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Translation of Tarnogrod chapter from
Pinkas Hakehillot Polin
Published by Yad Vashem
Published in Jerusalem
Morris Gradel z"l
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This is a translation from:
Jewish Communities, Poland,
Volume VII, pages 250-253, published by Yad Vashem, Jerusalem
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(Bilgoraj District, Lublin Province)
Tarnogrod (T), one of the oldest towns in Poland, is situated in an area of dense forest and is encompassed by a number of rivers. The place is first mentioned in 1241, when a fortress was erected there to protect the area against the frequent Tatar incursions. Due to its location on the route from Lublin to Warsaw, T developed rapidly as a centre of trade and crafts for the surrounding agricultural district. On market days and to the annual fairs people came from the whole region, and the town's population increased constantly. In 1567 T was granted urban status, and in the same period was incorporated into the estates of the noble family Zamojski. In 1589 the town contained 140 houses and 700 inhabitants. However, the period of prosperity ceased in the middle of the 17th century with the invasion of the district by Chmielnicki's troops. After they withdrew, a series of fires broke out and all efforts to rebuild the town were in vain. Not until the 18th century did T slowly recover its former status. In 1772, during the First Partition of Poland, T came under the sovereignty of Austria, and in 1815 became part of Congress Poland under Russian rule. In the 19th century some small clothing factories were established, but closed down after a few years. In the First World War T was occupied by the Austrians until they retreated in 1918.
In the middle of the 17th century when the town was occupied by Chmielnicki's Cossacks, these attacked Jews and their property, killing many and almost annihilating the community. In an attempt to revive the Jewish presence in T the town overlords in 1681 granted a new bill of rights, including permission to rebuild the synagogue and to reestablish other public institutions. The authority to judge disputes between Jews and non-Jews was granted to the town masters or their representative, and their decision carried no right of appeal. The Jews, for their part, were ordered to take part in the defence of the town.
The Jews of T earned their livelihood from trade, mainly in grain and cattle, crafts, innkeeping and land-leasing. Often they were granted a mortgage on property. Some rented orchards in the vicinity of T, and sold the produce at the Lublin fairs. Most of the Jewish craftsmen were tailors who produced cheap clothing and sold it to the local peasants on market and fair days. A few families engaged in home weaving.
The community was already well-established at the end of the 17th century: it had a synagogue and a cemetery, and its representatives were prominent in the Council of the Four Lands (For this and other terms, see Notes at the end of this translation). The minutes of the Council from 1685 describe the rabbi of T, R. Azriel Halevi, as a sage of the Torah and Chassidism. He bequeathed new works on the Torah, and in order to favour popular interest the Council annulled an old regulation that forbad the publication of new books and permitted the printing of his Nachlat Azriel (Frankfurt 1691). Among the signatories of the Council's decision was R. Natan Nute bar Yakov of Lublin, the then rabbi of T.
In the 18th century the community of T played an increasingly prominent role in Jewish affairs. The minutes of the Council of the Four Lands in 1753 mentioned by name, in addition to the town's rabbi Aryeh Leib, the leading members R. Shlomo, R. Ajzyk and R.Avraham. In 1743 a dispute between the communities of T and of Lezajsk concerning the employment of Jews from the latter as religious ministrants in T was brought before the Council. Judgment was given in favour of Lezajsk, and the community of T was obliged to promise that it would no longer employ Jews from outside the town.
