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[Page 782]

Wolf Getzler

by Dr. Shmuel Shpan

Translated by David Schonberg

Wolf Getzler was not a child of Tarnow, as he wasn't born there and he didn't grow up there. Nevertheless he was a citizen of Tarnow in the best sense of the word. During the 30 years in which he lived in the town (from 1906 till his early death in 1939) he achieved great popularity, recognition and regard from the whole population, especially from amongst the poor classes of Jews.

Wolf Getzler was born in 1877 in Jaslo, where his parents Mordechai and Fradl lived. They had a small ironware business. They were not well-to-do people but they weren't close fisted at all in regard to their son's education, so that he would have a good grounding in Jewish learning. He was sent out to learn in various Yeshivos- to Krakow, Kortshin [Krotoszyn] and Bardejov. The parents wanted that Wolf would grow up to be a learned, Orthodox Jew, even a Rabbi, as in his young years he had shown great talents and he readily and quickly learned.

These wishes of Getzler's parents were partially fulfilled as though he didn't become a Rabbi he absorbed a great deal of Jewish learning and most importantly, he was deeply filled with Jewish faith and throughout his life he strictly observed all the mitzvos [stipulations] and Jewish customs. Though Wolf Getzler was a religious Jew through and through, he was not at all taken with religious fanaticism. Exactly the opposite, he had a full understanding and respect for secular studies and also for non-religious people, as long as they were honest.

Mostly what shows this is the fact that his only daughter completed university studies and one of his sons, though he learned in the Tarnow kloyz and wore a velvet hat and a long black robe (the style of dress that was adopted by young people in Galicia, of Hassidic parentage), at the same time at home he received lectures in the framework of gymnasium education and after matriculation, he went to study to

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Berlin, learning there both in a polytechnic higher school and in a Jewish religious seminar. This was all done in accordance with the wishes and with the knowledge of Wolf Getzler. Already from his earliest youth Wolf Getzler was enthralled with the Zionist idea, becoming an active member of the Zionist organisation and one of its most ardent followers.

After coming and fully settling in Tarnow Wolf Getzler started intensive activity to promote [spread/propagate] the Zionistic idea amongst orthodox youth and also amongst older religious Jews, which in those times was not a simple task as it might seem today, as he had against him the anger [rage/ fury] of fanatics who were more readily shocked at Zionism than at apostasy [casting off Judaism].

The striving to improve the material circumstances of the impoverished classes in the Jewish population and also the wish to enable poor Jewish children to receive some education [learning] was the main concern of Wolf Getzler. To this goal he founded in Tarnow the Zedakah association which, out of the funds that it collected, paid out to elderly people and those unable to work monthly support. Thanks to this, Tarnow Jews were freed from the scourge of what was called beggarliness [destitution] and the younger, those capable to work, were given the possibility to carry out productive work, instead of begging in the streets. Wolf Getzler was also a member of the directorate-board of the Talmud Torah and thanks to his efforts this association received a specially built two-storey building with large airy rooms, where Jewish children could learn - instead of how it was till then, in dark rooms of dilapidated small-houses. Besides this, he helped a great deal that the study program in the Talmud Torah be changed, and in place of the old, inexperienced melamdim [teachers- instructors] there were taken on younger people who had also an idea about pedagogy [education science].

With the democratisation of the Tarnow Jewish community Wolf Getzler became a member of its board-directorate and later even held the position of vice-president of the kehillah [i.e. community] administration. Also in this position he did everything to bring aid for the needy in the community.

In the harsh times of the Hitler occupation Wolf Getzler did not stop taking care, with the possibilities that were, of Tarnow's poor population. Testimony of that time tells us that in that day when the Hitlerite murderers ordered 10,000 Jews into the market-place, sentenced to death, to kneel with raised hands, amongst them was Wolf Getzler. Destiny was that Getzler was not to be further subject to the inhuman suffering and from a heart-attack he fell down dead on the ground. In the same time some Jews who were nearby on their knees, notwithstanding the threatening danger, took [snatched] his dead body

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and carried it away to the Jewish cemetery, where it was brought for burial, not in a mass-grave but in a special tomb in accordance with all the Jewish customs.

