Day 12: Wadowice – Tarnow – Dabrowa Tarnowska

Today we experienced three new cities in our quest to discover and learn more about the extensive history of Jewish life in Poland before World War II.  Our first stop was Wadowice, best known as the birthplace of Pope John Paul II, who will be canonized as a saint April 27, 2014.  Born in 1920 in a house owned by Jews where his parents rented three rooms, Karol Józef Wojtyła grew up in a thriving Jewish community where he went to school, acted in a drama company and even dated a Jewish girl. At the newly opened museum of his life here in Wadowice, we learned about Jewish history in the first room of the exhibition. Our guide Paulina told us that John Paul II used the phrase “older brothers” to describe the relationship between Jews and Catholics.While in Wadowice, we enjoyed a coffee break eating the Pope’s favorite cream cake, similar to a Napoleon, but lighter and creamier.


Next we journeyed to the city of Tarnow, two hours east of Krakow, where we stood in the cold drizzle underneath the only remnants of the Skwer Starej Synagogue: the beautiful, tall bima.  The Nazis destroyed the synagogue in 1939, but many of the buildings that were part of the Tarnow Ghetto remain. The Nazis massacred massive numbers of Jews in 1942 and 1943, including 8,000 Jewish orphans buried in mass grave just outside the city. On our way out of the city, we drove by the expansive Jewish Cemetery, one of the oldest and largest remaining in Poland after World War II.

At the last stop of our day, Dabrowa Tarnowska, which means “the oak forests near Tarnow” in English, we met three amazing Polish high school teachers who have worked tirelessly to educate students here about the Holocaust and the history of Jews in the area. We met them at a beautifully restored synagogue in the center of the city that opened in June of 2012 as a center for the study of the culture of Jews and Poles in the area.

Shalmi told us that when he first started bringing groups to Poland for tours in 1986, this synagogue was in ruins and they had to literally crawl under fence openings to get inside.  Now the synagogue glows with ornate paintings, marble painted pillars and clear lead glass windows.

For these Polish teachers, who were brought up in communist Poland, the synagogue represents freedom and democracy.  For Shalmi, the synagogue represents hope and the fact that despite all of the ugly history of this place, change is possible. We said goodbye to the teachers, promising to return next year with a new group of students, and to communicate to plan a gathering of their Polish students and our American students here at the synagogue in 2015.


  1. How interesting learning the history of Wadowice, and so sad about Tarnow. What beautiful photos of the restored synagogue! And to think this came about because of the work of three Polish High School teachers dedicated to Holocaust education! Sounds familiar! We are so lucky to have four amazing American High School teachers who are so dedicated to affecting change in their students, their communities and the world through Holocaust education! (There wouldn't be two memorials or a new historical marker in Trsice dedicated to Otto Wolf's journey, or this annual trip of a lifetime, without you!) We cannot thank you enough for everything that you do! 🙂


  2. At times I cried when I watched this blog. It was a cry of memory of tales my mother told me before the terrible Holocaust. Yet I was so proud that my grandson Scott Kleinman felt the need to relive and remember his Jewish past and we grateful that his great grandparents came to America. May I share this tour with a group going from my synagogue in Florida?


  3. \”For Shalmi, the synagogue represents hope and the fact that despite all of the ugly history of this place, change is possible.\” That quote is truly inspiring. It is amazing to recognize that the Jewish community during the Holocaust stuck to their faith.


  4. The holocaust is one of the most important lessons world history has taught us about humanity. I am humbled and proud that Midland Park students have the opportunity to travel to Europe and learn firsthand about the contributing factors that created the conditions of the holocaust. This is a story that must be retold so that humanity will never allow the conditions for such atrocities to ever occur again.


  5. This is so interesting and amazing. My family name is TARNOW so this website really caught my attention. I am probably too old to ever visit Poland but I can sit at home here in Texas and learn all about it.


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