The Tarnopol pogrom 4–10 July 1941

In 1948, Salomon Hirschberg testified about the mass murder of Jews that had been perpetrated by the Germans and their Ukrainian henchmen in Tarnopol in July 1941, immediately following the withdrawal of the Soviet occupation forces and their replacement by the German ones.

See an annotated English translation of the minutes of my father’s Polish language testimony. The original document is in the collection of the Jewish Historical Institute in Warsaw. I hope that the availability of an English translation will contribute to the preservation of the living memory of those tragic lessons of history.

Also, see below a few additional details of my father’s experiences during the July 1941 Tarnopol pogrom. I wish I were able to convey the tremendous impact of the stories of plight and survival upon the minds of the children of Holocaust survivors, as exemplified in my own family.

About Salomon Hirschberg’s account of the Tarnopol pogrom

Salomon Hirschberg was born in 1903 in Tarnopol, a town on the eastern border of Austrian Galicia, now in Ukraine. He studied law in Lwów and obtained his doctorate at the Jagiellonian University in Kraków in 1928. He practiced law in Tarnopol.

During the Soviet occupation he worked at the Regional Health Administration Department. He survived the German occupation, first in the Tarnopol ghetto, then in a forced labour camp and finally hiding for eight months in an earth cellar of the house of Kazimierz and Julia Zięcik, the Righteous Among the Nations, and their family. There he met Róża Schapiro née Bernstein from Skałat, widowed since 1941 after a few weeks of marriage to Wilhelm Schapiro.

My parents survived, as opposed to almost all their relatives. They settled in the Polish town of Katowice where my father re-established himself as a lawyer. He died in 1964 of a heart condition. My mother, my brother and myself left Poland for Sweden in 1969, escaping the vicious demonstrations of official and popular anti-Semitism of the period.

In 2011, while looking for information about the German occupation of Tarnopol, I stumbled over a testimony that my father gave in 1948, seven years after the deadly pogrom he described that had claimed more than four thousand Jewish lives. I recall my father years ago telling me about some of those incidents in more detail. The fragments that brought back my memories appear at the very end of his account.

My father’s testimony:

On 11 July I was caught by a Ukrainian who turned me over to the hands of a German together with a group of other Jews. The German then led us to close to the prison and ordered us to wait. Once he was some distance away, I took a chance and escaped. He caught me though, and shot at me, but missed for some reason.

My father told me that the German ordered the group to wait while he went away to catch two more Jews whom he had spotted at some distance. Anybody who attempted escape would be shot. Still, my father calculated that he would be better off taking a chance to escape. The German saw him do it, lost interest in the two Jews and started chasing him. Father ran into a courtyard, down a passage into a cellar, and along a corridor until he came to a locked door and no other path to follow. The German pulled his gun and shot at him point blank barely missing (my father told me that he could still feel the scar at the very top of his skull). Father wrestled the gun from the German and pointed it back at him when he heard, unmistakably, the steps of another German running along the corridor in their direction. On an impulse he handed the gun back to the German. At this very moment the other German appeared and saw his colleague standing in front of a defenceless Jew, holding a gun. The Germans, incredibly, led my father back to the group.

He continues:

He led me to the Town Hall courtyard where Jews were at work. I worked all day long, too. The German tormented me, ordered me to clean lavatories with my bare hands, to carry 100 kg packs and to clean shoes, in order to humiliate me.

I recall my father telling me that during the very first days of the German occupation he was caught and ordered to water the lawn in the vicinity of the Town Hall under the supervision of a German. Several Poles who passed by would stop to shake my father’s hand and a few of them even symbolically helped him with the watering. The German realised that this was not a sufficient humiliation. As a result of something that in my father’s opinion could have been a shadow of dawning respect the German offered him a chunk of a sandwich that he was about to eat. For my father, it was unthinkable to accept it. Humiliation turned out to work in reverse; the German was angered. He started tormenting my father, which included making him carry 100 kg packs. This went on for hours, until his release.

His testimony proceeds:

I was released in the evening but unfortunately I was caught by the SS on my way home and transported along with a group of other Jews to the old Catholic cemetery. There, by whatever means we had – and in my case with bare hands – we were to dig a grave for the bodies of Soviet soldiers that lay there. Finally, I was released to go home.

I remember my father telling me that on the day of the cellar incident he was caught again and taken to a cemetery where Jews were ordered to dig pits. An Orthodox priest was there and had some kind of official function. Father recognized him as a former client. He stood in the pit and dug when the priest approached him and ordered in a sharp tone of voice to follow him. The priest walked my father past the Germans and Ukrainians and told him to run home. Father learned later that many of his cemetery co-workers were killed that day.

I was not aware that the purpose of digging the pit at the cemetery had been to bury the dead bodies of Soviet soldiers. Now that this is understood, it seems plausible that a Russian or Ukrainian Orthodox priest would have been present in some kind of religious function.


This is what I remember having heard in my childhood. I do not have any memory of my father ever having mentioned the actual pogrom. In fact, I am not even sure whether at that time the word pogrom was in my vocabulary, considering that I was young and that classic anti-Semitism along with its basic terms was not considered important enough to be part of the school curriculum or the public discourse.

Hearing my father’s voice sounding from the pages of his testimony half a century after his demise is both unexpected and overwhelming – the more so, since among the thousands of pages of the history of my parents’ plight and survival these are probably the only ones that have ever been written.

Jurek Hirschberg

Read Salomon Hirschberg’s testimony here.