[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.
by Dr. Naftali Szwarc
Translated by Gloria Berkenstat Freund
|Dr. Naftali Szwarc,
of blessed memory
Our generation in Tarnow traveled a distant road. The city for us was the beginning of the road into the unknown. However, the cradle of our ideals and dreams was in the distant and for us now empty city.
Tarnow was an ebullient city, full of effort and work by the Jewish population but simultaneously, it also was the smithy where our generation forged its ideas. A generation that could not and did not want to assimilate; in general, the [Jewish] national and social ideal that in truth had now begun to crystalize stood before our eyes. We knew and felt that we were Jews, but as young people who had grown up and were educated in the Polish school, absorbing there at that time the idea of Poland's fight for independence we were not very familiar with the concept JEW. We knew Jew as an ethnic unit, saw Jewish customs and way of life in the houses and outside them. But at that time, we searched for something else.
It was stirring around us. An organized workers movement rose that fought for a better future and liberated people whether this was Polish or a Jewish people. We established as an
axiom: in which direction to go? With which flow to go? None of us wanted to resign from his national membership; however, we also did not want to close our eyes to the embattled socialism.
This problem, at the beginning of our conscious political thought, was an important question which we had to consider and also answer. In our subconscious, we were drawn to standing in the ranks of the builders and revivers of our people. We thought that the time would come when our people would return to their homeland and then we would be able also to realize the social ideal that so enticed us. Therefore, the young of that time strove to deepen the content of both ideals the Jewish people and socialism.
But for everyone, there was Yidishkeit [a Jewish way of life]. We searched for some kind of new contents for this idea, searched and found an entire treasury of Jewish knowledge and faith. The Zionists were a not disappointing and an inexhaustible source in this area from which we could draw a refreshing drink like a tired mountain climber from spring water. We began to read the works of [Theodor] Herzl, [Max] Nordau, Ahah-Ha'am [Asher Hirsch Ginsberg]. Herzl awoke in us the idea that there was a Jewish question. But [Leon] Pinsker's Auto-Emancipation, which led us to the Jewish set of problems and also showed the way, had a particularly strong effect on the young during those years. Only Herzl's Judenstaat [The State of the Jews] gave the people an answer to the question concerning our tomorrow. This work, which arose during the dark days of the Dreyfus trial, spoke to us more strongly with its concise language than many volumes of scientific treatises and, for many young minds, the old new land became a real dream…
But these were the first steps. Because already at the start of this road, two things became clear: first, that we had to organize a so-called circle, later a community; that we had to study together because we could do nothing alone. Second: we had to create an organization that would be capable of fulfilling all of the tasks.
The first circles were founded in the gymnazie [secondary school], but the teachers watched us and we had to obey all of the rules of conspiracy. Worse were our pupils and university students who had the answer to all Jewish hardships: assimilation. Our explanation that there was no nation that wanted to accept us did not help. The uniformed university students divided themselves into two camps: one,
which drew a person to his own people; the second, which would adapt and identify with the Polish people. Thus, at our first step we were quickly in the struggle between the two powers: the synagogue and the assimilated comrades.
We searched for a new foothold and content in Jewish life. Before our eyes stood the simple Jews of the street, whom Yitzhak Leibush Peretz described so beautifully. Martin Buber also spoke to the heart and spirit of the young people. His books revealed to us the Jewish person we were searching for der singender jude [the singing Jew], whom Buber brings out in one of his works. In our environment in Tarnow and in other cities and shtetlekh [towns] in Galicia, which was still a province of the Hapsburg Austrian-Hungarian monarchy, we found the simple Jew the merchant, artisan, worker, educated, intelligentsia and Hasid who spoke to God and observed the 613 mitzves [commandments]. This impelled us to visit the synagogue on Simkhas Torah [holiday commemorating the completion of the yearly reading of the Torah and the start of the reading for the new year], or a rebbe's shtibl [one-room synagogue] and to uncover a new world filled with content, rapture and the Jewish way of life that was unknown to us until then. Thus we uncovered the bright road of Jewish knowledge and Jewish history. We wanted to know more about our people. Not only for ourselves, but also for the other young people who had begun to move closer to us.
