school consisted of 8 grades including “ours” where additional classes were added yearly until, in 1935, the first senior class graduated.

[Page 21, Volume 2]

Volume 1 of the Tarnow book includes many details about “Safa Berura” that won't be repeated here.
I'll just point out that the overall operation for the “Safa Berura” High School was the responsibility of the heads of the society - R' Haim Nigar and Dr Shmuel Shafan, who worked tirelessly to develop the institution. From1927-1932 the author of this chapter was its principal. From 1932 to 1939 it was headed by Dr Rozenbush.

Five classes graduated from “Safa Berura” High School before the start of WWII. Being one of the founders of the school I'd rather not “toot my horn”. This institution is carved in my heart as a dynamic school, whose teachers had great educational influence, not only in their classrooms but also in the Jewish community and the Zionist youth movement in Tarnow. A large percentage of the Holocaust survivors, who live in Israel today, drew, one way or the other, their Zionism from “Safa Berura” HS in Tarnow. One of the Righteous Gentiles was the official supervisor from the Polish District, Mr Wladyslaw Wierzbicki, during the first years of its existence.

To open a new HS was a daring enterprise on the part of the founders of the school and the principal, who had just finished his studies at the University, given the conditions in Poland at that time. The Catholic supervisor treated the new institution in a fatherly manner and often overlooked the formal faults committed by the school in the beginning.

 

Family Memories

The Aberdam family: my Hebrew name is Zecharia. I was named after R' Zecharia Mendel Aberdam, father of my grandmother- who was a wise and outstanding scholar, devout leader, his whole being immersed in scholarship. I remember well his wife, Mrs. Hana Mindel Aberdam, my grandmother's mother: a wrinkled elderly woman, wearing a black head ornament with fine cloth. She was a strong woman who managed a successful bank and ruled all who surrounded her. I remember clearly the old office, grey and dusty, from which (sic:great) grandmother “ruled”. She would sit behind a large desk and behind her was a heavy steel box [editor note: safe]. In front was another separate desk used by Mr Pinchas Fenichal,” a jack of all trades” in the office. He was the bookkeeper, confidential advisor, “communication officer” a kind of “factotum”. I remember with sympathy the various characters who traipsed into this office. They belonged to a world that sank and disappeared. I recall them from afar with fondness. They included money agents, delivery agents, the day time-eating “young man (i.e. the yeshiva students who ate with different families each day). The grandchildren and great-grandchildren were part of the atmosphere of my (sic: great) grandmother's office. They sniffed freely around the office, played with the various sealing stamps, examined the strange telephonic instrument and were impressed by the numerous copies of letters created by the hand-operated duplicating machine.

[Page 22, Volume 2]

A visit to my grandmother also included traditional treats: cake and an orange from Israel, a luxury in those days that only the “leaders'” children got to enjoy.

My (sic: great) grandmother lived during a long peaceful time and trusted in a peaceful future. At a later time, her family (and later her heirs) complained that the old woman leased a large part of her house to a local well-to-do resident, Baron Gatz (from Okutzim) on a long-term basis, 20 years, at fixed rent. WWI started shortly after my (sic: great) Grandmother's death and was followed by a runaway inflation. The same agreement that had guaranteed security was not even worth the paper it was written on.

The generations after Hana Mindel Aberdam no longer entered into long term agreements.

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Memorial stone dedicated to R' Yeshayahu Silberberg, z”l
erected by his children who survived the Holocaust

 

[Page 23, Volume 2]

Weksler family: After my (great)grandmother' death the grey and dark bank office passed on to her son in law R' Israel Weksler. “Uncle Israel” was not able to develop this business and to adapt to the period between the two world wars but only maintained it. His sons were not interested in this business- they married and moved far away. WWII brought an end to the Aberam-Weksler bank.

Wolff-Silberfenig Family: My father. R' Benyamin Zev (Wolf) Silberfenig, z” l, passed away on Shimini Atseret (22 Tishri) 5667 (1907). He caught a cold followed by a lung inflammation (pneumonia). Antibiotics did not exist in those days. My father did not recover- he was only 27 when he died.

When I grew older, friends of my father (Benny Bernshtater, Rubin, R' Haim Nigar and others) told me that his home was among the first Zionist homes at a time when most Tarnow Jews were fanatic Hassidim and very few assimilated. Young men, who were ousted in shame from the Kloyz(?) because they showed interest in “enlightenment”, poured their heart out to father. So, did men whose place in the “Beth Midrash” was literally trashed because of their interest in Zionism. In my father's home, they strategized on how to remove the stigma of people who assimilated and who also dominated the Jewish public establishments in Tarnow.

