Tarnopol


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Envelope from the Kreishauptmann  in Tarnopol (Tall Trees Archive)


Tarnopol is located approximately 75 miles east-southeast of Lwow. According to the 1931, census, 13,999 Jews were living in the city, and by June 1941, the Jewish population had risen to approximately 18,600.

Units of the German 9th Panzer Division and the SS-Division Wiking captured Tarnopol on July 2, 1941. Initially, the city was run by a millitary commandant's office (Ortskommandantur), then in August, authority was transferred to a German Civil administration. Tarnopol became the centre of Kreis Tarnopol, within the Distrikt Galizien. The position of Kreishauptmann in Tarnopol was occupied first by Gerhard Hager, until April 1942, and then by Mogens von Harbou und von der Hellen. Subordinated to the Kreishauptmann was a German Stadtkommissar or mayor Saltner, who in turn supervised the Ukrainian city administration.


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German Forces occupy Tarnopol (Chris Webb Private Archive)

The anti-Jewish 'Aktions' in the city were organised and conducted by the Security Police (SIPO) and the SD. From mid-July 1941, an operational squad of the SD, subordinated to the Einstazgruppe z.b.v. was present in the city; the squad was commanded by SS-Hauptsturmfuhrer Edmund Schone. In the middle of September 1941, the squad consisted of 39 people, assisted by 60 members of the Ukrainian militia, 8 interpreters, and 20 more locals who served as drivers, auto mechanics, and clerks.

In September 1941, the SD -Einsatztruppe was converted into an outpost of the Security Police and SD (SIPO /SD Aussendienststelle) that between October 1941, and May 1943, was headed by SS-Sturmbannfuhrer Hermann Muller and, after June 1943, by SS-Hauptsturmfuhrer Wilhelm Kruger. The Tarnopol outpost reported to the head of the Security Police and SD in Lwow. Tarnopol also had a squad of Schupo (German Order Police) which in turn supervised a detachment of Ukrainian Auxiliary Police - (Ukrainische Hilfspolizei).

On July 4, 1941, Sonderkommando 4b, commanded by SS-Sturmbannfuhrer Gunther Hermann arrived in the city from Lwow. In accordance with the order, issued by Reinhard Heydrich, the head of the Security Police and the SD, in the Reich on June 29, 1941, the Sonderkommando 4b organised a pogrom. The pretext used was the discovery in the prison, on Mickiewicz Street, of the bodies of Ukrainian nationalists and German soldiers killed by the Soviet People's Commissariat of Internal Affairs (NKVD). Both local Ukrainian anti-Semites and German soldiers- including members of the SS-Division Wiking- participated in the pogrom. The Gestapo Headquarters in Tarnopol was situated in Listopeda Street.

They broke into Jewish homes, dragged out any men they found and shot them in the courtyards outside. Jews were also kidnapped off the streets, gathered at several collection points, including the synagogue, and then shot. Those Jews who were forced to wash and bury the corpses from the prison in mass graves, were murdered upon completion of their work. The violence began to escalate out of control, so the Germans brought the killing to a halt. Several thousand people were murdered in the course of the pogrom that lasted one week. Sonderkommando 4b also reported shooting 127 people itself, mostly members of the Jewish intelligentsia.

In the days following the pogrom, the Jews searched through the mass graves for their lost family members and friends. In July 1941, Jewish property was confiscated. Jews were excluded from all business activity, their rations were reduced, kidnappings began for forced labour and their freedom of movement was severely restricted.

By early August 1941, a Jewish Council (Judenrat), consisting of 12 to 18 people, had been established in the city, located in Perl Street. The Judenrat was headed in turn by the attorney Gustav Fischer (until the beginning of 1942), Yakov Lipper (until September 10, 1942), Karol Porhyrles (until November 1942), and Pinhas Gruenfeld.

As an executive body reporting to the Judenrat, the Jewish Police was created - consisting of 60 people . It was led by a name named Furstenberg from Warsaw. The Gestapo assigned the following tasks to the Judenrat: to conduct the registration of the Jews, in seven days to collect a 'contribution' of more than 1 million rubles, to mobilise all the Jews between 14 and 50 years of age for forced labour and to ensure that all Jews wore an armband with the Star of David and marked their apartments with a similar sign.

