Jewish Tarnow today
Although the number of Jewish residents living today in Tarnow is minimal, their community has left a permanent and esteemed mark on the Tarnow streetscape. Well preserved cobblestone streets, Jewish schools and other community buildings, remnants of synagogues and the intact cemetery pay silent testimony to the richness of Jewish life in the pre-war period.
Rynek – The market square or Rynek has maintained its original dimensions for centuries. Jews first settled around the Rynek in the late 15th century on designated streets only. Eventually their presence expanded and they established residences on more streets around the Rynek. Many Jewish merchants owned stores in the Rynek area or sold their wares from carts and tables set up on the cobblestone plaza around the Rynek. In 1942, the Rynek was the site where the Nazis massacred thousands of Tarnow Jews. It also was the location where hundreds of Jews were forced to await their deportation to Belzec. Today the Rynek contains a beautiful renaissance town hall, the Regional Museum, hotels and shops (above). The Tarnow Regional Museum is located at Rynek 21-22 and traces of mezuzahs can be seen at Rynek 21. The Museum collections include the original document (1667) granting new privileges to the Jews of Tarnow and artifacts from the last synagogue in Tarnow.
Żydowska and Wekslarska Streets – Well preserved 17th and 18th century apartment houses on narrow passages are classic examples of the living conditions of Jews inside the oldest part of town. Even the name of the street – Żydowska (Jewish Street) – originates from the place where the first Jews first settled in the late 15th century. Permitted to reside within a dedicated quarter of the old town only, they had to adjust their buildings to space limitations. Some of the houses still display the iron shutters of the former Jewish shops. Also, on a few door frames one can discover traces of mezuzahs. In the pre-war years, poorer Jews inhabited small apartments in the old Jewish district bordered by Żydowska and Wekslarska streets. Allow yourself to wander around the adjacent small streets – Wekslarska, Kreta and Stara to get a sense of the former Jewish neighborhood.
Plac Rybny and Żydowska Street – One of the most important Jewish monuments is the Bimah, the central structure in the synagogue from which Torah is read. The Bimah is all that remains of the Old or Stara Synagogue, a brick synagogue built in 1661 and burned down by the Germans in November, 1939. The surviving Bimah is composed of four pillars and a top made of a cupola. Small fragments of the decoration are still visible. In 1987, a roof was placed over the Bima. It is now a gathering place for visitors and groups. Look up to the plaza above on Plac Rybny Square and you will see the office of the Committee for Preservation of Jewish Heritage. Stop by to get more information on Tarnow Jewish History and meet the members of the Committee for Jewish Heritage in Tarnow.
Take a walk around the Bima plaza and view the picture boards in the walls with historical information and old photos.
As you exit the Bima plaza onto Zydowska Street there is an iron fence dating back to the beginning of the 20th century with a sign noting that the oldest synagogue in Tarnow stood on this site. Occasionally there are posters of Jewish interest displayed on the outside fence.
Piekarska Street – Around the corner from the Bima, at the corner of Piekarska and Zydowska Streets, there is a sign affixed to the wall of a building with a star of David on top and a description of the tragedy that occurred to the Tarnow Jewish residents. Below it is a directional sign for Jewish historical sites (the Bima and Cemetery are listed). Follow this street down until you reach the Walowa, the encircling street around the oldest part of Tarnow. Well-to-do Jewish residents owned some of the beautiful old houses on the Walowa.
Goldhammera Street – named after Dr. Elijah Goldhammer, an attorney who was the vice-mayor of Tarnów from 1906-1911. The last synagogue was housed in the apartment of Abraham Ladner at Goldhammera number 1. Ladner’s death in 1993 closed a chapter of Jewish worship in Tarnow. The next building, number 3, is the former Soldinger’s Hotel, one of the best hotels in the city. After the war it became a center for the Jewish community. Goldhammera number 5 housed the former Jewish Credit Society. Inside there are two commemorating plaques dedicated to important members, Merz and Goldhammer. On the front wall of Goldhammera number 6, there is a partially preserved inscription, written in both Yiddish and Polish, which advertises a restaurant menu (above).
