Tarnopol

Historical Background

During the interwar years, Tarnopol’s 14,000 Jews accounted for 40 percent of the town’s population. The community was famed in the nineteenth century as a center of the Haskala (Jewish Enlightenment movement) in Galicia and was an important Hasidic center as well. Various Jewish mutual-assistance societies operated within the community, a number subsidized by the JDC; several Jewish savings-and-loan associations; a Jewish hospital; and a TOZ medical center. A long-standing Jewish primary school adopted Polish as its language of instruction during the interwar period; the town also had a Talmud Torah and Beit Yaakov and Tarbut schools. Jewish residents partook of Jewish public libraries, drama groups, and sports clubs. Zionist political parties and youth movements were dominant in Jewish public life. Branches of the Bund and Agudath Israel were active in Tarnopol, as was an underground group of Polish Communists. During the Soviet occupation of Tarnopol on September 17, 1939, Jewish political activities ceased, private businesses were nationalized, and workers were organized in cooperatives. Thousands of refugees from western Poland raised the Jewish population of the town to more than 20,000 in early 1940. As the Germans moved into Tarnopol on July 2, 1941, several hundred Jews in Tarnopol followed the Soviet authorities in their retreat to the east. A pogrom broke out in the town two days later. By the time the violence subsided on July 11, a group of Germans, Ukrainian police, and the local rabble had murdered thousands of Jews. The victims, nearly all of them men, included 1,000 Jewish members of the local intelligentsia who were arrested by order of the SS officer Guenther Hermann, as well as 600 additional Jews who were murdered by the Ukrainian militia following Hermann’s command. In the weeks following the pogrom, the Germans imposed a series of sanctions on the Jews including confiscation of property, limitation of freedom of movement, and forced labor. In early August 1941, Jews were ordered to wear a Star of David armband and to mark their homes. In September 1941, the Germans announced the establishment of a Jewish ghetto in a rundown slum district that occupied 5 percent of the town area. By the end of September, some 12,000 Jews were packed into the quarter that had previously been home to 5,000 Jews. In the winter of 1941/42, mortality in the ghetto escalated to such a degree that the Judenrat was constrained to bury the dead in a common grave. On August 31, 1942 the ghetto was surrounded. German and Ukrainian police rounded up thousands of Jews who were held for long hours without food or water. The children were murdered in front of their mothers and about 5,000 (most of whom were elderly or ill), were loaded into railroad cars and transported two days later to the Belzec death camp. On September 30, 1942, the Germans ordered the Judenrat to hand over Jews whose names appeared on their lists. The Jewish Order Service rounded up several hundred people, and the Germans set out afterwards to arrest more. By the time the operation ended on October 5, some 1,200 mostly poor and elderly Jews had been arrested and deported to Belzec. In early November 1942, some 2,500 Jews from Tarnopol and the vicinity were murdered in two additional murder operations. A new spate of murders in the ghetto began in mid-March 1943. About 700 Jews remained in the ghetto by official count, but several hundred others were likely in hiding. By this time, many of the ghetto inhabitants were attempting to leave the ghetto in any possible way: by slipping into the camp, arranging a hideout on the “Aryan” side, or finding refuge in the German plants where they worked. The ghetto was liquidated on June 20, 1943. The Jews who had brought to labor camps were also murdered. A few hundred Jews from Tarnopol and its vicinity attempted to survive by hiding within the town limits. Many were denounced to the Germans, including some 200 people shortly before the Soviets liberated the area. Peasants and Ukrainian partisans murdered others. A number of Jews survived by hiding with Poles.