Thus in Jewish history we found heroes around whom we could weave legends. The Jewish holidays were approaching. Understandably, the Chanukah candles left an unforgettable impression and our hearts were filled with pride for the heroic Maccabees. Or Passover the holiday and symbol of freedom, the exit from Egyptian slavery.
We were not alone, just a few individuals. The majority of the Jewish young people of that era thought exactly like us. Thus a new type of Jew was fashioned in the years before the First World War, who was so beautifully described in the song of the Jewish-Czech poet, [Hugo] Zuckerman (fell at the front as an Austrian soldier): Wir wollen Makkabäer sein [We want to be Maccabees].
We lacked only the language. Only Hebrew would have opened the source of our old Jewish culture for us. The Yiddish language, which developed strongly during that time, could not give us what we found in Evrit [modern Hebrew], the language of the Tanakh [the Five Books of Moses, the Prophets and the Writings]. This was a difficult task. Among the Polish culture, literature and language, in a strange land finding the way
to their own language. We began to learn Hebrew intensively at a special course, but not many succeeded in learning it.
Now it is worthwhile to pause to consider the rise and development of the Jewish youth organization, HaShomer [The Watchmen], later, Hashomer HaTzair [The Young Guard Labor Zionists], which was the central movement in the cities and shtetlekh [towns] in Galicia. Many of us, during the First World War, found ourselves in Vienna as refugees. A special Polish school for the children of the refugees existed in the capital of Austria, but mainly Jewish children studied there.
Even before the outbreak of the war, there was a Jewish scout organization in Vienna, led by Dr. Washitz. Simultaneously, Jewish self-education groups existed there, as a continuation of the student groups from Galicia. Since both movements the scouts and the groups carried out their activities among the Jewish higher education students and pupils and both were permeated with a national spirit, they united into one organization whose
Sitting from the left: Chana Ofner, Meir Man, Miriam Umanski, Sima Urmian (lives in Israel), Manek Engelhart
Standing from the left: Naftali Szwarc, Efroim Zagersztrom, Tulek Flancer, Lola Rutenberg, Kalek Fris (lives in Israel), Zeev Block (died in Israel, 1966)
Sitting on the bottom, from the right: Leon Klar, Chaim Haber
Sitting from the right: Yakov Wandsztajn (today a doctor in London), Yakov Wajs, Naftali Szwarc, Yosef Hendler, Insler
Standing from the right: Gabriel Asterwajl, Yakov Klaphulc (today a doctor in Israel), Nusan Haber, Leon Kampf (today an engineer in Israel), Shinagl Fredek (today in Israel), (), Yosef Kurnilu (today in Israel), Galicer, Kalman Goldberg (today in Israel)
guide and model were the Eretz Yisroel HaShomer for self-defense, for protecting Jewish lives, Jewish fields and possessions.
The Vienna HaShomer carried out intensive activity in the areas of education, self-education and scouting, which later became the basis for the activity of HaShomer HaTzair in Galicia after the end of the war, in the years of Poland's independence. Several young people, who had left the city during the war years returned to Tarnow. They founded the HaShomer, at the head of which stood Meir Man, a student from the Vienna Polytechnical University. The beginning was modest, without a meeting place. The winning over of new young people was very difficult. We had a great deal of enthusiasm during the early years. This is not the place to describe the exact history of the creation of a circle of HaShomer. However, I will provide several facts here:
Only university students and pupils belonged to HaShomer at the beginning of its rise.
This, as it turned out, shrank the frame of the organization for a designated circle of young people. We decided to expand this frame and recruit young workers for the movement. The results were good. After a few years, we were able to send several such young people to Eretz-Yisroel as the first halutzim [pioneers] from Tarnow. The two most important events were the making of contact with the Polish scout youth, the Harcerstwo. Helping to make contact was Adam Ciołkosz, later the distinguished leader of the Polish Socialist Party (P.P.S. [Polska Partia Socjalistyczna]).
The day is unforgettable when our organization marched through the Tarnow streets in our uniforms. For the first time in the history of Tarnow, Jewish organizations of young people in uniform went through the most important streets from Krakowska to the train station, accompanied by several tens of guards who went as a delegation to the conference in Tarnow-Wisznia, near Turek.