On September 5, 1941, the German authorities announced that a ghetto was being created in Tarnopol and that all Jews would have to more there by September 25. Some 7,000 additional Jews were forced to move into the poorest part of the city, where some 5,000 Jews already lived. The boundaries of the ghetto were Kazhimiedz Square, Reiten Street, Perl Street, the market square, Levoski, Podolski, Nidcze, Mayadova, Shepitiski, Serbena, Chachtshe, Sharoshkolna, Russka, the little market, Baron Hirsh, and Zartsckena.

The area consisted of only approximately of the city and had very few wells. On December 1, 1941, the territory of the ghetto was surrounded by a tall fence and barbed wire. One could enter and exit the ghetto only through two gates that were guarded by German and Ukrainian Police externally and the Jewish Police internally. Cramped space - there were several families living in each room,- unsanitary conditions, cold, hunger, and shortages of clothing soon led to a typhus epidemic in the ghetto. Despite the enclosure of the ghetto, Jews were still able to barter items for food with the non-Jewish population, as every day hundreds of Jews passed through the gates to their places of work.

At the end of December 1941, the Jews were ordered to surrender all their items of fur clothing; to ensure that the Jews obeyed this order the Gestapo took 12 Jews as hostages. After the Judenrat had collected and handed over the furs, the Gestapo conducted a search and discovered fur clothing in the home of the Schwarz family, and as a result of this they shot and killed all five family members.

In the ghetto the Judenrat operated a hospital and a clinic, but these facilities were inadequate to meet the population's needs, and medicine was in short supply. A soup kitchen also provided food for the needy, but living conditions in the orphanage and the old-age home were appalling. The rooms were unheated, and some people slept on the floor. There were almost no medical supplies or medicine, and insufficient food led to cases of starvation. During the winter of 1941 -1942, the burial society had to bury many people in mass graves.

At the end of 1941, and the beginning of 1942, on the orders of the Gestapo, the Judenrat, with the aid of the Jewish Police, conducted several round-ups in the ghetto in which they seized several hundred young healthy Jews and sent them to labour camps in Borki, Wielkie, Kamionki, Hluboczek Wielki, and Zagrobela. The Judenrat was also required to provide these workers with tools, food and clothing; to pay the wages of the German staff and Ukrainian guards of the camps; and in the event of a workers death, to send a replacement.

The German Security Police conducted the first 'aktion' in the ghetto on March 23, 1942. On the orders of the Gestapo, the Jewish Police collected 630 people - the elderly, the sick, and the handicapped- included 150 children. These people were then shot, together with the children from the Jewish orphanage, by the Gestapo and Ukrainian police in the Janowska Forest outside the city. Supposedly, the Gestapo, originally demanded 1,000 people, but after receiving a bribe, they agreed to a smaller number. After this 'aktion' according to the data of the city administration, 11,350 Jews remained in the ghetto as of April 20, 1942. This number diminished in May 1942, when several hundred women, were sent to work on the synthetic rubber plantations in Jagielnica near Czortkow.

During July and August 1942, the Jews from nearby villages, including Balkowce, Smykowce, and Gaje Wielke, were brought into the Tarnopol ghetto. On August 31, 1942, at 4:30 in the morning, the ghetto was surrounded by German and Ukrainian police, and the residents were ordered to gather at the public square. A deportation 'Aktion' was then conducted by the German and Ukrainian policemen, assisted by the Jewish Police, during which 2,600 to 2,800 Jews were rounded up. Only some of the Jews with work cards were exempted from the transport. Other railroad cars with Jews from Mikulnice, Zbaraz, and Strusow were added to the train leaving Tarnopol for the Belzec death camp.

After this 'Aktion,' the Gestapo demanded from the Judenrat, 2 grams of Gold from each Jew, promising to stop the 'Aktions.' The Judenrat handed over more than 30 kilograms of gold, but the 'Aktions' continued. In early September, the area of the ghetto was reduced, and Jews had to move into the smaller section within a few hours. Now the ghetto residents struggled to obtain work-cards, improve or create hiding places, and buy forged documents or poison. Only a few people with sufficient money or connections were able to find a safe hiding place outside the ghetto.

