Tarnopol Ghetto

Tarnopol Ghetto
Tarnopol Synagogue prior to destruction during World War II
Tarnopol location during the Holocaust in Poland
Tarnopol Ghetto
Ternopil in modern-day Ukraine (compare with above)
Location Tarnopol, German-occupied Poland
49°20′N 25°22′E / 49.34°N 25.36°E / 49.34; 25.36
Incident type Imprisonment, forced labor, starvation, mass killings
Organizations Schutzstaffel (SS), Einsatzgruppe C, Ukrainian Auxiliary Police, Wehrmacht
Executions Tarnopol cemeteries
Victims 20,000 ghettoized Jews

The Tarnopol Ghetto (Polish: getto w Tarnopolu, German: Ghetto Tarnopol) was a Jewish World War II ghetto established in 1941 by the Schutzstaffel (SS) in the prewar Polish city of Tarnopol (now Ternopil, Ukraine) occupied by Germany at the onset of Operation Barbarossa.[1] Before the joint Nazi-Soviet invasion of Poland in 1939 Tarnopol was the capital of the Tarnopol Voivodeship in the south-eastern part of the Kresy macroregion in the Second Polish Republic. The invading Soviets annexed the city in 1939 to the Ukrainian SSR along with the entire province and renamed it as Терно́поль (Ternopol).[2]

According to Polish census of 1931, Jews constituted 44% of the city's diverse multicultural makeup.[3] Tarnopol had the largest Jewish community in the area,[4] with the majority of Jews speaking Polish as their native language.[3] At the time of the Soviet invasion there were 18,000 Jews living in the provincial capital.[5] Meanwhile, the first week-long killing spree of 1,600–2,000 Jews occurred a few days after Tarnopol was occupied by the German army at the beginning of hostilities between the two allies.[2][5][6] The Ghetto was established formally two months later.[5]


During the invasion of Poland, Tarnopol was overrun by the Red Army on September 17, 1939. Soon, the region was Sovietized in the atmosphere of terror.[7] Jewish businesses were nationalized;[6] wealthier Jews along with the Zionist leaders, arrested by the troops of the Soviet NKVD secret police.[8] Their families were deported to Siberia in cattle trains,[8] along with families of Christian Poles.[9] Monuments were destroyed, street names changed, bookshops closed, library collections stolen and transported in lorries to the Russian archives.[10] In early 1940 refugees fleeing from the Nazi-occupied Poland raised the Jewish population of Tarnopol to more than 20,000.[6] Some found employment with the Soviet administration, and in the new communist militia.[11]

A year and a half later, during the German attack on the Soviet positions in eastern Poland, Tarnopol was overrun by the Wehrmacht on July 2, 1941. Several hundred Jews followed the Soviets in their hasty retreat to the east.[6] Immediately afterwards, up to 1,000 dead bodies of political prisoners murdered by the NKVD were discovered at the Tarnopol prison, and 1,000 more in nearby towns. Notably, among the NKVD executioners were also local men known by their names,[12] which had terrible consequences for the Polish-Jewish community. In accordance with the Nazi theory of Judeo-Bolshevism the Germans made the Jews responsible for the Soviet atrocities against their own Ukrainian collaborationists. The NKVD killings of ethnic Poles were purposely overlooked.[13][14][15]

A pogrom broke out two days later and lasted from July 4 until July 11, 1941, with homes destroyed, synagogue burned and Polish Jews killed indiscriminately, estimated between 1,600 (Yad Vashem)[6] and 2,000 (Virtual Shtetl)[5] at various locations including inside prison, at the Gurfein School, and at the synagogue set on fire afterwards.[8] The killing of about 1,000 Jews was done by the SS-Sonderkommando 4b attached to Einsatzgruppe C,[6] under the command of Guenther Hermann,[16] (just returning from the massacre in Łuck)[17] with another 600 Jews murdered by the Ukrainian Militia[6] – formed by the Organization of Ukrainian Nationalists – and renamed as the Ukrainian Auxiliary Police the following month.[18] Nearly all of their Jewish victims were men.[6] Some 500 Jews were murdered in the suburbs on the grounds of the Ternopil's Christian cemetery using weapons handed out by the German army.[19] According to interviews conducted in Ukraine by a Roman Catholic priest, Father Patrick Desbois from Yahad-In Unum, some of the victims were decapitated.[19]

