Post-war Jewish Community

When the war ended, more than 1200 Jews returned to Tarnow. These included survivors who experienced the concentration camps, were hidden by righteous gentiles or had escaped to Russia. Returning survivors discovered that the Jewish quarter and the area where the ghetto was located were filled with deserted buildings and empty streets. Their family homes and businesses were taken over by local citizens. The remnants of their previous lives were gone.

Survivors understood that anti-Semitism was rampant and that it would be safer to live in a larger group. Jews born in Tarnow and the surrounding areas chose to live in Tarnow where Jewish communal organizations were established to meet the needs of the survivors. The availability of social services to provide housing and food for the post-war Jewish population allowed them to begin to rebuild their lives and afforded them some safety. Community organizations also assisted survivors looking for their missing family members.

The post-war Jewish community began to form around apartment houses on Goldhammera and Walowa Streets. A new synagogue was established at 3 Goldhammera Street. In April 1946, an attempted pogrom in Tarnow killed one Jew who had returned from Russia. Another attempt was made targeting the Kohn family – the father was the head of the Jewish Community. The heavy outside doors to their apartment building were shuttered and locked tightly and there were bars on the apartment window. This prevented the attackers from gaining access. In February 1946, Dora Kunstlich was killed by locals who broke into her apartment in Tarnow. To the Jewish community living in the shadows of the Holocaust, these events were a reminder of the danger of remaining in Poland. Jews began to leave Tarnow and immigrate to the USA or Israel. By 1947, there still were about 700 Jews in Tarnow.

On June 11, 1946, on the fourth anniversary of the mass murder of Tarnow Jews in the cemetery, a monument at the site of the mass grave was unveiled (left). The monument was created by a survivor from Tarnow, David Becker. He was born in 1917 in Tarnow and had studied sculpture in Krakow at the Pieknych Academy, the oldest fine arts university in Poland. When the war was over, he returned to Tarnow from Russia. He found that his entire family had been killed. He decided to make a memorial to his family and all of the Jews from Tarnow that perished. David Becker was very familiar with the cemetery, because his family owned a business before the war that made the gravestones. As he met more Jewish Shoah survivors who had returned to Tarnow, he enlisted their help to bring to the cemetery one of the columns from the New Synagogue -- all that remained when it was destroyed. He cut the top off of the column in symbolic memory of all the lives that were cut short in the Shoah. He imprinted it with a saying from the famous Hebrew poet Bialik’s poem, “The sun shone, but was not ashamed.”

With the exception of the cemetery, most reminders of pre-war Jewish life were disappearing. Many buildings in the old Jewish quarter had been in the Tarnow Ghetto during the war. They were dilapidated and eventually torn down. The Old Synagogue had been almost completely destroyed and only the Bima remained (left) next to the rubble. Eventually the rubble was cleared leaving the Bima open to the elements. Years passed and it was further neglected. In the early 1990s, a roof was placed over the Bima for preservation. Later, the area around it was cleared and a plaza was built.

The Jews that chose to remain in Tarnow attempted to rebuild their lives. Many married fellow survivors. Children were born and a Jewish community developed which included activities for children focused on Jewish life and remembrance (left). Sadly, some of the survivors of the Jewish community had married out of the faith in the years after the war and their children were being raised as Catholics.

Jewish communal and religious functions were restored by the survivors. Within the remaining dwindling community, there was a cantor and several knowledgeable men who together served in a ritual function for Jewish religious services and events (including Abraham Ladner, right). Aron Bergman, one of the survivors, taught young boys for their bar mitzvah. Jewish families from Tarnow and towns nearby also joined together to have a Passover Seder. Enough men remained to make a minyan for Shabbat services into the 1980s.

With the rise of Communism came renewed anti-Semitism. Beginning in 1968, the children of survivors who were raised in Tarnow began to emigrate from Poland. By the early 1970’s only a handful of older survivors were left in Tarnow. With the contracture of the Jewish community, resources were diminished. The synagogue was relocated to the ground floor of Goldhammera 1 into a room in the apartment of Abraham Ladner, who served as the unofficial head of the Jewish Community. The few Jewish residents who kept kosher went to Krakow to obtain kosher meat. This small group of men and women slowly began to die off in the 1980s, making it impossible to get a minyan. In 1993, Abraham Ladner, the last Jewish male in Tarnow died. The furnishings from the synagogue in his home as well as the Torah were transferred to the Tarnow Regional Museum.