[Pages 76, Volume 2]
by Dr. Avraham Chomet
Translated by Miriam Leberstein
The cemetery in Tarnow is all that remains of its annihilated Jewish community. During their reign in Tarnow the German vandals used the cemetery as a place of execution of the Jewish population. There, too, they would bring the corpses of the Jews they had tortured and killed, to be buried in the mass graves they had prepared for them. The Nazi savages did not respect the sanctity of the holy place and neglect reigned over the cemetery during the horrific years of the Second World War.
German or Ukrainian and local brutes desecrated the cemetery, upending entire rows of tombstones, which they used to pave the main streets of town. There arose a bizarre new trade as
|A part of the Jewish cemetery in Tarnow, destroyed during the Holocaust|
|Scattered and overturned gravestones at the Tarnow cemetery|
many people were willing to buy the valuable marble gravestones which had stood at the graves of prominent Tarnow citizens.
In light of this disgraceful desecration, it is no wonder that they destroyed the part of the cemetery where there stood the graves of rabbis, religious scholars, and holy martyrs victims of riots and pogroms as well as the communal leaders who had contributed to the welfare of the town. On this piece of land, not far from the entrance to the cemetery, you could still find, before the Holocaust, old gravestones, even then almost completely sunken into the ground. Only here and there were the headings visible, or rarely, entire parts of stones, with letters that were difficult to read or completely erased.
The earliest reports about the Jewish cemetery in Tarnow are found in a Polish monograph entitled Six Hundred Years of Tarnow, published in 1930 by a Christian resident of Tarnow, Aniela Pishawa, owner of the oldest printing shop in town. We read there, on page 209, that it wasn't possible
to ascertain the date that the first Jewish cemetery in Tarnow was established. But, as Pishawa reports, on May 4, 1531, Konstantin Ostrogski, the prince of Ostrog and Zaslaw, proprietor of the town of Tarnow, gave the town Jews a list swabodni, a letter of freedom, a kind of privilege, which decreed that no one may disturb the kirkhof, upon penalty of 500 Polish zlotys..
From a second source, the book Tarnow in the Time of the Lelevitn, written by Dr. Jan Leniek (published in 1911), we learn that the city of Tarnow owned a small village called Pogwizdow, which was located between the fields of the suburb Zawala and the village Grabowka. Tarnow had obtained this village from its founders, according to a document cited by Leniek (which is in the town archives,) which contains the text of a contract made in 1631 between the town leaders of Tarnow and the representatives of the Jewish population there, regarding their rights and obligations in regard to the use of the cemetery, which was already in existence in Pogwizdow.
The parties to the contract were: On the part of the town administration, the thenmayor, Baltazar Boykowitc, the council member of the district of Tarnow, and the sworn men of the town council; On the part of the Jewish residents, the signators were Zakaraish Lazarowitc and his brother in law Shloyme, the socalled elders of the Tarnow Jews. According to Leniek, the contract stipulated that since Jews had long had a cemetery in Podwizdow and since they had purchased an adjoining piece of land, and since a dispute had arisen over how the purchased land was to be used, both sides had agreed that in the future the Jews must pay for the use of the cemetery 8 Polish zlotys a year, in two installments, beginning in 1631. And the town council was obliged to assure that the Jews would not be disturbed by the people of Pogwizdow or by the residents of Tarnow. (Dr. Leniek, Tarnow, p. 137.)
Tarnow Jews did in fact pay this fee, since, as Dr. Leniek continues in his abovementioned monograph, he found in a pinkes [record book or register] in the Tarnow municipal archives, lists of income and expenses for the town for the period 16321633, and the list of income includes the sum of 8 Polish zlotys, 12 groshn in fees for the use of the cemetery in Podwizdow.
Dr. Leniek also cites a later ruling by the municipal government of May 15, 1763, according to which Jews had to pay for the cemetery 3 zlotys as head tax and in addition the manager of the cemetery, who lived there, had to pay 3 zlotys head tax and 16 zlotys as fees for the land which he used, and in addition had to provide 15 days of labor. (p.137)
The later proprietor of Tarnow, Prince Kazimierz Radziwill, in the Privilege of February 17, 1676, affirmed the above mentioned rights that the Jews had received from prior proprietors regarding maintenance and use of the cemetery, emphasizing the obligation of the town administration to assure that Jews not be beaten or attacked at the synagogue or cemetery.
In the course of time the town experienced significant growth. The number of Jewish residents increased yearly, and it became necessary to enlarge the cemetery. There were uncultivated plots of land nearby, and the representatives of the Jewish community always tried to acquire more and more additional land bordering on the cemetery. We have ascertained several such purchases on the basis of mortgage records in the Tarnow district court. For example, in 1840, 1893, and 1900, the leaders of the Jewish community bought land parcels bordering the cemetery. In 1924, they bought a larger piece of land in Podwizdow and
|The empty piece of land in the old Jewish cemetery in Tarnow which is believed to have held the graves of martyrs, victims of antiSemitic persecutions|
later, in the years before the Holocaust, they made further efforts to buy additional land near the cemetery.