In the 18th and 19th centuries the rabbinate of T was occupied by R. Moshe Margoliot, one of the leading rabbis of the period; and by R. Eliezer Lipman Halperin; R. Yitzhak Ajzyk bar Yehoshua - the rabbi of Tomaszow from 1718 to 1731; R. Yosef Margoliot bar Avigdor of Checiny, author of Tochnit Ot Yosef; R. Naftali Hurwicz; R. Aryeh Leib bar Shmul Segel of Zamosc (mentioned in the minutes of the Council from 1753); R. Naftali Hirz Halevi (in 1760); and after him a Chassidic rabbi, R. Eliezer Halevi Horowicz. The latter two were pupils of R. Elimelech of Lezajsk, the Seer of Lublin and author of Noam Magadim - one of the fundamental works of Chassidism. Other rabbis were R. Moshe Jehoshua Heszel Orensztejn (1774-1824), author of Yam HaTalmud (Lwow 1828); R. Jakob Teumim; R. Chaim Elazar Waks of Kalisz, author of Nefesh Chaya (1840); R. Moshe Naftali Kacenelenbogen, the Sage of Krzeszow, where he officiated earlier (he was rabbi of T from 1847 until his death in 1867); and his daughter's son, R. Aryeh Leib Teicher, who held office for 68 years (from 1867 to 1935).
In the great fire that broke out in T in 1871 the synagogue was destroyed, but was rebuilt some years later, and existed until the Second World War.
T earned a name for itself by virtue of some of its sons who were prominent in the Jewish world: R. Levi Yitzhak of Berdichew (1740-1815). of the first generation of the illustrious pupils of Baal Shem-Tov and a descendant of R. Moshe Margoliot of T; R. Chaim Halberstadt (the Admor of Senc) author of Divrei Chaim (born in 1793); R. Tsvi Hirsz Leibl of Tomaszow; and R. Shimshon, Pride of the Sages (1746-1825), grandfather of the Admor of Opatow, R. Avraham Jehoshua Heszel.
During the Polish uprising of 1863 several of T's Jews joined the rebels. In 1896 one of its Jews received a decoration from the Russians, of all people, for his services in providing supplies for the Russian army,
During the First World War there was a serious economic situation in T and a shortage of food. The Austrian occupiers generally adopted a tolerant attitude to the suppliers of Jewish food (though not to smugglers). The Jews set up new charitable institutions for the needy of the community and for the refugees who came to it from other places. In 1915 a public kitchen was opened, and provided some free food. A youth club was also established, which in addition to its social and cultural activities also supplied meals to impecunious young people.
The community possessed traditional welfare and charity institutions. Towards the end of the war a provident fund financed by the Joint was established; and was used to assist the most needy, as well as the Jewish troops of the emergency force stationed in the town. In 1926 a bank of merchants and craftsmen was opened as a branch of the Union of Jewish Cooperative Banks in Warsaw. The thirties was a decade of economic hardship for the Jews of T. Many fell behind with their tax payments, which resulted in the government confiscating shops and businesses. Jews from T who had emigrated to the United States responded to calls for help from the community. Many of the young Jews worked in this period in other towns in Poland or emigrated. In 1932 some 200 Jewish families stood in need of various forms of help and received Passover gift parcels.
Notwithstanding the economic crisis, this period was marked by an upsurge of activity in the social, cultural and political spheres, and many branches of political parties, youth movements and Zionist societies made their appearance. A branch of Agudat Israel was established immediately at the end of the war, and its members constituted the leadership of the community throughout the period, including the chairmanship. In the early 20s branches of the General Zionists, Mizrachi and Poalei Zion were initiated, and in 1928 a branch of Hechalutz with its hachshara (kibbutz training farm) was established. Prior to the Zionist Congress of 1937 some 150 shekels were sold in T, and in the elections to this congress the General Zionists and the Labour Bloc of Israel received the majority of the votes.
In this period many of the community's children attended the traditional cheder and Talmud Torah. In 1925 the Mizrachi opened an elementary school of the Yavneh network, but this closed down a few years later for lack of funds. In the 30s Agudat Israel set up a school for girls of the Bet Yakov network.
The community's rabbi until 1935 was R. Aryeh Leib Teicher, who had held office, as mentioned above, since 1867. He was succeeded by his son, R. Josef Moshe Naftali Teicher, who perished in the Holocaust.