Nowa and Waryńskiego Streets – Streets once full of institutions which ensured proper functioning of the Jewish community. The western corner of Nowa Street was occupied by Kahal (Jewish community). Next to it, was the small Debora Menkes synagogue. Debora Menkes (Wekslerowa) was the benefactor of the Jewish community and founder of the Jewish hospital and synagogue. In the eastern corner of Nowa Street, at the intersection with Waryńskiego Street, the greatest of Tarnów’s synagogues stood. It was called the New or Jubilee Synagogue. The construction lasted for nearly sixty years (1848-1908) and the synagogue was finally opened to the public in August, 1908, on Emperor Francis Joseph’s birthday – hence the name Jubilee. Its golden dome rose above the town. Unfortunately it was opened for only thirty-one years before, and like all the other synagogues in Tarnów, it was burnt down by the Germans in November, 1939. In September 1993, a commemoration plaque was placed on the front wall of a house which replaced the synagogue.
Mikvah – Jewish ritual bath house. The building was designed by Franciszek Hackbeil Sr. – a contractor from Tarnów, who in 1900 joined company with Michał Mikoś to build a three story Mikveh (ritual bath house) and local bath house. The bath house, built in a Moorish style, was opened in 1904. On 13 June 1940, 753 prominent members of the town including a few Jewish citizens were locked in this building by German Soldiers. The next morning they were escorted by armed guards to the railway station, where they were put into railcars and transported to the Auschwitz concentration camp. Those prisoners constituted the first prisoners to Auschwitz and were given the lowest camp identification numbers starting from 31 to 758.
The square opposite the bath house is known as Square of the Prisoners of KL Auschwitz. It contains a commemorative monument made of stone and iron elements representing the figures of those transported to Auschwitz. It was renovated more recently, introducing new elements (original cobble stones dated to the 1940s), inscriptions and an eternal light (left).
Around the corner is what looks like an old fashioned phone booth. Inside there is a phone and it is possible to dial a number listed on the surrounding wall which corresponds to one of the prisoners on the first transport.
Square of the Ghetto Heroes – Now known as the Square of the Ghetto Heroes, formerly Oak Square. In the place where the square and Walowa Street meet, the biggest gate of the ghetto stood, guarded by armed German officers. The second gate was on Folwarczna Street, now Warynskiego Street, in the place where it crosses with Kupiecka Street. The ghetto was not established directly after the start of German occupation in 1939. Initially, only the mobility of the Jews was restricted to the borders of their old districts. However, as a result of mass murders and numerous transports to the concentration camps the number decreased and a fenced Jewish ghetto was established. It was surrounded by the Oak Square, Walowa, Lwowska, Nowa, Mickiewicza, Starodabrowska and Polna Street.
Lwowska 4 – Former Jewish house with decorative gates.
Kollataja Street – Site of the Jewish children’s orphanage built in 1913. Children from the orphanage were taken care of by the Jewish Community. On June 11, 1942 approximately 800 Jewish children from the orphanage were marched to a clearing in the nearby Buczyna forest and shot. Today, a state preschool occupies the premises.
Jewish cemetery – located near the intersection of Słoneczna and Starodąbrowska Streets. It represents one of the largest, oldest and best preserved cemeteries in southern Poland. It occupies an area of over 7 acres, and has about six thousand tombstones, the oldest date back to the 17th century. Most of the gravestones are greatly ornamented and rich in symbols. Tombstones have Hebrew, Polish and German inscriptions. The cemetery was established in the 16th century on the premises of the former Pogwizdów farm.
It was devastated by the Germans during occupation. Between June 1942 and September 1943, it served as a place of mass slaughter of the thousands of Jews. There are several mass graves in the cemetery.
The building at the entrance is known as the Beit Tahara (site of pre-funeral rituals) has a museum quality exhibit about Jewish death and burial customs.