As previously noted, the old gravestones in cemeteries are of significant value in researching the way of life in Jewish communities. Often they reveal legends and significant events in the community, which are also described in detail in the pinkes maintained by the manager of almost every cemetery. An old gravestone was often the only remaining trace of a great personality or scholar.
By 1581, the cemetery at Podiwzdow had existed for many years. The printshop proprietor already mentioned, Aniela Pishowa, in her monograph, Six Hundred Years of Tarnow, noted that the earliest date that could be found on a gravestone at the cemetery was 1642.
The question of the oldest grave stone is also addressed elsewhere in this yizkor book. According to Yitzhak Blazer's article, What I Remember of Jewish Tarnow, not far from the entrance to the cemetery, across from the mass grave of the 20,000 martyrs killed by the Germans, you could still find, before the last world war, ancient gravestones with obliterated inscriptions.
According to the hypothesis circulating among the old generation, Blazer says, that was the site of the graves of martyrs killed in the antiSemitic persecutions of the past.
Concerning this separate area for martyrs, we have information which confirms the hypothesis discussed above, in an article in the Tarnow Yidishe Vokhnblat [Jewish Weekly) of January 31, 1931, entitled, The Traces of Napolenic Wars in the Cemetery in Tarnow, by a Tarnow resident, Yithak Shifer. The author, with the aid of the manager of the cemetery, Reb [respectful term of address] Shimen Apel, searched for old gravestones in 1931, and first of all determined that there was such a separate area for martyrs. As he wrote: There is now (i.e. in 1931) an empty piece of field (planka) shaded by the huge crowns of an old tree, and the field in marked by a gravestone that has been dug up form a shallow site from the joint grave of a couple, which was rare for the times in a Jewish cemetery, on which it is inscribed that they were buried on the area for martyrs.
According to Shifer, he heard from the old grave digger employed by the cemetery in 1931 that the grave digger had been told by his grandfather that the martyrs were murdered on St. Martin hill by bandits in Russian uniforms.
In his efforts to elucidate the matter Shifer went through the cemetery pinkes which was
located in the office, which had been kept for 250 years, and he found a notation in Polish, which he reported verbatim in his article, and which we reproduce here in Yiddish:
|Another part of the cemetery with broken and overturned gravestones|
time that year that the Russian army was stationed in Tarnow, having come to the aid of the Austrian army in its war with Emperor Napoleon. In this regard the author also relies on information provided by a Christian official of the City Council, Professor Hertzig, in his monograph entitled, The History of the Town of Tarnow, that was published in Tarnow in 1911, according to which Russian soldiers were in Tarnow by 1809.
Before the war the Tarnow cemetery was renowned for its exemplary orderliness. Thanks to its energetic manager Reb Shimen Apel, precise records were kept of the thousands of persons interred there and one could easily locate any gravesite one wished. The administration of the Tarnow Jewish community always gave special attention to the maintenance of order in the cemetery. In the years just before the outbreak of World War II, they were already making plans to restore and secure the old gravestones on the area near the entrance where the graves of the great scholars,
rabbis and community activists were located. The horrific Holocaust disrupted these plans. The German barbarians did not take care of the cemetery. Valuable gravestones were taken to pave the streets. Many gravestones were broken and scattered.
Only after a few Jews returned to Tarnow, having survived Hitler's hell by 1000 miracles, and when those who survived the war in the Soviet Union were repatriated, were efforts made to build a new Jewish life upon the ruins. The first action of the postwar Jewish committee was to retrieve the gravestone pieces from the streets, restore the stones in the cemetery that had fallen and repair the broken ones.
The ostensibly new Jewish life on the ruins of the Tarnow
|An old gravestone at the cemetery in Tarnow|
|An old gravestone at the cemetery in Tarnow
from the Hebrew year 5587 (1827), photo by Bergman, 1965
On the one at the left we read: Died 19 Kislev, 5568 (1808).
On the right, Died (same date) but the year is no longer legible.
Clearly it is the same year as on the first gravestone.
Jewish community did not last long. Gradually those Jews who had miraculously survived left Tarnow. A large number went to Israel. Many emigrated overseas. All that remains in Tarnow is the cemetery, along with a handful of Jews who survived the Holocaust.
Without a doubt the last remnants of Jew still living in Tarnow will also leave. Then, what will happen to the cemetery? What will happen when the municipal government wants to implement the law in Poland, according to which a cemetery that remains unused for 25 years comes under the authority of the municipal government, which is free to use it as it sees fit?
We were able to obtain photos of some of the gravestones in the cemetery, and in particular, we managed to get, from among the trees and overgrown grass, which covered the entire section near the entrance, pictures of some very old ones (on one the date 1808 is visible) with the inscriptions which are very hard to make out.
In November, 1961, the Tarnow Jews in Israel and in other lands received news that the cemetery was being broken up, that gravestones were being stolen and that the municipal government was planning to extend Shpitalner [Hospital] Street by cutting off a wide strip from the cemetery. Shocked by the news, the Tarnow landsmanshafts [organizations of fellow townspeople] in Israel, New York and Canada, made a written demand upon the municipal government to cease the efforts to desecrate the cemetery and to combat the systematic theft of gravestones.
