Tarnów (Tarnau; טארנא-Turna) is a city in southeastern Poland with 118,128 inhabitants (2006).
The city has been situated in the Lesser Poland Voivodeship since 1999, but from 1975 to 1998 it was the capital of the Tarnów Voivodeship. It is a major rail junction, located on the strategic east-west connection from Lviv to Kraków. Also, from Tarnów two additional lines stem - a southwards main line to the Slovakian border via Stróże, as well as a minor northwards line to Szczucin.
During World War I, the city was one of the focal points of Austro-Hungarian/German Gorlice-Tarnów Offensive of 1915, a military operation that changed the situation in the Eastern Front and resulted in major retreat of opposing Russian forces. After the war, the city became part of a reconstituted Polish state on October 30, 1918.
Immediately following the German occupation of the city on September 8, 1939, the persecution of the Jews began. German units burned down most of the city's synagogues on September 9 and drafted Jews for forced-labor projects. Tarnów was incorporated into the Generalgouvernement. Many Tarnów Jews fled to the east, while a large influx of refugees from elsewhere in Poland continued to increase the town's Jewish population. In early November, the Germans ordered the establishment of a Jewish council (Judenrat) to transmit orders and regulations to the Jewish community. Among the duties of the Jewish council were enforcement of special taxation on the community and providing workers for forced labor.
During 1941, life for the Jews of Tarnów became increasingly precarious. The Germans imposed a large collective fine on the community. Jews were required to hand in their valuables. Roundups for labor became more frequent and killings became more commonplace and arbitrary. Deportations from Tarnów began in June 1942, when about 13,500 Jews were sent to the Belzec extermination camp. During the deportation operations, German SS and police forces massacred hundreds of Jews in the streets, in the marketplace, in the Jewish cemetery, and in the woods outside the town.
After the June deportations, the Germans ordered the surviving Jews in Tarnów, along with thousands of Jews from neighboring towns, into a ghetto. The ghetto was surrounded by a high wooden fence. Living conditions in the ghetto were poor, marked by severe food shortages, a lack of sanitary facilities, and a forced-labor regimen in factories and workshops producing goods for the German war industry.
In September 1942, the Germans ordered all ghetto residents to report at Targowica Square, where they were subjected to a "Selektion" (selection) in which those deemed "unessential" were selected out for deportation to Belzec. About 8,000 people were deported. Thereafter, deportations from Tarnów to extermination camps continued sporadically; the Germans deported a group of 2,500 in November 1942.
In the midst of the 1942 deportations, some Jews in Tarnów organized a Jewish resistance movement. Many of the resistance leaders were young Zionists involved in the Ha-Shomer Ha-Tsa'ir youth movement. Many of those who left the ghetto to join the partisans fighting in the forests later fell in battle with SS units. Other resisters sought to establish escape routes to Hungary, but with limited success.
The Germans decided to destroy the Tarnów ghetto in September 1943. The surviving 10,000 Jews were deported, 7,000 of them to Auschwitz and 3,000 to the Plaszow concentration camp in Kraków. In late 1943, Tarnów was declared "free of Jews" (Judenrein). By the end of the war, the overwhelming majority of Tarnów Jews had been murdered by the Germans. Although 700 Jews returned in 1945, some of them soon left the city.
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