In such a way did the Tarnow Jews express their gratitude to one who had showed such goodness and was the pride of Tarnow Jewry- Wolf Getzler. He who, while living, had so strenuously upheld all the Jewish customs and mitzvos was also brought to kever Yisroel [to Jewish burial] in accordance with the Jewish law.


In Zvi Ankori's Chestnuts of Yesteryear (Gefen, 2003) at pp. 324-325, the circumstances of Getzler's death are described in a similar fashion:

On September 7, 1939, Getzler found himself under German occupation and, on June 11, 1942, the day of the first murderous German akzia (action), he kneeled, as ordered, alongside ten thousand of his brethren and comrades-in-sorrow on the pavement in the Rynek, exposed to the whips of the Nazi soldiers who that day slaughtered about half the town's Jewish population. And yet: the Lord of Death, who works in mysterious ways, took pity on him and stilled his heart before the tyrant's hand could deal him a death's blow. His companions in the back rows, at their own risk, dragged their leader's body out- and brought Wolf Getzler to proper burial in Tarnow's Jewish cemetery.

[Page 794]

Tarnow Types

by Dr. Yeshayahu Fajg

Translated by Gloria Berkenstat Freund

This is a folk saying: “Every city has its madmen.” Tarnow also had its madmen. I mean, bizarre people who added color to the city, complemented its scenery, became part of its make up. There were crazy people among us, according to their actions, clothing and entire way of life. Tarnow possessed the well-known clown, Sztrajsenberg, who never refused the offer of a glass of wine or whiskey. He was a kind of bohemian who had renounced all of the comforts of the world but not his witticisms and remarks that were very sharp and hit the bull's eye.

There were tens of strange people who occupied high positions in society, those who were did not precisely follow the conventional line and, therefore, they were spoken about by everyone and there was no lack of gossipers in the city; they had a great deal of work. There also were beggars and peculiar types without whom Tarnow would have lost its character: Chaim Shtolts [proud], Khona'la the Tarnower, then with a partner, who always fought over a penny, and others.

Here I will immortalize a man whose name no one knew although he spent his entire life among the residents of the city. It was not known if he had relatives or a family, from where he came in the morning and to where he went at night. He was deaf, mute and blind. He was called der shtumer [the mute]. He was tall, always dressed in a smock, with a cane in his hand. Krestin, the painter, painted his portrait, which was reproduced later on postal cards. His entire treasury of words consisted of a sound from his throat that sometimes expressed anger, sometimes joy. And in the course of a week he wandered through all of Jewish Tarnow (he would recognize the houses of the Jews

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when he touched a mezuzah [small box placed on door frames of Jewish homes containing the Shema Yisroel – Hear O, Israel – the central prayer of Jewish worship] at the entrance [of the house]). He would never cross the threshold and no one refused to give him a donation – a half Austrian kreuzer (a hundredth part of the Austrian krone), the smallest coin that there was.

He was a phenomenon even for the medical world. I have not found such a case of a blind-deaf-mute simultaneously in the rich medical literature. All three defects in their completeness in one person. He did not see, did not hear and did not speak. Only when he wanted to turn to someone [for help] he would let out a sound and the passerby would know that he was asking him to lead him to the other side of the street or that a door should be opened for him. For this purpose

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he also knocked on the door with his cane, with whose help he would escape from the clutches of mischievous boys.

He divided the Jewish quarter into six parts and every day he would visit the houses in one part of the city. He appeared at every residence on the same day of the week and even at the same time – with literally a precise punctuality. The day and the hour could be ascertained exactly according to the appearance of the mute.

