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Use our multimedia maps, and explore the family pictures, archival material, and personal stories of 21 Jewish Holocaust survivors to get a unique insight into Europe’s rich Jewish heritage, and to discover sites of Jewish life in towns in Moldova, Ukraine, Belarus and Lithuania.
We are currently on a large square surrounding a very particular monument. Its full symbolism begins to strike us when we realize that it is the only surviving remnant of Tarnów’s Old Synagogue. We are looking at the bimah. The bimah is a part of the synagogue where passages of the Torah are read during a religious service. In traditional Ashkenazi synagogues, it was located in the centre of the prayer hall. It could have the simple form of a small table on a raised platform or could be a monumental platform between the four central pillars supporting the vault of the synagogue. The bimah of Tarnów is of the latter type.
The Old Synagogue was the centre of religious and social life until at least the second half of the 19th century. It was built on the site of previously existing synagogues from the late 17th century. The building, the outline of which can be seen on the square thanks to recent renovation, was in Baroque style. It served the traditional Jewish community until 1939, when the Germans set it on fire on 11 November, and forbade anyone to extinguish it. After the fire, the ruins of the synagogue were gradually dismantled. The Bimah was probably left only through oversight or neglect.
Today it is a special place. Concerts and commemorative ceremonies are held here during the Galitzianer Shtetl festival, but it is also a place of reflection and meditation on the fate of the city’s citizens murdered in the Holocaust.
Gizela Fudem recalls that her family didn’t attend services in the main synagogues. There were dozens of small Jewish prayer-rooms around the city, and her father used to pray in one of them:
For all these holidays we didn’t go to a synagogue, but to that unfortunate shtibl where Dad always used to go. It was very ugly. There was a gallery upstairs for the women and the men were downstairs. I remember that Dad used to take us there for Yom Kippur, and maybe for Rosh Hashanah.
For all other holidays and on Saturdays we had our prayer books and we had to pray at home. And with time, I simply started to cheat. I could read it, because I learned to, but I didn’t understand it, and I can’t say that I was passionate about it, I didn’t really care. But for some time, before I started to rebel, I used to say a few prayers that I had marked in my prayer book. And we had to say them every Saturday morning, when Dad was in the prayer house. When he came back he always asked, and that was the worst part because I didn’t want to lie.