Sitting from left: Lula List, Tzila Zavorstrum, Hana Fris
Standing from left: Tziporah Fris, Lula Rotenberg, Sala Ladner (today in Israel)
Sitting from the left: Manek Engelhart, Milek Wajs (today a doctor in America), Chaim Hercman, Meir Man, ()
Standing from the left: Naftali Szwarc, Kalek Pris (today a veterinarian in Israel), Zeev Bloch, Aleksander Wandersztajn, Bernard Krumhulc (veterinarian in Israel), Flancer Tulek)
As is usual, at the beginning of every movement, there were many problems to resolve. First of all deciding the concept and essence of a youth organization, its frame, purpose and task. A large number of us agreed quickly with the way of the German youth movement Der Wandervogel [the wandering bird German youth group that opposed industrialization by hiking in the country and enjoying nature]. Many passionate discussions were carried on. At the same time, we must not forget that these were the years after the October Revolution and of the Balfour Declaration, of the downfall of the Austro-Hungarian Empire and Kaizer Wilhelm's Germany and of Poland's independence. In the very excitement of all of the events, our young people established a central purpose: preparing Halutz [pioneer] cadres for Eretz Yisroel. An agricultural farm in one of the estates was created in Tarnow for this purpose to prepare our young people for agricultural work.
There were other problems. How to educate boys and girls together in one agricultural collective. The idea of separate groups had been discarded a long time ago.
Thus ripened the new organization among the Tarnow Jewish young people. To be truthful, it was not the only one in the Jewish neighborhood. Little by little, various worker organization began to be created; the religious youth in their manner and with their ways, found the suitable organizational frame, but mainly supported themselves on the pattern of the older generation.
Years passed. Jewish Tarnow no longer exists; no trace has remained of its institutions, houses, and who knows how long the only remaining sign of the past Jewish life in the city the cemetery will remain. The only things from those years that remain are what we took with us when we left Tarnow. Everyone left on his own road. However, an idea often drills in my brain: will someone become interested in the sturm und drang [turbulent] period of the Tarnow Jewish youth, its strivings and ideals, its daily life, its holidays, when our generation of the beginners and guides are no longer among the living?!…
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.
For an Oath
(Based on a true experience)
by Josef Hayman[a]
Translated by Gloria Berkenstat Freund
The late rabbi in Tarnow, Reb Meir Arak, may he rest in peace, the author of a series of scholarly books that, because of his great knowledge of Talmud also were known outside the borders of Poland, once let himself be convinced to discuss an episode from his life.
He had clearly explained the significance and essence of the oath from the standpoint of the rich Talmudic literature about the matter to his students, who would eagerly come and give him respect.
This rarely speaking thinker did not like to talk to those who would quickly decide to interrupt him with a question; therefore, we listened to him, concentrating on his words.
On a hot July day in the year 191… Rabbi Arak, may he rest in peace, said, the priest from a village that lay several miles from Buczacz, my then residence, asked me to mediate an argument between him and a Jew a village trader who lived in the same village. At my amazed question as to why he had come to me, he answered that the matter was of such a disturbing character that he saw no other way out.
When I agreed that he could give the matter to me, the priest told me that for a very long time he had been in a completely satisfactory trade relationship with the above-mentioned Jew until yesterday. But it seemed
[Page 99, Volume 2]
|Headstone of Yosef Hajman, of blessed memory|
that the Jew had in an ugly way abused the trust which he had been given.
Last night, as happened often, the priest through his window, which looked out onto a garden, called the Jew to talk to him about a matter on which it was necessary for him to mediate.
While in a bit of a drawn-out conversation with the Jew, the priest was given the 5,000 krone in five banknotes of 1,000 krone that had arrived in the mail, which the priest lay on his desk.
Soon the priest said that someone was waiting for him in the neighboring room. Sending away the Jew, he went to the nearby room and returning after a short time, he remembered that he had earlier left the money on his desk.
[Page 100, Volume 2]
However, the money had disappeared.
Knowing with certainty that beside the Jew no one had crossed the threshold of the room, he sent for him and categorically demanded the money back, adding that because of their long acquaintance, he would be quiet about the entire incident because he thought that the Jew had just experienced a weak moment in giving into the yetzer-hara [evil inclination].
