Fanning out. Contracting back. In my last post, I explored the story of a family member who fled halfway across the world from Vienna to escape Hitler–only to have to escape another dangerous dictator in his adopted home. Here I look back to my ancestral roots in a town I’d never heard of until I started this blog, and certainly never knew most of my mother’s family came from: Tarnów, some 45 miles east of Krakow, Poland.
The presence of Jews in Tarnów can be traced back to the 1400s; you can read the history here and here. On the day that WWII broke out in Europe, there were about 25,000 Jews in Tarnów, comprising from 40 to 45% of the town’s population.
The community was virtually wiped out during the Holocaust.
But that’s not what I’m here to talk about. There is murder, and there is natural death. The latter was part of the cycle of life for Jews in Tarnów over many centuries. Nazis notwithstanding, the town’s Jewish cemetery is one of the oldest, largest, and most beautiful in Poland.
Ironically–because they are much older–more gravestones of the Kornmehl family are intact in Tarnów than they are in Vienna, where I searched in the “new” section of Zentralfriedhopf for many who were buried there according to historical records, and only found one.
This is thanks to one of several preservation and restoration efforts started by the Committee for the Protection of Monuments of Jewish Culture, established in 1988. An important one is going on now.
The EU Matching Grant
From 2017 through 2018, an EU grant has been given to the cemetery with the goal of pruning overgrown foliage, clearing pathways obscured by debris, righting fallen stones, and otherwise making the graveyard navigable and presentable. The grant specifies that the Tarnów Jewish Cemetery Restoration Committee must raise some $180,000 independently. Private and public donations are coming in, including from the Mayor of Tarnów and the Regional Government, but more are needed to meet the goal.
No question–this fundraiser is personal to me. Having been to Vienna three times, I’m now curious to explore my earlier roots. I’d like to be able to negotiate the Tarnów cemetery without tripping over obstacles, as I am wont to do. But preserving the cemetery has larger implications: It’s also about towns in Poland and elsewhere in Europe being forced to confront the history they eradicated. Showing the Jewish citizens of a town the respect due the dead is a way of accomplishing this.
So help honor the departed Tarnów Jews.
There are a few ways to donate, but Jewish Heritage Poland is the easiest and helps with the tax deductible aspect in the U.S. (donations of $1,000 or more will get you a plaque in the renovated cemetery). Don’t forget to specify you’re giving to the Tarnow cemetery, listed in the middle of the page.