He was an extraordinary gentleman with all of his defects. He did not take more than the smallest coins from anyone. If he received a larger coin he would immediately put his hand in his pocket and all at once remove the [amount] that he had to

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return. There were cases when he received an entire krone; he would make change of exactly 49 and a half kreuzer, that is, 99 pennies. If he was given something to eat, he would not take any money.

He came to the synagogue every Shabbos [Sabbath], stood at the western wall and it meant that he prayed as an equal to everyone. It is difficult to conceive what he thought then. When he would sometimes not appear on the designated day and hour at a Jewish house, it was clear that he was sick. When he was healthy again he began to beg in his customary order; every day in his designated area of the city. No one had any idea of what was in his heart, in his thoughts, but one can assume that he more or less lived his own intellectual life, despite his terrible defects.

Where are you now, my city? Where is your charm? Where are your “madmen?”

[Page 801]


The Last Ones

by Dr. Avraham Chomet

Translated by Miriam Leberstein

Tarnow had all kinds of Jews. In addition to Hasidim and Agudath Israel [Orthodox non-Hasidic organization], Zionists and Bundists, there were the masses of small shopkeepers, artisans, porters and just plain workers who lived in the low, wooden houses on Grabvuke [street] or in the narrow lanes of the old Jewish center of town.

The Jewishness of Grabvuke and the Jewish lanes had a specific, folksy character. From these places came the first Jewish community activists of social and national importance. There stood the cradle of Machanaim [Zionist organization] and Safah Berurah [a Hebrew-language school]. There the Zionist and Socialist movements were born, before in any other town in Galicia. From the low houses and narrow lanes came great Jewish leaders who were bound with a thousand bonds to the common folk from whom they sprang.

The history of Jews in Tarnow and its Zionist and Socialist movements clearly demonstrates the unique character of Tarnow Jewishness as it manifested itself in communal life. We can find confirmation of this fact in every chapter of the Yizkor book. But at the end of this work –which reveals and illuminates the efforts and suffering, the failures and successes of Tarnow Jews in their more than 500 year struggle to live and progress – I want to especially emphasize the last of the social activists who came from the common folk, and whom fate had placed in responsible positions both in the town generally and in the realm of Jewish life, during the final years of living Tarnow Jewry.


From 1906 on, the position of Vice-mayor was without exception held by a Jew. The first was the able and intelligent Dr.

[Page 802]

Elihu Goldhamer. After him, the position was occupied by his political opponent, Yuliuzh Zilbiger. When Zilbiger resigned, Dr. Herman Mitz was elected Vice-Mayor and remained in the post until his death at the beginning of 1939. After him, there were no more Jewish Vice-Mayors because the City Council elected in July 1939 was never convened.


Dr. Herman Mitz, the last Jewish Vice Mayor of Tarnow


Dr. Herman Mitz began his community activism as chairman of the Handworkers' Union (“Yad Kharutsim”), which was founded by his father, a Tarnow tailor. Elected to the City Council, Dr. Mitz remained neutral in the bitter fight between [Mayor] Dr. Tertil and his opponents, led by Dr. Goldhamer, and thanks to this, was elected Vice Mayor. In the course of many years he was the actual leader of the city government and became very knowledgeable in all its problems. Dr. Mitz, the last Jewish Vice Mayor, died several months before the outbreak of World War II and was thus spared the torment of the Nazi murderers. Honor to his memory.

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The Mayor, Dr. Tertil, did a lot for the development of the town. The magistrat [city administration] took over the gas and electric companies. Both of these town-run enterprises grew to become a large sector of the town administration and economy, and required a skillful and responsible leader. This important position was filled, soon after World War I, by the young Zionist engineer, Moyseh Laykhter. He did not conceal his Jewish nationalist convictions and was always active in Zionist work, taking part in many Zionist fund-raising campaigns in Tarnow. He was respected and appreciated not only


Engineer Moyshe Laytner, the last Jewish director of the town gas and electric utilities in Tarnow


by the Jews, but also by the Christian population. Engineer Laykhter did not abandon his responsible position even when the Germans occupied the town. The Germans exploited his knowledge and skills and let him continue in his job. They even exempted him from wearing the yellow Star of David insignia. This idealistic and proud Jew did not want to accept the privileges granted by the Germans and when the time came, he was killed along with all the Tarnow Jews in one of the Nazi gas chambers. Honor to the memory of this proud Tarnow Jew.