Ghetto history

The German authorities ordered the creation of a Judenrat with 60 members. Teacher Marek Gottfried became its president. The Jews were summoned to police headquarters in one group, loaded onto lorries, and taken out of town to a secret execution site at Zagroble nearby.[8] In early August 1941 the Jews of Tarnopol were ordered to wear a Star of David and mark their homes with it.[6] A 'new' Judenrat was formed by the Nazis soon after the wave of massacres, without disclosing the fate of its original members, and ordered to pay a ransom of 1.5 million rubles. Gustaw Fischer was appointed head of the Judenrat.[8]

In September 1941, the German occupation authorities under Gerhard Hager announced the creation of a designated Jewish ghetto in the city around the Old Square and the Market Square Minor, in a derelict district that occupied mere 5 percent of the metropolitan area. Population density in the ghetto was tripled, with 12,000–13,000 Jews put in it. Death penalty was introduced for leaving the ghetto illegally, and all food allowances rationed.[8] Within a year the conditions in the ghetto became so bad that in the winter of 1941–42 the Judenrat began burying the corpses in mass graves for sanitation concerns due to rampant mortality rates.[6] Satellite labour camps for Jewish slave workers were established by the Germans in Kamionka, Podwołoczyska, Hluboczka, and in Zagroble.[5]

Roundups and ghetto liquidation

The first ghetto liquidation action was perpetrated on August 31, 1942,[8] not long after the Final Solution was set in motion.[6] By that time, the Bełżec extermination camp northwest of Tarnopol was already working at full throttle.[20] Some 3,000–4,000 Jews were rounded up and locked in cattle cars, with no water.[8] The transport remained at the station for two days with all victims crying out for help; meanwhile, another cattle train arrived with Polish Jews from the ghettos in Zbaraż and Mikulińce. The two trains were connected at the station as one Holocaust transport to Bełżec with at least 6,700 victims dying inside from suffocation and thirst.[8]

The next Holocaust train was assembled on November 10, 1942.[8] Some 2,500 Jews were rounded up and marched to the station, with a small Ukrainian orchestra playing on their departure to Bełżec. The ghetto area was greatly reduced; a part of it, turned into a labour camp.[8] Between August 1942 and June 1943 there were five "selections" that decimated the Jewish prisoner population of Tarnopol.[6] The camps were liquidated as the last.[8] The victims were sent in Holocaust trains to the extermination camp at Bełżec, but also massacred in shooting actions at Petrykowo,[8] or Petrykow-Wald, with the assistance of Ukrainian policemen. Estimated 2,500 Jews perished there.[21] A few hundred Jews from Tarnopol and its vicinity attempted to survive by hiding within the town limits. Many were denounced by Ukrainian nationalists, including some 200 people shortly before the Soviets took over the area in 1944.[6]

Rescue attempts

A number of Jews survived the Holocaust by hiding with the Poles.[6] Among them was the family of Malwina and Roman Gross. They managed to make contact with the Polish Christian family of Józef Regent, whom they knew from before the invasion.[22] It was a unique double-rescue attempt, because Roman Gross – attorney by profession – already rescued Józef Regent mere two years earlier during the Soviet occupation of Tarnopol. He did so by successfully defending his friend against deportation to Siberia by the NKVD.[22] The Gross family hid with the Regent family-of-four until liberation. They corresponded for years to come after forcible expulsion of ethnic Poles from the new USSR area in 1945. The Regents received medals of Righteous among the Nations in 1995.[22] The Misiewicz family-of-three saved the Bien family-of-four. Adam Misiewicz constructed a dug-out by the house. The youngest Lunia Bien stayed with the rescuers. They had no money. Adam was stealing grain from the mill; Rozalia was selling it for the milk. Both families survived. The retreating Nazis burned the house to the ground after an unsuccessful search. After the war, the Misiewiczs were deported from the USSR to new Poland with nothing; David Ben with his family emigrated to Canada.[23] The dug-outs for the Jews were often used by the Polish farmers themselves, whenever the OUN-UPA killing squads marching from village to village were in the area.[24] At least 1,587 Christian Poles were murdered by OUN-UPA in the Tarnopol county (powiat) in 1944 before the Soviet takeover.[25]