However, the Jew categorical maintained that he had not taken the money and because of this, it was understandable that he could not return it.
The priest was very uncomfortable about turning to the court because he did not want the higher regime to know about the incident and knowing how much honor and respect as he expressed it my local co-religionists gave me, he resolved to entrust me completely with the determination and care of the unpleasant matter.
I could not refuse his request and asking that he wait for me, I immediately sent for this Jewish acquaintance of mine who lived several kilometers from Buczacz and, informing him of the matter, I demanded an explanation and a prompt solution of this unpleasant incident.
However, the Jew, very determined, argued that he had not taken the money; he so simply, fervidly and passionately assured me of his innocence that I faltered in my suspicion in regard to the truth of the priest's accusation and considered it necessary to come to a compromise in this matter.
During long negotiations, the priest lowered his demand to 4,000 krone and the Jew finally decided to pay 2,000 krone, previously hearing from me that he would probably have to give an oath.
Finally, the priest was satisfied with the sum of 3,000 krone. However, when the Jew declared that he would in no way give more, I told him categorically that there was no other way for him than to give an oath that would determine the outcome of the matter.
However, before this happened, I gave the Jew several days to think, according to our obligatory rules.
This had for its purpose the avoidance of the giving an oath under coercion and without long and conscientious contemplation of such an important step.
[Page 101, Volume 2]
The oath was supposed to be given in the main synagogue in the presence of as many Jewish members of the kehile [organized Jewish community] as possible and the giver of the oath was supposed to be wearing his talis [prayer shawl] and tefillin [phylacteries].
The Jew, hearing my words, became pale and declared that tomorrow he would say if he would give an oath and then we had to let the priest know about this.
The same Jew, very worried, came early the next day and with sad and trembling words declared that he was ready to swear.
Deeply moved by his words, I declared that in in the foreseeable future, I would designate a day for giving the oath.
The priest came to me on the same day, confused, completely overwhelmed and said that he no longer requested an oath from the Jew because the money had been found in the meantime. A peasant from the parish had just brought him the entire sum of money… He had found it in the small garden near the parish.
It probably went out through the window in a breeze that arose when the priest entered the nearby room to which he suddenly had been called. The peasant confessed that, at first, he had the desire to hide the money for himself…However, this had not given him any rest and he decided to give it to the priest who now considered it a mystery as to why the Jew wanted to give 2,000 krone even though had not taken the money…
It probably was to avoid the oath, for which he [the Jew] literally trembled. However, why did he not want to give 3,000 krone and finally decided to give the oath?
Understand, Rabbi Arak, may he rest in peace, said, that I ordered that the Jew be brought to me. I told him everything that had happened in the meantime and asked him to give an oath on all of the questions.
After a short interval, the deeply-moved Jew answered: ‘In order not to swear and not to mention God unjustifiably, I, a destitute and ignorant Jew wanted to sacrifice my modest possessions.’ In my haste, I superficially considered that my possessions totaled about 2,000 krone. Whereas, as I had to pay up to 3,000 krone, I wanted to
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precisely evaluate and calculate my worth in my home and, therefore, I declared that I would on another day announce if I was prepared to take an oath.
According to my calculations, my material situation did not permit me to give more than 2,000 krone… Therefore, I declared, although with a heavy heart that I was ready to give the required oath.
Also present in the house was the priest who I asked to be called to the meeting with the Jew. Quiet reigned for a second. The priest ended it. Deeply moved, he took 2,000 krone out of his pouch and gave them to the Jew with the request that he take the money as a reward for the heavy suspicion and worry that he, the priest, had caused him.
The Jew refused to take the 2,000 krone and said that with fervent prayers he thanked the Master of the World who, by a miracle, had freed him from giving an oath.
The priest expressed his wish that the entire case of the oath would be kept quiet.
He then did much good for the Jews. Not long ago I learned that he had died. Therefore, I first now speak about this case. May the name of the Lord be praised…
The Synagogue shamas
Once at dawn, walking through Zydowska Street, I met the short, blond shamas [beadle] who knocked on the gates of the houses with his wooden hammer and thus called on the pious to perform the morning prayers at the synagogue.