After the war, in 1946, the Jewish sculptor David Becker designed a monument – a broken column from the remains of the New (Jubilee) Synagogue and located it at the site of one of the mass graves. The inscribed quotation “And the sun shone and was not ashamed…” was taken from a poem of Nahman Bialik written after the slaughter of Kishinev Jews in Ukraine in 1903. Since 1989 the Committee for Preservation of Jewish Heritage in Tarnów has taken care of the cemetery. The cemetery fence was rebuilt, wild bushes and weeds were removed and the graves are still being fixed. Among the tombs there are well preserved graves of rabbis, judges, artists and Zionism activists. There also is a quarter of Jewish soldiers from the Austro – Hungarian army, who died in a nearby hospital during world war one. The original prewar iron cemetery gate was donated to the Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington by president Lech Wałęsa, during his visit in the USA in 1991. The cemetery has a dedicated mobile app. The cemetery is open in the mornings when a groundskeeper is available on the premises. Otherwise, the key can be obtained from the office of the Committee for the Preservation of Jewish Heritage in Tarnów at Plac Rybny No. 5 (near the Bima).
Ochronek Street – the Michalewicz Workers Home, built by the socialist Bund party which operated there. Still farther, on the left side is a former luggage factory which was once owned by Krzak and Szpiller.
Szancer’s Mill – Henryk Szancer (1825-1885) came to Tarnow and opened a steam mill in 1846. In 1859 Szancer and his partner Wilhelm Freund opened the first semolina steam mill in Galicia and quickly increased its production, influencing the modernization of mill industry in Galicia. In 1865 they opened a second steam mill in Tarnow. Henryk Szancer was also a respectable benefactor, a member of the Town Council and was given a diploma of Tarnow honorary citizenship. As a token of gratitude for his service he was decorated by the Austrian emperor Francis Joseph with a medal of his name. After his death, he was buried in the Jewish cemetery in Tarnow, where his tombstone is still preserved. Beside the Hebrew inscriptions on his grave there is also a Polish text. It is probably the oldest Polish writing in this cemetery.
Sienna Street – the tall building of the Talmud Torah, which is currently a nursing school.
St. Westwalewicza Street – the Baron M. Hirsch School was located there. In the 1890’s the Baron de Hirsch Foundation opened a school that functioned until 1914. Today it is the Secondary School of the Arts. (left picture courtesy of Polin Virtual Sztetl)
Nadbrzeżna Street (Bank Street) – Along the stream known as the Widok there once stood a Jewish ritual slaughterhouse. At the Widok on Jewish New Year (Rosh Hashanah) crowds of observant Jews came to say taschlich, the traditional prayer on Rosh Hashana said along the banks of water. In the winter, children ice skated on the frozen river and in the summer it was used for swimming.
Sw. Anny 1 - The Safa Berura School was established in 1923. The school had a great library open to the community with a few thousand books. The school employed highly educated teachers and provided an outstanding Jewish and secular education, including courses in Hebrew, Latin, geography, Polish and Jewish history. Polish was the school’s secular language, however courses related to Jewish history and language were taught in Hebrew. The Nazis closed the school in 1939. After the war the building was used as a school dormitory. Further down this same street was the Tempel (Reform) synagogue which is now an empty lot.
Zbylitowska Gora – A small village, located about 10 km west of Tarnow. In the nearby forest, named Buczyna, a brutal massacre took place in 1942. A path through the forest leads you to a clearing where over 7000 Jews were murdered, including 800 children from the Tarnow orphanage in 1942. Today there are several monuments at the site (left monument).
A mass grave of the 800 children killed there is marked by a blue fence with a monument (left). The monument to memorialize the Jewish children has an inscription in Hebrew, Yiddish and Polish.
Map of Jewish Sites and Locations
Content courtesy of the Tarnów Tourist Information Center and Committee for Protection of Jewish Heritage in Tarnów; please visit their websites for further information.