Following World War II, at the insistence of Joseph Stalin during Tehran Conference, Poland's borders were redrawn and Tarnopol (then again, Терно́поль) was incorporated into the Ukrainian SSR of the Soviet Union. Polish population was resettled back to new Poland before the end of 1946. A monument in memory of the Holocaust victims was erected in Ternopil at Petrikovsky Yar in 1996, five years after the collapse of the Soviet empire.[26]

See also


  1. Joshua D. Zimmerman (2015), The Polish Underground and the Jews, 1939–1945. Cambridge University Press via Google Books. "The Provinces of Poland on the Eve of World War II," pp. xviii, 278, 328, 347. At Teheran (1943) Churchill told Stalin that he wished to see a new Poland "friendly to Russia". Stalin replied that nevertheless, he considered the annexation of Eastern Poland "just and right" only along the frontiers of the Nazi-Soviet invasion of 1939.[p. 351]
  2. 1 2 Aharon Weiss (2015). "Tarnopol (Rus. Ternopol)". Jewish Families of Ternopil (Tarnopol). Geni.com. Holocaust and Postwar Periods. Retrieved 29 July 2015.
  3. 1 2 Central Statistical Office (Poland), Drugi Powszechny Spis Ludności. Woj.tarnopolskie, 1931. PDF file, 21.09 MB. The complete text of the Polish census of 1931 for the Tarnopol Voivodeship, page 59 (select, drop-down menu). Wikimedia Commons.
  4. Wydarzenia 1931 roku. Historia-Polski.com. Compendium of cities in the Republic with Jewish populations exceeding 12 thousand (Wykaz miast RP z populacją żydowską powyżej 12 tysięcy). Tarnopol: 14.000 czyli 44% ludności.
  5. 1 2 3 4 5 Robert Kuwałek, Eugeniusz Riadczenko, Adam Marczewski (2015). "Tarnopol". History - Jewish community before 1989. Translated by Katarzyna Czoków and Magdalena Wójcik. Virtual Shtetl. pp. 3–4 of 5. Retrieved 31 July 2015.
  6. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 "Tarnopol Historical Background". Yad Vashem. Archived 9 March 2014. Archived from the original on 9 March 2014.
  7. Bernd Wegner (1997). From peace to war: Germany, Soviet Russia, and the world, 19391941. The Period of German-Soviet Partnership. Berghahn Books, p. 74. ISBN 1-57181-882-0.
  8. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 Robert Kuwałek, Eugeniusz Riadczenko, Adam Dylewski, Justyna Filochowska, Michał Czajka (2015). "Tarnopol". Historia - Społeczność żydowska przed 1989 (in Polish). Virtual Shtetl (Wirtualny Sztetl). pp. 3–4 of 5. Retrieved 31 July 2015.
  9. Tadeusz Piotrowski (1998), Poland's Holocaust (Google Books). Jefferson: McFarland, pp. 17-18, 420. ISBN 0-7864-0371-3.
  10. Dr Grzegorz Jasiński (2013). "Polish cultural losses in the years 1939–1945". London Branch of the Polish Home Army Ex-Servicemen Association. Retrieved 30 September 2013.
  11. Piotrowski 1998, p. 50.
  12. Piotrowski 1998, p. 56.
  13. Electronic Museum, "Poland, the Bastard of Versailles is no more! Long Live the Nazi-Soviet Friendship!", Electronic Museum. Section: Poland, World War II, Soviet Deportations of Polish Nationals, 1939–1941. Photo Album., archived from the original on 24 March 2013, retrieved 22 September 2013
  14. Ferguson 2006, p. 419.
  15. Piotrowski 1998, pp. 9–10.
  16. IDs of SS-Men. The SS & Polizei section. Axis History Forum. Retrieved July 31, 2015.
  17. Ronald Headland (1992), Messages of Murder: A Study of the Reports of the Einsatzgruppen of the Security Police and the Security Service, 1941–1943. Fairleigh Dickinson Univ. Press, pp. 79, 125. ISBN 0-8386-3418-4.