I confess that I have not met a synagogue shamas who does this above-mentioned work, for a long time. Surely, he had a very small sector to knock on because it is understandable that he could not do this in the entire city, where Jews now live all over.
This custom, it appears, was connected with the tradition of that time when the Jews lived in a ghetto and they needed to have a lot of time
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and great effort so that the only notice of this sort would reach all of the Jews in the city.
In addition, the Jews, in their almost 2,000-year exile, had to consider the environment that above all only tolerated this and did not permit that they call their believers to prayer in a noisier way.
The meeting with the current shamas awakened memories in me of my young years when I heard the knocking on the gates of the Tarnow Jewish houses by the then shamas on Friday nights, as well as the words given from mouth to mouth: Men klopt. In shul arein [There is knocking. Go to the synagogue].
The Jews animatedly began closing their shops; they energetically ejected the customers present; the women began to prepare the candles, preparing the candlesticks and the menorahs and we children, who during the warm days at this time played in front of the houses, with resentment had to leave.
In our childish fantasy, this shamas a tall, slightly stooped, gray Jew appeared to be a religious zealot who disturbed our game with his early knocking on the gates. Therefore, we did not like him, nor his hammer and some of us were simply afraid of him, particularly during the Days of Awe when, long before daybreak, with his grave voice he would call the God-fearing Jews to perform Selikhos [penitential prayers]. His voice appeared to us as if from under the earth, like a bell that rings an alarm and it caused we children's hair to stand up and mostly we kept our heads under the featherbeds…
Yet our fear was only an exaggerated feeling of unease that worried us as I convinced myself as well as the older generation of Jews.
Over the course of the entire month of Elul [August-September], after the blowing of the shofar [ram's horn], an extraordinarily serious mood was noticed on the faces of the worshippers who, during the recitation of Selikhos, were transformed into oppressed, very agitated people. Their mood was similar to that of an accused person who needed to appear quickly for his judgement. Between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur were heard from these men's hearts sighs
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and quiet moans whose source was the deep belief that Yom Kippur would decide the question of their life [and death] and that only with repentance, prayer and charity would they turn aside their bad fate.
These were days of trembling and regret… At the close of Yom Kippur, after the liberating sound of the shofar, when the sacred fast day had ended, their hearts became full of hope and courage and mainly the belief that their fervent prayers had been heard.
Today it is hard to find such a deep belief, such hearts, full of repentance, such genuine, deep-hearted piety…
With the arrival of winter, the Jewish boys' feelings of antipathy toward the shamas were put to rest with a winter sleep. Not being able to play in the courtyard, we forgot about him during this time.
Before Purim, our games in front of the house resumed. One of our group of young boys had an ingenious idea to masquerade as a shamas for Purim. Masked, dressed in a shtreiml [fur hat worn by Hasidic men] and a long kapote [coat worn by pious men], he held a stick in one hand and in the other hand a wooden hammer used to bang out meat cutlets, he gave three knocks on the gate.
At first, he evoked astonishment on the first night of Purim the Jews do not go to the synagogue but then, general laughter. And when he knocked on the door of the shamas, the latter ran out of his house with his stick, annoyed that someone had laughed at God's worship… Understand, the boy ran away.
My unfriendly, completely unjustified attitude toward the shamas also changed in later years.
On an erev [eve of] Passover, when I was already studying at the synagogue, the shamas came to my father with a request to write a plea for him to a very influential person about providing him help for the holiday.
He lamented, For a poor person, this is the most difficult time of the year and the expenses in connection with preparing for Passover prevent me from sleeping for several weeks. My expenses for this holiday are proportionally greater than for a well-to-do person, if not a rich Jew.
The shamas answered my father's question about how he should understand this: My apartment, although not large, must be plastered for the holiday
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and whitewashed a well-to-do person does not need to do it because his room is painted. Once a year, that is for Passover, I must get fresh straw for the straw bag [for a bed] someone well-to-do has a mattress.
For my five children this is the average number of children in every poor Jewish home I must order shoes and clothing because they have nothing to wear, while the well-to-do have [clothes] made throughout the year.
