Tarnów (Tarnow) | Lesser Poland Voivodship

Market in Tarnow. Stall with traders and buyers with armbands. Jewish people being mocked in 1940 in Tarnow by Nazis. © USHMM Photo Archives / Helena B., born in 1932, lived in an orphanage next to the Jewish cemetery. She saw several executions of Jews at the cemetery. © Cristian Monterroso/Yahad-In Unum

Executions of Jews in Tarnów

1 Execution site(s)

Kind of place before :
Jewish cemetery
Memorials :
Yes
Period of occupation:
1939-1944
Number of victims :
Over 3,000

Witness interview

Jan S., born in 1922 : « It happened in June or July 1942. I was on my way to work, when I saw Germans forcing people out from their homes. The people were crying. My friends told me that they were Jews. The same day, in the afternoon, an inspector of the Baudienst [forced labor group], a German, came and gathered us in a barrack where we were given soup. A Wehrmeister [official] announced that an order was given by the SS that since now we had to help to expel the Jews, and that we had to do everything we were asked to if we didn’t want to suffer the same fate. Then, we left.
Y.U.: Was it the German inspector who announced that?
W: Yes, it was our superior at [our] Baudienst, he was German. He came to our work and took us to the place where the Cathedral is in Tarnow. We passed by Kopernik street. We were there, and we could see many people kneeled down in the square. We were told to take their belongings and to put them in a pile. The Germans ordered us to first take the big bags, and then the smallest ones. When the Jews resisted and begged to not take their food, the Germans beat them with a baton on the head. Our task was to gather the bags. […] Then, Germans searched their houses, and put the luggage [with] all the belongings [that] had value, silver or other, that we had to transport by cart afterwards. They emptied one house after another. Then, the houses were locked and sealed with a German stamp on the doors. We had to transport the suitcases to the building of the former school, or something like that, - I don’t remember that for sure. Before it was called kapanowka [Note: storage space], but today this place has another name. We left the suitcases there.” (Eyewitness N°222, interviewed in Zbylitowska Góra, on September 11, 2013)

German archives

“In my reports made on January, 14th and 15th 1960, I described two executions of people from the Tarnow’s ghetto. However, I made them in a superficial way, without any details. I mentioned in my first report that in early 1942, a liquidation of Jews from the Tarnow’s ghetto was carried out at the Jewish cemetery, also located in Tarnow. About 12 trucks with 120 SS-soldiers blocked the ghetto. These soldiers were under Hauptsturmführer Kleinow’s orders. I said previously that I had gone to eat at noon, and then I finally had gone to the Jewish cemetery of Tarnow in which the liquidation of Jews took place.
Kleinow waited at the gate of the cemetery. He held a Luger pistol in his hands and a soldier stood next to him who loaded Kleinow’s pistol according to my suppositions. When the groups of about 30 Jews of every age and every gender were brought by SS to the cemetery, they understood what would happen. Some of them hesitated to cross the gate of the cemetery’s gate. Kleinow chose the Jews from the column and forced them out of the [line]. He simply grabbed them by hair, chest, or a piece of garment. Then, he shot them dead with one shot. I noticed that he often shot them in the nape of the neck. The corpses were left there. Other Jews had to move them. In that way, Kleinow shot several people. Although the corpses were moved, many of them remained in the ground. I cannot say precisely how many people he shot. I watched this scene for five minutes, and I believe that during this time, he killed at least 10 Jews. I want to add that, as [best] as I remember, there was a pit dug in the cemetery and a pile of clothes. The Jews had to undress before being killed.
However, I must say now, that I was not myself in the cemetery. That is why I cannot give you a more detailed explanation about this scene and about the organisation of the execution. […] ” [Excerpt from the hearing at the Müller’s trial drawn up on September 2, 1960; BArch B162-1340]

Polish Archives

« In April 1942, I transported the Gestapo officer, Grunow, to the shop owned by Stiglitz, located at 34 Walowa street.  When he entered, besides the owner there were three more people from the area. He forced them out on the corridor. After having checked their papers, he shot dead on the spot one them. He threatened others before letting them go. He took a picture of Stiglitz Still, and he escorted him to the Jewish community. In the evening, he ordered him to take him to the Gestapo building, located at 18 Urszulanska street. From there he never came back, and I don’t know what happened to him. The Gestapo officer Grunow was a horror for the ghetto. He shot the Jews in mass. He shot at least 150 people at different moments in my presence. As coachman, I had to escort him all the time, and I had the occasion to observe those atrocities personally. He shot people without any reason. Once, in the ghetto, he shot the policeman Springer, because he let a Jewish woman go out of the ghetto to go to the hospital. In other words, there was no day when someone didn’t die at the hands of Grunow.