  18. Symposium Presentations (September 2005). "The Holocaust and [German] Colonialism in Ukraine: A Case Study" (PDF). The Holocaust in the Soviet Union. The Center for Advanced Holocaust Studies of the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. pp. 15, 18–19, 20 in current document of 1/154. Direct download 1.63 MB. Archived from the original (PDF) on August 16, 2012. Retrieved 2015-07-31.
  19. 1 2 Cnaan Liphshiz, Talking with the willing executioners. Haaretz.com, May 18, 2009. A horrific page of history unfolded last Monday in Ukraine. It concerned the gruesome and untold story of a spontaneous pogrom by local villagers against hundreds of Jews in a town [now suburb] south of Ternopil in 1941. Not one, but five independent witnesses recounted the tale, recalling how they rushed to a German army camp, borrowed weapons and gunned down 500 Jews inside the town's Christian cemetery. One of them remembered decapitating bodies in front of the church.
  20. Browning, Christopher (2000). Nazi Policy, Jewish Workers, German Killers. Cambridge University Press. p. 71. ISBN 052177490X.
  21. Yad Vashem. "Tarnopol region - Online Guide of Murder Sites of Jews in the Former USSR". Tarnopol District, Poland, Petrykow area. Shootings near Petrykow village began in mid July 1941 and concluded on 1-2 August 1943. Mass extermination crimes committed within range of the Sipo branch office Tarnopol were investigated by LG Stuttgart Case Nr. 634. JuNSV Project (1963). "Nazi Crimes on Trial". Justiz und NS-Verbrechen Vol. XXIV.
  22. 1 2 3 Piotr Żulikowski (January 2011). "Rodzina Regentów" [The Regent Family]. Przywracanie Pamięci (The Return of Memory). Polscy Sprawiedliwi (Polish Righteous). pp. 1 of 3. Retrieved 6 August 2015. In Polish, with Google link to optional webpage translation in English.
  23. Wojciech Załuska (October 2010). "Rodzina Misiewiczów" [The Misiewicz Family]. Przywracanie Pamięci (The Return of Memory). Polscy Sprawiedliwi (Polish Righteous). p. 1. Retrieved 6 August 2015. In Polish. Israel Gutman, Księga Sprawiedliwych wśród Narodów Świata.
  24. Joanna Król (March 2011). "Rodzina Schnitzerów" [The Schnitzer Family]. Przywracanie Pamięci (The Return of Memory). Polscy Sprawiedliwi (Polish Righteous). p. 1. Retrieved 6 August 2015. In Polish. Titles bestowed 1 January 1998.
  25. Ewa Siemaszko (18 August 2010). Bilans zbrodni [Balance-sheet of Murder] (PDF). Biuletyn IPN: Komentarze historyczne, Nr 7–8. Institute of National Remembrance. 88 (12/18 in PDF). ISSN 1641-9561. Retrieved 11 August 2015. Polacy zamordowani przez OUN-UPA i inne zbrojne formacje nacjonalistów ukraińskich w latach 1939–1948 (liczby udokumentowane) w woj. tarnopolskim. Znani z nazwiska: 10,143 ofiar. Prawdopodobna liczba zamordowanych Polaków (w zaokrągleniu): 27,600. Najwyższe, udokumentowane dotąd straty ludności polskiej w 1944 r. w województwach małopolskich były w następujących powiatach: brodzkim (co najmniej 2365 osób), rohatyńskim (co najmniej 1629), tarnopolskim (co najmniej 1587).[12/18]
  26. В Тернополе осквернили памятник жертвам Холокоста [Monument to Holocaust victims in Ternopil desecrated] (in Russian). Евроазиатский Еврейский Конгресс. 2012-09-25. Retrieved 12 September 2015. The USSR officially ceased to exist on 31 December 1991.


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