The anti-Zionists knew of my father's activities but they did not dare attack or hurt him because he belonged to an established and respected family. He also maintained a traditional appearance. I still see clearly my father's appearance: a bushy beard, dressed in a long silk coat on Shabbat, wearing a “velvet brim Polish hat” (his father came from Plonsk, a small town near Warsaw where Ben Gurion also came from). When I grew older I saw his beautiful handwriting and enjoyed his great style in several languages. There were two large (book)cases in his room. The first was filled to the brim with Hebrew literature both ancient and rabbinical, mostly large Six Sedarim (Talmud) from Vilna printed on parchment. The second bookcase contained all the Hebrew books that came out in his days, mostly “how to” and other similar books.

After my father's death, my mother preserved the character of the “home” (see above) and my sister Hinda, z”l, followed in my parents' footsteps. They both perished during the great slaughter of Tarnow in June 1942.

R' Yeshayahu Haim Silberfenig, my father's brother was the most outstanding personality in our family. Many readers of this book will recall “Shaya” (his nickname among Tarnow old timers) from the time of his downfall, after he was socially and physically destroyed. I, however, remember him well at the peak of his greatness, a radiant figure in the streets of Tarnow, generous and kind hearted, ready to empty his pockets, take off his shoes and give them to a needy person he encountered on his way (this really happened!) He was a great public speaker, devoted Zionist and “urban” public figure. He was a brilliant businessman-in industry as well as commerce. He also could lead the service on the major high holidays. An atmosphere of nobility and culture reigned in his luxurious home. For many years he hired an excellent private Hebrew teacher (Shimon Koplanski) who taught my aunt and her three children Hebrew and Hebrew literature at the highest level.

But, before WWI, fate intervened and the house of Yeshayahu Silberfenig

[Page 24, Volume 2]

“fell apart”. At the outbreak of WWII his family was scattered to all corners of the world and, as a result, his two daughters and his son survived – but the parents perished during the Holocaust. My aunt Mrs. Golda Mozel my father's sister, also perished.

An entire generation of this wonderful family almost disappeared. The remaining descendants of the family are scattered to-day over four continents: from Israel to the USA and from Australia to Brazil.

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Section of an old street “the Yiddishe street”
(der Yiddishe shtrass) in Tarnow

 

[Page 25, Volume 2]

Tarnow – My Old Home

by Avraham Zinger (Toronto – Canada)

Translated by Gloria Berkenstat Freund

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Avraham Zinger

 

I was still very young when I left my dear home-city of Tarnow. The events of my young years were deeply etched in my memory… The images from the past Jewish life in Tarnow run by as in a film.

With a tremble in my heart, I undertook the refreshing of my memories that were connected to that life and to recreate Tarnow Jewry, which perished so terribly al kiddish haShem [in the sanctity of God's name – as martyrs]. Therefore, I will strive, within the framework of my abilities, to provide details of my Jewish Tarnow as I saw them and as I still remember them today.

Jewish life in Tarnow was effervescent. Jews, there, always toiled for their livelihood, each in his own way, according to their intentions and capabilities, as industrialists, as workers or employees, as wholesale merchants or shopkeepers. The economic significance of Tarnow was due to Jewish diligence and industriousness… Thanks to the entrepreneurial spirit of the Tarnow Jews, the city became an important center of trade and industry that contributed greatly to the rise of the entire Tarnow County. In another spot, in the first volume of the memorial book, Tarnow, we find mentioned the most important names of Tarnow Jews who laid the foundation for the great trade and industrial enterprises, where a large number of Jewish and non-Jewish workers and employees received employment.

[Page 26, Volume 2]

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The Szancer-Bornsztajn steam mill – in Tarnow – today belonging to the state

 

An extensive, diversified clothing industry developed strongly during the era between the two World Wars that was entirely in Jewish hands and employed approximately 3,000 Jewish workers… They created this strong professional organization in Tarnow that consistently kept watch over their work interests. These Jewish toilers saved money to build their own worker house, a magnificent building named after the Bundist leader, B. Michalewicz. The offices of the trade unions of the various branches were housed there; the communal institutions, which were created and supported by Jewish workers who found themselves under the influence of the Bund, had a place there. It should be remembered here that at the construction of this workers house, Friend Avraham Herszkowic of New York, an activist in the trade union movement there, contributed a significant sum of money.

