The New Synagogue, Tarnów, ca. 1910. (Tomasz Wisniewski,

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Town in southern Poland, 72 kilometers east of Kraków. Tarnów was founded in 1330, and in the century that followed, Jews were allowed to settle there by its owner, the nobleman Jan Amor. The first privilege authorizing the establishment of a Jewish community was granted in 1582 by the town’s new owner, Konstanty Ostrogski, and was renewed by his successor, Władysław Dominik Ostrogski, in 1637. This privilege exempted the Jews of Tarnów from municipal jurisdiction, entitling them to engage in trade in their own buildings and shops and to distill and deal in alcoholic beverages. They were permitted to have 12 dwelling places on the “Jewish street” (ulica Żydowska). Jews were to pay taxes directly to the magnate and could establish a cemetery near the city. The municipality was responsible for securing the synagogue and cemetery from attack.

Widok rynku w Tarnowie (View of the Market in Tarnów). Zygmunt Vogel, Poland, 1800. Watercolor on paper. In the center foreground, a group of three Jewish men are depicted. Regional Museum in Tarnów, Poland. Photograph by Robert Moździerz. (MT-A-/254. Regional Museum in Tarnów, Poland)

The privilege met with strong opposition from the burghers, and in 1654 they were able to secure its abrogation. The devastating effect of the Swedish invasion in 1655, epidemics, and a major fire in 1663 led to an economic crisis in the town. An agreement was reached in May 1670 between the burghers and the Jews, allowing Jews once again to trade. A parallel agreement was concluded between the Christian artisan guilds and their Jewish counterparts. The 1582 privilege was confirmed thereafter by several subsequent owners of the town.

There were four major fires in Tarnów in the first half of the eighteenth century that caused such damage to the Jewish quarter that the Council of Four Lands exempted the community from the poll tax for four years. Town owners also permitted Jews to construct buildings outside the Jews’ designated area, and by the second half of the eighteenth century they owned 30 dwellings. Jews continued to play an important role in commercial life, despite burgher opposition.

The Tarnów kehilah belonged to the Land of Lesser Poland (Kraków-Sandomierz). Its parnas (community leader), Binyamin Ze’ev Vulf (b. Yeḥezkel Landau), took an active part in meetings of the regional council and the Council of the Lands as well as represented Jewish interests to the secular authorities between 1718 and 1737. The census of 1765 records 900 Jews in Tarnów and 1,425 living in the villages within its communal jurisdiction.

Workers in M. S. Mandla’s Jewish bakery, Tarnów, Poland, 1902. (YIVO)

After the first partition of Poland in 1772, Tarnów came under Austrian rule. The new authorities weakened the prerogatives of the owners of noble towns, placing the municipalities under the control of the provincial government and increasing the importance of the town council on which Jews were not represented. The reforms of Joseph II also sought to change the Jewish community. These reforms increased the number of supporters of the Haskalah, and in 1788 a modern Jewish school inspired by its principles was established under the direction of Naftali Herz Homberg; it operated until 1806. Conflict with Christian burghers did not abate and was exacerbated by blood libel accusations in 1829 and 1844 (in both cases the accused were eventually exonerated). Despite such opposition, Jews began to settle in new areas of the town.

Tarnów flourished economically, and Jews played a leading role in its clothing, ceramic, metal, and wood trades. They were also prominent in leather goods and fur, as well as in the production of hats, for which Tarnów was the leading center in Austria-Hungary. The Jews’ political situation improved somewhat with the reform of local government law in Galicia in 1866. From one seat on the municipality in that year, Jewish representation grew to 17 members in 1877. In 1906, a Jew, Eliasz Goldhammer, was elected deputy mayor—an event that was to become common practice in the years to follow. The Jewish population increased considerably, from 7,914 in 1846 to 15,108 in 1910, when Jews constituted 41.2 percent of the town’s population.

Mass demonstration for universal suffrage organized by the Polish and Jewish socialist parties, Tarnów, 1905. (YIVO)

From the early nineteenth century, Hasidism was the dominant orientation within the Jewish community. Sandz and Ruzhin Hasidism were most influential. Adherents of the Haskalah were also present, most notably the Hebrew writer Mordekhai David Brandstetter. From the late nineteenth century, the Zionist movement was influential. The most prominent local Zionist was Abraham Salz, one of Theodor Herzl’s collaborators. In 1842, a Jewish hospital was founded, and in the 1890s the Baron de Hirsch foundation opened a school that functioned until 1914.

After World War I, Jews continued to play the dominant role in the town’s trade, industry, and artisan production. By 1931, the community numbered 19,330 (43% of the population) and by 1939 it had risen to around 25,000 (40–45%). Two Jewish high schools were established, and the town produced one of the leading figures of the first generation of Polish Jewish historians, Ignacy Schiper; it was also the birthplace of historians Salo Baron and Zvi Ankori. There were deep rifts between Orthodox and Zionists on the local kehilah, which led the Polish authorities to suspend the elected council in the early 1930s and appoint a commissar, who governed for six years. A new kehilah was elected in 1937, at which point the Zionists won a clear majority.

Workers in the Worzel and Daar raincoat factory, Tarnów, 1925. (YIVO)

Immediately after taking control of Tarnów on 8 September 1939, the Germans set fire to a number of Jewish buildings, including the Great Synagogue. In May 1940, a number of local Jewish leaders were deported to Auschwitz, which was not yet an extermination camp. They were among its first Jewish victims. A ghetto was established on 15 November 1941; by 1942 it had 40,000 inhabitants, many of whom came from surrounding small towns. The first deportations took place between 11 and 13 June 1942, when approximately 12,000 Jews were sent to their deaths at the Bełżec camp, while another 6,000, primarily elderly people and children, were murdered in the forest at Zbylitowska Góra. Another 3,000 were murdered in Tarnów itself. The ghetto was now divided into two sections—a forced labor camp and a family camp, where many starved to death. A second deportation on 10–15 September 1942 led to another 8,000 people being sent to Bełżec. Two subsequent deportations took place on 15 November 1942 and 2 September 1943, in which people were sent to Auschwitz, Plaszów, and Szebnia. This left a final group of 300 in the ghetto; they were deported to Plaszów in December 1943.

After the war, some 700 Jews settled in Tarnów but soon left because of insecurity and local hostility. Today there are virtually no Jews in the town. Organizations of former Jewish residents of Tarnów have been established in Israel, the United States, France, and Canada.

Suggested Reading

Zvi Ankori, Chestnuts of Yesteryear: A Jewish Odyssey (Jerusalem, 2003); Abraham Chomet and Joseph Cornillo (Kornilo), eds., Torne: Kiem un khurbn fun a yidisher shtot, 2 vols. (Tel Aviv, 1954–1968), vol. 2 has title Tarnov-Torne: Sefer zikaron, mostly in Yiddish with a few articles in Hebrew; Ignacy Schiper, “Żydzi w Tarnowie do końca XVIII w.,” Kwartalnik historyczny 19 (1905): 228–239.

YIVO Archival Resources

RG 116, Territorial Collection: Poland 2, , 1939-1945 (finding aid).