On September 30, 1942, the second deportation 'Aktion' took place in the Tarnopol ghetto. During this 'Aktion' 750 Jews were rounded up and sent to the Belzec death camp. After this 'Aktion' the ghetto was reduced in size. During further deportations during October and November 1942, approximately 2,500 were captured and deported to Belzec death camp. During October 1942, more Jews arrived in the Tarnopol ghetto from other towns, including Kozlow and Mikulince, as the ghetto was one of the few places where Jews could still reside. During the deportations in November approximately 1,000 Jews were rounded up and forced for two days to remain at a mill that served as a collection point. During these two days the Judenrat and Jewish Police replaced their own relatives or people who paid them with other less fortunate members of the community. In total during the four deportation 'Aktions' in the second half of 1942, more than 6,000 Jews were deported to Belzec.

In November 1942, a Jewish labour camp (Julag) a branch of the Janowska Road camp in Lvow commanded by SS-Untersturmfuhrer Richard Rokita, was established in Tarnopol. Jewish craftsmen, as well as all able-bodied Jews, were placed in this camp. The camp was situated in approximately 20 houses, not far from the baths in Podolska- Nidsha Street. The camp was separated from the ghetto by a barbed wire fence that included a gate in Mayadova Street.

As of January 13, 1943, 5,246 Jews officially remained in the city, within the ghetto and in the labour camp combined, although others remained illegally. Starting in April 1943, the Security Police, with the aid of the German Schutzpolizei, the Ukrainian Auxiliary Police, and the Jewish Police, regularly conducted 'Aktions' in the ghetto, which resulted in the murder of Jews unfit to work and the transfer of able-bodied Jews to labour camps. On April 17, 1943, one of the ghetto inmates wrote: 'Our end is coming constantly closer. We sense it and know it. From January until April 1943, it was quiet. In April 1943, everything started again. A small number of people from the ghetto were dragged away somewhere and murdered. 20 people, on Monday again 50 people, and so forth.'

On April 9, 1943, approximately 1,500 Jews were shot, leaving some 700 Jews in the ghetto. The ghetto was finally liquidated on June 18-20, 1943. On June 23, 1943, the city was officially declared to be 'cleansed of Jews' (Judenrein). Altogether, approximately 3,000 Jews from the ghetto were shot in the period from March until June 1943.

In mid-July 1943, there were approximately 2,000 Jews remaining in the labour camp. On July 23, 1943, German police surrounded the Julag, and most of the camp's inmates, some 1,500 people were shot near the village of Petrykow, by the Gestapo and the Ukrainian police. Along with the workers were also shot the members of the Jewish Police from the former ghetto. Approximately 100 people were sent to the Janowska camp in Lwow. Several hundred Jews avoided execution by hiding. To capture them the Gestapo promised that all those who voluntarily came out of hiding, they would be sent to a camp in Lwow. Some of those in hiding tried to defend themselves with grenades and guns; however, it was to no avail, as almost all were murdered, or committed suicide.

On July 31, 1943, several hundred Jews who emerged from hiding were sent to the railroad station,where they were held for one day in railroad carriages, before being killed in the evening. Between 1941 and 1944, more than 10,000 Jews were killed in Tarnopol, approximately 6,000 Jews were deported to the Belzec death camp, over 1,000 were sent to various labour camps, and several hundred died of disease and hunger in the ghetto itself.

Several people of Polish nationality in Tarnopol actively assisted members of the Jewish population. Especially distinguished were Dr. Kolczycki, a physician with the railway administration, who helped Jews during 'Aktions.' A Polish woman named Karola Pietroszynska, who hid two Jews on her farm for nine months, and the Polish shoemaker Franciszek Stech and his wife, who employed a number of Jews, giving some fictitious jobs, so that they were registered with the German Arbeitsamt (Labour Office). During the 'Aktions' they sheltered these Jews in their home. 

Only approximately 750 Jews from Tarnopol and the surrounding areas are known to have survived the Holocaust, and most of these survivors subsequently left for Poland. On July 15, 1966, Hermann Muller was sentenced to life in prison by a West German court in Stuttgart.


Sources

The Encyclopaedia of Camps and Ghettos 1933-1945, USHMM, Indianna University Press Bloomington and Indianapolis 2012.

Jewish Gen online resource 

Envelope - Tall Trees Archive

Photograph: Chris Webb Private Archive


Holocaust Historical Society, July 13, 2020