In 1935 anti-Jewish riots broke out. The police intervened and restored order; but in 1937 there were renewed acts of violence. Anti-Semites broke into Jewish houses and assaulted the inhabitants. Some of the perpetrators stood trial.
T fell to the Germans on September 15th, and their arrival was accompanied by harsh acts of violence against the Jews and looting of their property. The synagogue too was plundered and partly destroyed. A 50-year-old Jew died of injuries received at the hands of German soldiers. The Germans imposed a curfew, and Jews were forbidden to leave their houses after 6 p.m. A few days after the conquest the Jews were ordered to pay the Germans a contribution of 200,000 zloty, and to make sure of this the Germans seized a hundred hostages and imprisoned them in the synagogue. The sum involved was collected, partly in cash and partly in jewellery and silverware - and the hostages were released.
A week after the occupation the Germans withdrew from T and were replaced by troops of the Red Army. The Jews welcomed them and a committee of support for the Soviet Union was set up, consisting of Jews and Poles from the leftist parties. Leibus Prester was elected Vice-Chairman. A Soviet-sponsored civil militia was also established , with the participation of a number of Jewish youths. The pro-Soviet activity of the Jews increased the animosity towards them, especially when the Russians arrested the Polish mayor and appointed one of their supporters in his stead. The Soviet occupation lasted only four days: the Germans returned and the Russians withdrew eastwards, beyond the border laid down in the Molotov- Ribbentrop Pact.
These Russian troops were joined by a good many Jewish youths; but the majority of the Jews stayed at home, believing that the extreme violence of the first days of occupation would not contine once the Germans had established themselves. Thus, towards the end of 1939 life in T returned to apparent normalcy. The Germans were not continuously present, and the fulfilment of their orders was in the hands of the Polish mayor. The Jews were able to continue with their work, and Jewish merchants even visited the nearby villages in the course of their business.
The beginning of 1940 witnessed the establishment of a Judenrat, the majority of whose members were pre-war leaders of the community, with Hersz Blutman at their head. The most difficult and immediate problem the Judenrat had to deal with was the growing influx of Jewish refugees from Western Poland and also from the surrounding towns and villages. In December 1939 there came to T 371 refugees from Lodz, Wlocawek and Kalisz. In March 1941 these were joined by 200 refugees from Bilgoraj. The Judenrat set up a public kitchen for the refugees and the local Jews housed them. At the same time the Judenrat was ordered by the Germans to produce hands for forced labour. At the beginning of 1940 groups of young Jews were sent to the labour camp that had been set up in Belzec, where they were engaged in building an extermination camp. On the eve of their invasion of the Soviet Union the Germans made demands for more workers, and many of the Jews of T were set to digging trenches and constructing earthworks along the border.
According to the report sent by the Judenrat to the Organisation of Jewish Self-Help (ISS) in Krakow in June 1941, there were in T at the time 2,730 Jews (compared to 2,515 on the eve of the war). Six hundred of them worked as labourers (only a 100 such before the war) and 300 were unemployed (50 before the war). These data give no figures of merchants (of whom there were some 220 before the war). The figure of the needy and destitute was given as 450. From March to June 1941 the ISS transferred to the Judenrat 2,750 zloty for social help. In the same period the Judenrat's income was 4,848.50 zloty, and its expenditure 4,765 zloty, as follows: 2,574.50 zloty to the needy,1,635.30 for food for the soup kitchens, 249.75 for sanitation and health, and 260.60 in aid to the refugee group from Bilgoraj.
In the summer of 1941, when the Germans invaded Russia, the living conditions of the Jews of T grew worse. They were forbidden to leave town, except in special instances, and obtaining food from the nearby villages thus became extremely difficult and there was increasing hunger. With the advent of an unusually cold winter the situation grew even worse. In November 1941 the Judenrat reported that the number of needy had now grown to 850, but there was only enough food to distribute to 478 of them.