In the meantime, we have not heard about further desecrations. A handful of 1015 Jews still live in Tarnow, who carry the torch of the destroyed Jewish community, and do not let it go out.
Translated by Daniel Kochavi
In the late afternoon, the large school yard of the Safa Berura school in Tarnow was crowded with Jewish children. But they were not students. A Hashomer Hatzair troop met in a small room there. Its magic attracted the best boys and girls from every corner of the city. They came from the poor Jewish sections, from the mixed Jewish-Christians quarter, from streets that included a small number of Jewish families (only the well-to-do assimilated families dared to reside there). The sons and daughters from all classes of the Jewish population of Tarnow joined the group.
Loud sounds burst from the large school yard and reached the street on one side and the monastery and city hall gardens on the other. Laughter, joy, Hebrew singing echoed all around. In the rooms beneath walls decorated with landscapes, the Shomer Hatzair-trainees listened attentively and absorbed thirstily the words of their leaders who were slightly older than them.
The Tarnow Hashomer Hatzair [editor note: Zionist Youth Movement] was typical of tens or hundreds of such groups scattered throughout Galicia and Poland 30 years ago.
seated from left: Gzashiv, Y. Zomer, Marmoor, Moshe Klapholtz (presently a judge in Israel)
standing from the left: Shmuel Heller, Yaakov Shpyzer, Yeshyau Hendler (presently a physician in Israel), Borganicht
[Page 96, Volume 2]
They joined the group beginning at the age of ten: workers' children, children of small business owners, of Jewish merchants and farmers, of the assimilated professional intelligentsia from all corners of the Jewish diaspora they soaked up the atmosphere of rebellion against the existing order and the desire to transform it into a dream of renewal of the ancient-new homeland [Israel].
They were organized in small troops and large educational groups (regiments) that strived for their best personal and social experiences. Individually or as a group they acquired nationalistic [Zionistic] values, deepening the emotional and idealistic ties with events in Eretz Israel - this was the weaving of a rich and colorful tapestry they all longed for.
Among these young people - or more precisely apart from them stood out a small boy who was too young to join any of the groups. With his twinkling eyes and constant laugh, he was loved by all. Shulek, a playful mischievous kid was part of every activity. He participated in many outdoor games such as hide and seek and others. When the group or the regiment met, in times of celebrations and holidays, when hiking and camping in the woods or mountains, he was always there. Beloved by all, Schulek became an integral part of the Hashomer group in Tarnow but I do not remember how. His father was the owner of a well-known restaurant in town. Many of the city's top Christians managers dined there. As his son, the young boy understood deeply the situation of his family and his people.
And so, while still a child, he became part of the troop. He absorbed the Hashomer Hatzair atmosphere and became an inseparable part of this fresh and growing spirit.
After several years he becomes the focus of the social activity of the troop. He organized hikes, trips and social gatherings. He was the editor of the regiment and troop papers- he became a leading personality within his age group. Eventually his group and his regiment did not satisfy his great enthusiasm. He wanted to widen his contact with people.
During the summer gatherings and other meetings with Shomrim brothers from other groups, he initiated the idea of an all-encompassing group circle that would eventually become a Kibbutz. He did not only initiate, but he established contacts, he visited other cities and in fact creates a new Kibbutz.
This how his young trainees knew him. First as the leader of the Hebrew gymnasium students and later as the leader of the larger regiment - leading all with his intensely active spirit.
His outstanding teaching talent knew no limits. Every idea and interest of his students, their large and small activities became parts of the life of this loving and beloved educator. No wonder his students worshiped him. Every
[Page 97, Volume 2]
|Shulek Wachtel zl in Kibbutz Yad Mordechai|
utterance became holy, every opinion an infallible ruling. Indirect contacts with his young people were not sufficient for him. He always wanted to know about their life styles He spent much time with their parents to understand their background and to get the parents' support of his educational efforts. His trainees' teachers become well acquainted with him and respected this young man's ability to reach their students.
He did not believe in the total burning of bridges. We have a duty to learn- is his mantra to the rebels against the school educational regime. He demands serious learning and scolds those who despised the value of studies.
School education is not sufficient for him. He himself searched for every new book to broaden the interests and knowledge of his young group. He always kept up with Jewish and Christians events in the town and the state, and he involved others in his keen political interests.
He understands that it is not enough to conquer young hearts. The wide-open outdoor spaces called him. His teaching efforts extend to the woods and mountains. An athlete and scout, he becomes a personal example for the strengthening of his young trainees' character.
In his free time, he and his friends go on long hikes in the Tatras and Beskidis (Polish mountains) and he becomes an unrivaled brotherly helper.
This is how I knew him in the Hashomer troop in Tarnow at the time of the diaspora of Galicia.
When I met him in the Kibbutz in Israel- his adult sense of responsibility and practicality added to the depth of his character.
Beloved by young and old he remained a faithful son of the Shomrim movement who devoted and sacrificed his life to its goals.
May he be of blessed memory.
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