Every pious Jew has holiday dishes [dishes for Passover] that are hidden in the attic after Passover. If, however, for me over the course of the year a dish broke and a pot became treyf [unkosher] and, as the way it is, money to buy the missing utensils is always lacking in the house, my wife would say to the child who was in the house: ‘Go up to the attic and bring a plate or pot from the holiday dishes.’ Understand, as the holiday approaches, the replacement is now needed a well-to-do person does not have this [problem].
The same earrings, the shamas lamented, that my wife has had since our wedding usually are found in the pawnshop office and we have to redeem them on a holiday because the poor woman is ashamed to go to the synagogue on the holiday with bare ears; a well-to-do person does not have this expense.
I do not speak of other necessary expenses, such as: matzos, eggs, wine, meat… Understand, the well-to-do also needs to have everything, but from where does one get the money for everything? Outside my scant salary, I only have pitiful side income. I make and sell braided candles for Havdalah [ceremony ending the Sabbath], but how often do I sell these? One piece lasts almost the entire year. My wife sells cooked chickpeas or kidney beans in the street. If she does not sell all the goods, it means leftovers and not earnings, and our always hungry children eat it up. So…
Is it then a wonder that every year, from Purim to Passover, I almost never sleep because of the problems and worry?
A sincere feeling of sorrow and shame then filled my heart.
I was ashamed that several years earlier I had wronged this poor man in my thoughts.
by Abraham Chomet
Translated by Mark Alsher
In 1961 there appeared in London in the Veritas Publishing House memoirs by Jan Bielatowicz titled Książeczka (The Booklet).
The author Jan Bielatowicz graduated from the Gymnasia in Tarnow and the Philosophy Faculty of the University in Cracow and had published a whole series of scientific treatises in the realm of language and literature research. He also wrote journalistic and literary articles. During the Second World War he saw combat in Poland, Italy and Libya and after the War he took part as an emigrant in various literary publications and edited several himself.
A large part of the Booklet contains the author's memories of the time that he was in Tarnow, and there he gives many interesting details both in regard to the city itself and also in regard to its inhabitants, their way of life in all of the aspects of the preWar society.
Since the author dedicates warm words of memory to the Jewish residents of Tarnow, so we here provide in Yiddish translation from the Polish language several fragments from the Booklet which pertain to the destroyed Tarnow Jewry.
Recalling the sportsgymnastics clubs in Tarnow, the author writes:
(Page 133)… Tarnow, one of the fortresses of Polish Zionism, raised up many groups of Shomrim [Guards] and sports. Besides Samson (Shimstarhon), Tarnow also had the żydowska młodzież sportowa (Z. M. S.) (Jewish Sport Youth), the Jutszenka (Bund Sport Club ed.), Dror, Hakaddur, Hagibbor, Hapoel [Freedom, The Ball, The Hero, The Worker tr.] and others…
At 18 Urszulanska Street the enemy set up his katownie. For five years this was called the seat of the secret police some 20 thousand men, women and children were brought in there, often locked in chains. Of these, two thousand did not come out alive. Some of them used to be brought out in bags so that the parts of their bodies would not scatter.
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The gates of the modern Tarnow prison during this period held 50 thousand prisoners.
Catching people was a separate thing… people from Tarnow were among the first prisoners of Oswiecim and the very first were the engineers of Moszcice.
All of the Jews went into the gas ovens. Klar with his wife Rebecca, he of the postage stamps and the school implements… and Leyzer, he of the lemon and cream lodis … and Penichel of the old books and bridges… Flatto of the cookies and those who used to sit in the Secesie, Avenue, and Weiss coffee houses and the students of the Hebrew gymnasia… and all of the residents of the alleys of Szrudmieszczie and Rynek, from the streets: Wekslarska, Krenta, Żydowska and Hakaddur and the gambler Mendel Kamm … and the women who sold warm beans and cold breadkvass… and Wachtel and Moritz the experts in cooking fish pa żydowsku and the medical doctors and the lawyers, the booksellers.
The cupola of the new synagogue which dominated the eastern horizon of the city fell to ruins in the flames, all of the podiums of all of the old synagogues were burned…
|The entrance gate to the prison building in Tarnow
Photo courtesy of Y. Bergman (1966)
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