I also transported the Gestapo officer Rommenlmann, who was the chief of the ghetto. I also saw him shooting Jews massively. Once he shot them on the street. Another time he ordered to  have a dozen Jews brought to the Judenrat, where he shot them dead while they were kneeled down. I want to add that Grunow and Rommenlmann also shot several Poles in the ghetto in my presence.

I tried to ignore who ordered the creation of a ghetto. In any way, I saw for several times, the [old] Kipke coming to the ghetto accompanied  by the Gestapo chief.  Rommelmann gave guidelines concerning the creation of the ghetto and he went personally to the village nearby to conduct the expulsion. In Tarnow, the ghetto A, B, and C were created.  Ghetto A was inhabited by elder people, children, and those who didn’t work. Ghetto B was for workers. In ghetto C there were only women.  [Deposition of a Jewish survivor, aged of 40, residing in Tranow, at 5, Walowa street, son of Mendel and Rywa Simmel, driven on the basis of the investigation against the crimes committed in the Tarnow district by the Gestapo during the occupation;  DSC01870-DSC01871]

Historical note

Tarnów is a city located about 90km east of Kraków. The first Jewish families came to Tarnow during the 15th and 16th century. In 1772, 1,200 Jews lived in Tarnow, making up 34% of the total population. They settled particularly in the eastern side of the town. There was a synagogue, which was finished in 1908, and a cemetery. During the interwar period, 15,600 Jews lived in Tarnow. From 1920, between 70 and 150 people migrated every year to Palestine. Before World War II, a main part of Jewish commerce in Tarnow was devoted to garment and hat manufacturing. In 1939, 25,000 Jews lived in the town, comprising 45% of the population.

Holocaust by bullets in figures

Tarnow was occupied on September, 7th 1939. About 15% of the Jewish population managed to flee to the Soviet Union during the first weeks of the occupation. During the first days, all the synagogues and prayer houses were destroyed. Shortly after the anti-Jewish measures were implemented.  Beginning in late October, all the Jews were marked with yellow Stars of David. They had to also mark all the buildings and businesses which belonged to the Jews. The Jews aged from 14 to 60 years old were subjected to forced labor, such as shoveling and cleaning the streets.  Starting  in January 1940, all the Jews were forbidden to leave the town’s territory and a curfew was installed. The access to many streets as well as parks, basically all western part of the town, was forbidden for the Jews. Even though the ghetto was created only in early 1942, from August 1940 the Jews from the rich neighbourhood were forced to move into the poorest area, located in the eastern part of the town called Grabowka. 

The first action was conducted on July 13, 1940, when 753 Jewish and non-Jewish men were arrested, and 728 of them were deported to Auschwitz. They were among the first victims deported to Auschwitz.

The second action was conducted on December 8, 1941 during which 17 out of 100 gathered Jews were shot.  In 1942 all the Jews were registered, and the official ghetto was established.  At its most crowded, it numbered some 40,000 Jews from Tarnow and vicinity, as well as Jews from Krakow (3,000), Austria, Czechoslovakia and Germany. According to the archives and the testimonies of the survivors, the ghetto was divided in two or even three parts: one or two, according to different testimonies, for those who were unfit to work, mainly elderly people and children, and another one for workers the deemed “useful Jews”. Many Jewish inmates died due to hunger and poor living conditions.  Many isolated killings took place throughout April 1942.

On June 11-18, 1942, another mass action was conducted by SS and Gestapo units. During this action, 9,000 Jews were shot by bullets 3,000 found at the local Jewish cemetery and 6,000 in the Buczyna forest close to the village of Zbylitowska Gora. While another 3,500 Jews were sent to the Belzec extermination camp. After the action the ghetto was fenced in with barbed wire and reduced in size. The ghetto was guarded by local Granatowa police.

During the next two actions conducted on September 13, 1942, and November 15, of the same year around 6,000 Jews were deported to Belzec and several hundreds were taken to the cemetery to be shot.  Many Jews who attempted to escape or resisted were shot dead on the spot. Their bodies were taken to be buried at the cemetery.

During the liquidation of the ghetto carried out by German and Latvian units on September 2, 1943, all the Jews after being gathered and the central square, were sorted and deported to different camps: 8,000 Jews were sent to Auschwitz and 3,000 to Plaszow. During this action about 750 Jews were shot in Tarnow. The remaining Jews, who were either left to clean up the ghetto, or came out of the bunkers where  they were hiding, were either sent to Szebnie labor camp or shot on the spot.  According to the local witness’s interview by Yahad, all the Jewish belongings were taken by Germans at the moment they were gathered at the marketplace     . The Jewish houses were emptied as well and sealed by the Germans.  The local Baudienst [forced labor group] were in charge of gathering and transporting the belongings to the warehouses.

To know more about the execution in Zbylitowksa Gora please refer to the corresponding profile

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