Tarnow was a well developed commercial town and almost all commerce was in Jewish hands. Jewish merchants played an important role in economic as well as political life. For that reason, the Jewish Merchants Association was very significant. Later, the Jewish Industrial Association merged with it. This strong association was led by Yoysef Mayman for many years. After his death in 1937, Magister [term of address denoting completion of university degree] Henrik Shpilman was elected chairman.

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This young, able and energetic Zionist youth leader developed quite an active and effective program for the merchants and industrial association and in a short time achieved recognition and popularity in the Tarnow community.


Magister Henrik Shpilman, the last chairman of the Jewish Merchants and Industrial Association


For the entire time of the Nazi occupation he and his family were in hiding, in bunkers and elsewhere, but he did not survive the war. Close to the liberation of Warsaw he was killed during the bombing of the capital city. He left behind his wife and child who today live in Israel. Thus died the last chairman of the powerful merchants and industrial association Magister Henrik Shpilman. Honor to his memory.


The Jewish hospital in Tarnow had behind it quite an illustrious tradition. A whole generation of extraordinary and able Jewish doctors considered it an honor to be associated with the hospital. Until 1937, the Shitser family – grandfather, son, and grandson, held the post of Medical Director. In that year, Dr.Zigmund Shitser died and a young doctor from Warsaw, Dr. Evgeniush Shifer, a child of Tarnow, was chosen to replace him. He brought fresh effort and energy to the work of the hospital and quickly acquired a reputation as a gifted

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surgeon and an able leader of the hospital. He too, in the difficult, terrible time of the occupation, did not abandon his post and with great sacrifice served the oppressed Jewish population until the liquidation of the hospital and its patients, doctors and nurses.


Dr. Evgeniush Shifer, the last director of the Jewish hospital in Tarnow


Dr. Shifer managed to survive the war, but he did not return to the Jewish hospital in Tarnow. Today, the last Director of the once splendid Jewish hospital in Tarnow lives and works as a doctor in Poland in the city of Katowicz. Tarnow Jews who survived give him their heartfelt blessings.


You can count on the fingers of one hand the important Tarnow community activists of the older generation who survived the war. Today in Tarnow there are very few Jews, and some of these did not actually originate in Tarnow. But there does remain a kind of symbol of the former Jewish life. The Nazi storm ripped out all the trees, wiped out the magnificent Jewish forest. But one sole tree survived, that withstood all the storms and winds. That tree, the only survivor, is the family of Avraham and Freydl Shpilman, who lived through the war in hiding, returned to Tarnow and remain there to this day.

Avraham Shpilman and his wife (of the Krauter family in Brigle) came from learned Orthodox families. Right after World War I, Avraham Shpilman was active in the Zionist movement in Tarnow. With his earnestness, political understanding and honesty, he quickly achieved a prominent position in the Jewish

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community, connected in countless ways to the now vanished Jewish Tarnow.


Avraham and Freydl Shpilman, the only remaining [Jewish] family now living in Tarnow


The Shpilmans are the only remaining representative of the Jewish Tarnow of old.


Gone forever is the Jewish community of Tarnow with its 25,000 Jews. Bare stones and a cemetery are all that remain.

I, too, am among the last. I had the honor of being the last President of the Jewish community of Tarnow, and also a son of the honorable and unassuming craftsman, Shloyme Chomet.


Dr. Avraham Chomet, the last president of the Jewish community in Tarnow


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