In May 1942 a ghetto was erected in T, consisting of one street and a few adjacent alleys. Jews from Lukowa, Biszcza andsome other villages were also transferred to the ghetto, and that summer the population of the ghetto rose above 3,000. Due to the overcrowding, the poor sanitary conditions and the shortage of food, the death rate among the Jews assumed unprecedented proportions. The Jewish cemetery in T was inadequate, and the Judenrat was granted permission to bury the dead in the cemetery in Bilgoraj. Shortly after the ghetto was erected the Germans replaced the members of the Judenrat, possibly because it was unable to function in such difficult circumstances. The second chairman of the Judenrat was Sinai Grauer, and his colleagues were Chaim Goldman, Aron Lustejer, and Chaim-Leib Mendel. Shortly before the ghetto was abandoned SS troops from the District headquarters in Bilgoraj ordered the Judenrat to collect contributions - each time to the tune of some 20,000 zloty. The Judenrat succeeded in obtaining these sums from the inhabitants of the ghetto.
On August 9th, 1942,the Judenrat was ordered to assemble 1,500 Jews to be sent, according to the Germans, to the labour camp in the district of Wolyn. The trucks sent to transport them could, however, only take 800. These were than taken to Bilgoraj, and from there to the extermination camp at Belzec. Amongst them was also the Chairman of the Judenrat, Sinai Grauer.
On November 2nd, 1942, all the remaining Jews in T, some 2.500 men, women and children, were ordered to meet in the market place, from where they were marched to Bilgoraj. The next day they were put aboard the train to Belzec. Some 50 ailing and elderly persons who had been unable to meet at the assembly point were taken to the cemetery, and murdered there. Forced Polish labourers were brought to T and ordered to collect the corpses and bury them.
Rabbi Josef Moshe Naftali Teicher hid in a bunker, but was delivered to the Germans together with other Jews by a Polish informer. A few youths fled to the forests and joined the partisans or found refuge with peasants.
The survivors who had remained in the area, together with Jews returning from the Soviet Union, went back to T for a time after the war. When one of them was murdered, however, they all left the area.
Notes (in order of appearance in the text):
Council of the Four Lands: the Jewish self-governing body in Russia-Poland originating in the 16th century. Named for the four regions of Major Poland, Minor Poland, Red Russia and Lithuania, it was called in Hebrew 'Va'ad Arba Artzot'.
Chassidism /Has(s)idism: the Jewish revivalist movement originating in eastern Europe in the late 16th century. It maintains, e.g. the dress of the time. Diverse sects of Chassidism hail from different towns and follow different leaders or 'rebbes'.
Ba'al Shem-Tov: meaning 'owner of a good name' and abreviated to 'Besht' - refers to R. Israel Ben Eliezer, the founder of Chassidism.
Admor: title given to a learned Chassidic rabbi; Hebrew abbreviation of 'Our Master and Teacher'.
Joint: Joint Distribution Committee - an American Jewish organisation set up in 1914 to help European Jews in the First World War and later expanded to service Jewish communities worldwide.
Agudat Israel: the Orthodox Jewish (anti-Zionist) political movement organised in 1912 in Europe, seeking to sustain the values of traditional eastern European Jewry.
Mizrachi: the Orthodox Zionist movement, founded in Vilna in 1902.
Poalei Zion: 'Workers of Zion', a Marxist Jewish party founded in 1906. Its ideological 'father' was Dov Ber Borochov.
Hechalutz: 'The Pioneer', an organisation to train youth for immigration to Israel / Palestine, primarily to a kibbutz.
Shekel - a symbolic coin, indicating a membership fee to the Zionist Organisation, with the right to vote, or delegate a vote, at its Congresses.
Cheder: (pl. cheders, chadarim) - religious Jewish elementary school (also 'Sunday School', e.g in western Europe and USA).
Talmud Torah: religious school for the study of the Torah.
The above notes were compiled by the translator/editor. Many of the definitions were taken from The Timetables of Jewish History, by Judah Gribetz with Edward L. Greenstein and Regina S. Stein (Simon and Schuster, 1993).
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