*

Tarnow Jews led modest lives. The majority of Tarnow Jews earned their livelihood with great effort and from this difficult life

[Page 27, Volume 2]

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“The Jewish Street” – from the right at the garbage pile – the entrance to the courtyard of the old synagogue

 

the Tarnow Jews built magnificent cultural institutions, medical and philanthropic institutions.

Tarnow Jews understood how to overcome their daily concerns and in their eternal thirst for education and knowledge reached higher scholarly and economic levels. Tarnow Jews always searched for ways to a new future and helped lay the foundations for [their] national and social ascent. Jewish life in Tarnow had thousands of allures and joys… Jewish children sang Halutz [pioneer] songs somewhere on the green grass in Szenkl's field or in the fields outside the castle mountain and danced the hora [circle dance] impetuously.

On a Shabbos [Sabbath] or on another day of rest, the sounds of the revolutionary and Yiddish freedom songs from the Jewish workshops, from the modest union halls of Jewish working people, from the young workers called for struggle and devotion to the ideals of worker unity.

Therefore, our thoughts always turn back to the way of life in

[Page 28, Volume 2]

in our old home that possessed so much Yidishkeit [a Jewish way of life] of all kinds… so much suffering and joy.

No trace remains of the effervescent life in Tarnow… Everything was destroyed by the Nazi murderers… Everything created in the city by the Tarnow Jews over the course of generations was erased, wiped away.

Nothing more than ruins remain of our magnificent old and new synagogues, of the house of study where Tarnow Jews would study day and night… of the modern temple with the organ… of the small synagogue, the center for a strict, Orthodox congregation of Jews… of the dozens of minyonim [groups of 10 men required for prayer] and shtiblekh [one-room houses of prayer]…

And where is the exemplary Jewish hospital in Tarnow with its capable doctors and devoted nurses?...

Where is our orphan house with the orphaned children who found such a warm and good home there…

Where are the Hebrew schools in Tarnow?... Where are our very rich libraries… and where are the Jewish cultural and sport-gymnastic union and institutions?...

Everything was totally annihilated… Our Jewish Tarnow was destroyed in the flood of the general destruction of Jews in Poland.

 

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The ruins of the large synagogue on Nowa Street in Tarnow, which was destroyed by the Gestapo during the Nazi occupation

 

[Page 29, Volume 2]

Our old Tarnow home had its characteristics that differentiated it from other Jewish communities in Poland. Yet our Jewish Tarnow was so well-known among Polish Jewry thanks to its great sons, scholars and scribes, writers and columnists, artists and scientists… We had no reason to be ashamed of our Jewish Tarnow, which for centuries was a source of Yidishkeit, of higher morality with its communal customs, with deep understanding and fraternal readiness to help the needy. We are proud of our honored place in the Zionist and socialist movement… How magnificent were all of our youth organizations of various beliefs.

*

By the light of civilization in the 20th century, by the cold-blooded silence and frequent assistance of the Jew-hating circles among our neighbors, with whom we lived together during the centuries and with whom we often fought together for their and our freedom… the German murderers annihilated our Tarnow Jewry in a bestial manner…

There were exceptions… there were Christians who helped… who risked

 

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The former Nowa Street. “New houses have been built there now…” The new house, marked by the arrow, is located on the land of the destroyed large synagogue

[Page 30, Volume 2]

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A fragment of the former Nowa Street (bordered by Koszarowa Street). A three-story house (indicated by the arrow and where the municipal national council is located today) on the spot where the building of the Jewish kehile [organized Jewish community] stood before the Holocaust (the block of the Dwoyra Weksler houses

 

their own lives to save Jews… There were several such noble Christians in Tarnow… We can count them on the fingers of one hand.

*

These Christians were accepted with great honor into the pantheon of the Righteous Among the Nations, the chosen from the nations of the world, which was erected in the memorial monument, Yad Vashem, in Jerusalem.

Polish as well as Tarnow Jewry was annihilated with the total silence of the large and small nations. Everything… Everything… that once was in Jewish Tarnow has disappeared like a dream. The Nazi hurricane turned over, cut out and tore out the many-branched Tarnow Jewish tree by its roots… Today the Jewish streets have disappeared in Tarnow… The Jewish houses… The Jewish ruins already have been cleared in Tarnow… New houses have now been built, new streets have been paved in the city where Tarnow Jews lived and toiled through the centuries.

Only the cemetery remains in Tarnow…

 

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